Intel NUC 9 Extreme i9-9980HK (Ghost Canyon) is bitchin dude

Intel NUC 9 Extreme
100% human
Value for money
Ease of Use
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Amazing performance from a minuscule 5L box
You choose the level of performance
PCIe expansion including double-width card
Internal 500W power supply
Really cool transit case
Easy access to internals – remove two screws
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.

Australian review: Intel NUC 9 Extreme i9-9980HK

  • Website here
  • Price
    • 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

ProcessorIntel 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
AlternativeNUC917 Intel Core i9-9850H NUC9i7 Intel Core i7-9750H
NUC9i5 Intel Core i5-9300H
GraphicsIntel 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
ChipsetIntel CM246
BusPCIe for the i9 module PCIe x16/x8/x4 PCIe x4 (or used as part of a double-width video card)
Max memory2 slots SO DIMM for 64GB DDR4-2400 or 32GB DDR4-2666
Drives2 x M.2 PCIe 3 4-lane (can be SATA 6)
Raid 0/1
Intel Optane and SSD ready
Ports Rear2x 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
Ports front2x USB-A 2.0
3.5mm combo audio
CommsWi-Fi 6 AX2000 dual antenna 2×2 MIMO
BT 5.0
180W fed to the Compute Element
Internal PCIe GPU 225W PS connector
OSAdd 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
Intel NUC 9 Extreme
Top and sides off
Everything removed – not there are more power cables than needed.

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

Back of the compute element

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.

2 x M.2 2280 slots
Note 2x SODIMM slots at the rear
That is it folks

Reassembly was just as easy and voila – it works.

Intel NUC 9 Extreme
Note the strong carry case included in the kit

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 1080@9.7fps. 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.

SSD Speeds

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.