The Intel NUC – next unit of computing – has been around for six years. Perhaps it was an idea ahead of its time. The Intel NUC 8 VR machine blows away any misconceptions about ‘size matters’.
NUC is more about a compact concept. It comes in several packages.
- Mini PC 4 x 4” complete from $319 (but you will want the i5 version starting at $739)
- Barebone chassis/board kits (add memory, SSD and OS) i3 from $459
- Barebone motherboards – Celeron from $168
- Intel Compute Stick – pretty amazing what it can do in such a tiny HDMI stick
- Intel Compute cards – not much bigger than a credit card
- And the Intel NUC 8 VR machine – which this review is about
The uses vary, but essentially these go into tight spaces. As I started this review, I found many instances where NUCs are the best option and my opinion changed from neutral to being quite a fan.
Review: Intel NUC 8 VR machine – Product code PPNUC8i7HVK
I love Intel’s internal code name for this – Hades Canyon. It was meant to be something awesome – something you might sell your soul to the devil for. And to the right user, it is.
Video performance is claimed to be like the NVIDIA GTX 1060 and CPU performance is a good 30% more than a similar 7th generation CPU. It can drive six displays from its onboard ports and GPUs. It can have two NVMe SSD – at present 4TB. This is no shrinking violet!
And it is interesting that Intel did sell its soul to integrate the Radeon (AMD) chip into its silicone.
To understand the power, you need to understand the specifications first.
The Intel NUC 8 VR machine review unit is specified as follows (and it’s important to see that all this is in a box 221 x 142 x 39mm x 1290g.
- 8th generation Intel Core ‘unlocked’ i7-8809G, 3.1GHz to 4.2GHz Turbo, Quad Core, 8MB cache, 100W
- Radeon RX Vega M GH graphics ‘unlocked’ 1063MHz–1190MH, 24 Computing units, and VR capable (this is part of the processor) with 4 GB of HBM2 (High-Bandwidth Memory 2) for video RAM.
- Up to 32GB Dual channel DDR4-2400+ SODIMMs, 1.2V
- HDMI x 2, 2.0a ([email protected], HDR) ports
- Mini DisplayPort x 2
- Thunderbolt 3 x 2 USB-C 40Gbps ports
- 6 x USB-A 3.0 Gen 2 10Gbps ports (many with sleep charge)
- 1 x USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 10Gbps
- 2 x M.2 2240/80 NVMe SSD for SATA3 or PCIe 3.0/3 lane, RAID-0/1 (or Intel Optane)
- 2 x Gigabit Lan ports
- Wi-Fi AC 8265M 2 x 2 MIMO, 867Mb/s, Wi-Di, Miracast
- Bluetooth 4.2
- SDXC slot
- Internal fan
- 1 Dolby digital 7.1 sound
- Optical TOSLINK
- Support for 44.1 kHz/48 kHz/96 kHz/192 kHz sample rates on all analogue outputs
- Support for 44.1 kHz/48 kHz/96 kHz sample rates on all analogue inputs
- 3.5mm combo headset
- Front IR port
- Customisable RGB LED as well as turn on/off the ‘skull’.
- Quad-beam forming microphones
- Kensington lock slot
- 3-year warranty
- VESA wall mount plate
- Power 19.5V/11.8A, 230W brick that unfortunately is not much smaller than the NUC weighing 890g.
There is a lower cost NUC8i7HNK with a locked (no overclocking) Intel Core i7-8705G, 3.1GHz to 4.1GHz Turbo, Quad Core, 8MB cache, 65W and Radeon Vega M GL graphics. It is functionally identical.
The Intel Datasheet is here
Who is the Intel NUC 8 VR machine for?
First locked or unlocked? The latter is for gamers.
Obviously focused on gamers, the Radeon RX Vega M GH graphics deliver up to 90 frames per second (FPS) for stunning VR. Then add the 7.1 sound and all the go-fast components. This diminutive box is one of the most powerful on the planet.
