Cooling dictates it can only stand upright and can get a little noisy
CPU options are still 9th gen
Skulls (and the case) do not light up - and that may be a good thing
Houston, we have a problem – a bloody big Intel NUC 9 Extreme landed on my review bench and a) it is the most powerful PC I have ever tested and b) I don’t want to give it back.
Let’s look at the ‘bloody big’ first. A normal NUC (Next Unit of Computing) is a small 4” square computer. The Intel NUC 9 Extreme model PPNUC9I9QNX is huge (by comparison) at 238x216x96mm.
Then the power bit. The Intel Core i9-9980HK. Eight cores, sixteen-threads and a PassMark of 15,408 – that’s nearly 50% faster than a core i7!
And as for giving it back – I don’t have an option as it is an engineering sample to salivate over.
Before we get into the review, know that this NUC normally comes as a bare-bone kit with the processor and motherboard only and you add memory, drives and a video card that may cost almost as much. There are also other processor variants of this form factor.
i9-9980HK (barebones kit) from around $2400 (as tested)
i7-9850H from $2100
i7-9750H from $1750
i5-9300H from $1500
ASUS RTX 2070 Mini card <$800
Warranty: 3-years on the processor, motherboard, and chassis (other items you add have manufacturer’s warranty)
Elevator pitch: Go get Nucced – in a big way
Country of manufacture: China
Intel (Est 1968) is a US multinational corporation and the world’s largest and highest valued semiconductor maker. Its consumer products include x86 processors, memory, motherboards, support chipsets, Wi-Fi, graphics and much more.
Who is the Intel NUC 9 Extreme for?
Its aimed at gamers but in reality, it’s a damned powerful small workstation PC with enormous flexibility.
So, it is great for Creatives, CAD, Engineers and power users as well. Or for those that feel the need for speed.
Intel NUC 9 Extreme Basic Specs
Intel Core i9-9980HK 2.4/5Ghz, 8-Core/16-thread, 16MB cache, 45W TPD Advanced Vapour chamber cooling and dual 80mm fans for the small form factor
Intel UHD Graphics 630 – supports three displays Can add a double-width 8” PCIe x16 Gen 3 card with DP, HDMI and DVI e.g. GeForce RTX 2070 Mini
PCIe for the i9 module PCIe x16/x8/x4 PCIe x4 (or used as part of a double-width video card)
2 slots SO DIMM for 64GB DDR4-2400 or 32GB DDR4-2666
2 x M.2 PCIe 3 4-lane (can be SATA 6) Raid 0/1 Intel Optane and SSD ready
2x Thunderbolt 3 4 x USB-A 3.1 Gen 2 HDMI 2.0a 2 x Gigabit Ethernet 3.5mm combo audio or SPDIF optical PCIe slot access Note there are internal; headers to add more ports
2x USB-A 2.0 3.5mm combo audio SDXC UHS-II Slot
Wi-Fi 6 AX2000 dual antenna 2×2 MIMO BT 5.0
500W 180W fed to the Compute Element Internal PCIe GPU 225W PS connector
Add Windows or Linux
Well it is a kit, so its demo day!
Possibly to Intel’s mortification, I decided to tear it down. After all, it is a kit, and you need to be able to add or subtract pieces. Arms with a small Philips head screwdriver only
Removed the only two external screws I could find
Gently prised the top cover off revealing twin 80cm fans
Removed the slide on side covers
So far, so good.
Unscrewed the two PCIe cage screws from the ASUS RTX 2080-086-mini card
Unscrewed the two side brace screws
Removed the power connector
Clicked the x16 PCIe connector lock (PS there is a PCI x4t connector beside it)
Angled the card backwards and up and it came out. That card has HDMI, DP and DVI connectors
The other half is a fully enclosed CPU and motherboard package
Gently removed by hand the various power connectors and Wi-Fi/BT antennas
Clicked the PCIe connector lock
Angled the card back and it came out
The card has three screws that remove the cover for access to the motherboard
The motherboard has two M.2280 slots for PCIe NVME or SATA6 SSD or Intel Optane and 2 x SODIMMs. That’s it. There are some other headers that you can use to connect additional USB etc.
Reassembly was just as easy and voila – it works.
So as for access, it is fine if a little fiddly. And the only user-replaceable parts are in the CPU assembly (Intel call this a Compute Element).
I am guessing that Intel will keep this style of NUC chassis and that you can look forward to other CPU (within its 500W capacity) in the future. I also understand that Razer, CoolerMastrer and others will be making their version of NUC cases to accommodate this i9 assembly.
Let’s look at the processor
The Intel Core i9-9980HK 14nm is a laptop processor with a 45W TPD. In layman’s terms, it will scoot along all day at somewhere between 2.4 and 5GHz as long as the core temperature is below 50°. Given that the case has a great thermal design, we don’t see that as an issue for full-on gaming.
It is in heaps of gaming laptops – Acer Predator Helios 700, Alienware m15/m17, ASUS ROG GZ700GX and ZenBook Pro Duo, Dell XPS 15 7590m and HP Omen X.
The integrated Intel UHD Graphics 630 is fine for office productivity and most undemanding games.
You can read all the processor benchmarks here. As expected, it is only beaten by Intel’s desktop processors that don’t have power or thermal restrictions. Interestingly the 10th gen i9-10980HK mobile processor is only 4% faster. But when you look at the i9-10980XE desktop processor, it’s a whopping 41% faster.
Geekbench 5 single/multi is 1355/7805. In single-core, the desktop version is only 13% faster. In multi-core, it is 112% faster.
Intel UDH Graphics 630 GT2
It has 24 pipelines and runs from 300-1150Mhz. Speed-wise it is roughly equivalent to an AMD Radeon HD 8690M, RX Vega, Radeon 530 and the new NVIDIA Maxwell in Surface Book 3.
It will play games like FIFA 20 at 1080@27fps, League of Legends at 1080@10fps and Cal of Duty Black Ops firstname.lastname@example.org. Detailed benchmarks here.
We won’t compare it to the AMD Radeon RTX2070-086-Mini in the review unit except to say that this is one hot GPU with a 256-bit bus and GDDR6 memory. It will play most 1080p games at over 100fps as well as 4K@50+fps. Detailed benchmarks here.
You select your SSD – WD Black, Samsung 970 EVO, Kingston, Micron, Seagate, or Intel Optane et al. The 2xM.2 slots will accommodate PCIe NVMe 3.0 4-lane for as fast as you want. At the top end you may get 3500/3200Mbps and at the bottom end 30% of that.
Intel Optane uses a basket of high-speed cache to give 3200/1600Mbps Sequential read/write.
It all depends on what you are doing. Note a high-speed 2TB unit will cost up to $700.
Note there is no internal 2.5” storage, but you can get Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 external storage at reasonable prices. The only issue to remember here is what types of files you will be backing up (writing) or loading (reading) as some have better large file performance.
GadgetGuy’s take – Intel NUC 9 Extreme is damned fast, and I love it
Well, Nuc me. I am not a gamer, and I am very happy with a Surface Pro 7 for my daily drive. This is not for me, yet I want it.
It is essentially laptop-grade hardware and a desktop GPU. The only way you will get faster is to go to desktop hardware.
I can see where the Intel NUC 9 Extreme in all its guises fits, and it is perfect for gamers, creatives and more. It offers you the choice of speed for price in a world where ‘desktops’ hardly exist anymore.
Rating this is based on expandability, price to a degree (although we try not to comment on that), and quality. The Intel NUC 9 Extreme meets or exceeds all our paradigms. It is unique, although other makers are picking up the NUC form factor.