But it is not just for gamers. Throw in a pair of 2TB Samsung 970 EVO SSD and 32GB DDR4 SO-DIM, and you have a very capable CAD, video/still rendering machine that you can slip in your bag.
What is Radeon RX Vega M Graphics?
GL: (locked for up to 2.6 TFLOPS) and GH (unlocked for up to 3.7 TFLOPS). This is on top of the Intel HD 630 Graphics, so you have the best of both worlds – power when you need it.
The key here is that these are part of the Intel Chip and are not affected by plug-in card bus limitations. It connects to CPU via embedded multi-die interconnect bridge (EMIB).
These both support
- DirectX 12
- OpenGL 4.5
- OpenCL 2.0
- Vulcan 1.0
- Encode/decodes HEVC, H2.64, V1, MPEG/2/4
It does not support DirectX 12.1 or YouTube’s VP9 codec (yet). Analysts say that while it can match a GTX 1060 in some circumstances, it’s closer to a GTX 1050 Ti.
If you are really keen, you can read more about the chips here.
It is a desktop, 4-core, 3.1/4.2Ghz, CPU consuming 100W. No laptop can stand that power drain. PassMark gives it a score of 10,630. As a comparison, the i7-7700HQ it replaces is 8,867.
You select the SSD hard disk and interface (SATA 3 or NVMe). If you want to read about the fastest NVMe SSD look at our Samsung 970 EVO review here.
But I did notice that the NVMe supplied (presumably an Intel Optane) was PCIe 3.0 x two lanes (not four) which is only half the potential speed. I could not check, but I suspect that at least one slot is capable of four lanes.
The SDXC slot achieves over 80MB/s (.08GB/s).
Build, cooling and control
It is solid with a removable top cover to access all internals. Although it is an all-in-one design, it is highly customisable. Fan noise is low even under full load. It maintained 30° outside temperature even under full load due to a liquid cooler.
The LED manager software controls 16.7 million colours on the skull top plate, three front LEDs and the power button. Fun but only for visual effect. I disabled it.
The Radeon Software controls FreeSync and more.
The Intel Wi-Fi AC 8265 5GHz achieved 866/600Mb/s (down/up) up to five metres from our D-Link Cobra AC3200 router. It fell to 590/360) at 10 metres. All good.
GadgetGuy’s take – I am no gamer, but the power of the Intel NUC 8 VR is impressive
It is small enough (except for the large power brick) to be portable.
Our gaming experts confirm that it will do things like Overwatch up to [email protected] and works well with Oculus Rift.
It is a tad expensive, but it is unique and has the Intel pedigree. We have not seen so much power in something so small – who says size matters?
Inevitably gamers will say that they can get better value from a build-your-own PC and they are right. But that is going to weigh several kilos and portability is the key here. Or they will look at a very high-end laptop and won’t get much change from $5K.
- The unlocked processor is fast and fun
- Extensive connectivity
- Quiet and cool even under load
- Thunderbolt 3 expansion – works with USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 docks or eGPU expansion
- You pay a premium for this device
- It would be easy to spend $2K more with 2 x 2TB NVMe SSD, 32GB SO-DIM, Windows, and keyboard/mouse
- Has Thunderbolt 3 expansion but will not charge from it – needs the power brick
- Overly large power brick spoils the portability a little
The Intel NUC 8 VR machine occupies a niche space – an ultra small, ultra powerful computing device. It has no real direct competitors.
- Overall: 4 out of 5
- Features: 5 out of 5 – so many ports, so many options
- Value for money: 3 out of 5 – it is not going to be cheap, but it will be small
- Performance: 4 out of 5 – Great speed but not quite a GTX 1060 in video performance
- Ease of Use: 3 out of 5 – Having to buy drives, memory, keyboard/mouse and install Windows is for expert-level
- Design: 5 out of 5 – Very well made with a great three-year warranty
We could not find a recommended price. B&H USA has it for US$999 or approx. $1350 plus GST and shipping. The locked version is about $200 less.
It will be available in Australia soon.