Intel NUC 12 Extreme Dragon Canyon Mini PC Review: A Fire-Breathing Little Beast
Intel NUC 12 Extreme Dragon Canyon: A Blazing Fast, Bleeding Edge Mini-PC
When Intel introduced its first NUC systems featuring its Compute Element, it said the modular design would decrease the time to market for newer, more powerful small form factor systems. That certainly appears to be the case. Hot on the heels of our NUC 11 Extreme review from a few months back, we have the latest NUC 12 Extreme. At first glance, the NUC 11 and NUC 12 Extreme are nearly indistinguishable from each other. However, this latest little beast – code named Dragon Canyon – is packing a 65W Alder Lake-based 12th Gen Core processor, which should boost performance up quite a bit over the 11th Gen CPUs in the previous-gen NUC.
We’ve got a Core i9-12900-based NUC 12 Extreme to play with today. This mini machine represents the top-end of the NUC 12 line-up, which will only consist of two models initially. The only difference between the two will be their CPU configurations though. The spec table below lists the systems’ highlights, but we’ll dig in deeper afterwards and see how the NUC 12 Extreme performs, of course. Let’s get started...
Intel NUC 12 Extreme "Dragon Canyon" Features & Specifications
The powerplant in the NUC 12 Extreme is determined by the included compute element. The higher-end NUC12EDBi9 features a Core i9-12900, while the more mainstream NUC12EDBi7 is powered by a Core i7-12700. The Core i9-12900 is a 16-core / 24-thread processor with 30MB of L3 cache a maximum boost clock of 5.1GHz, while the Core i7-12700 is a 12-coew / 2- thread CPU, with a max boost clock of 4.9GHz and 25MB of L3. Both processors are configured for a 65W base TDP.
In a barebones configuration, NUC 12 Extreme systems feature integrated Intel UHD 770 series graphics, and the platform offers a pair of SO-DIMM memory slots (up to DDR4-3200 when not overclocking), 3 M.2 slots (RAID capable),dual Ethernet ports (up to 10Gb), Intel Wi-Fi 6E AX211 and Bluetooth 5.2, and all of the goodies associated with Intel’s latest mobile platforms, like Thunderbolt 4, USB 3.1 Gen 2, and support for Optane memory.
Like the NUC 11 Extreme, the larger chassis design of the NUC 12 Extreme allows the system to accommodate full-sized, dual-slot wide graphics cards, provided the system’s integrated 650W power supply is up to snuff. The NUC 12 Extreme's chassis exterior also features addressable RGB lighting that illuminates a skull on the front and casts light out of the lower panel onto wherever the system is resting.
The NUC 12 Extreme also offers a flexible array of IO. The front of the system is home to the power button, a pair of USB ports (one Type-A and one Type-C), a UHS-II SD Card reader, and a combo 3.5mm audio jack. The back side of the system is home to six more USB-A ports, two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports, an HDMI output, and a pair of Ethernet jacks. Of course, there will be additional display outputs after installing a discrete GPU as well.
The NUC 11 chassis is vented all around, and has fans almost everywhere. There are three exhaust fans at the top of the system, the compute element is actively cooled, and the SFX-sized power supply situated at the front of the system has a fan as well. Plus, whatever graphics card is installed in the system will have its own fans, too. We built our system up with an EVGA GeForce RTX 3060 with dual cooling fans, so all told there were 7 fans in what is a relatively small system. Even though things are cramped inside the compact chassis, cooling and noise are a non-issue for the most part – we’ll dive deeper into cooling and acoustics a little later.
Assembly / disassembly of the NUC 12 Extreme is surprisingly easy for a small form factor system. It’s not as straightforward as a standard mid-tower, but four screws at the back are all you need to remove to gain access to the NUC 11’s internals. Disengage the four screws on the back and the rear cover pops off. Then you can simply slide off both side panels, and using the two levers at the top, you can lift the top three fans up. The top three fans are installed in a cage with a hinge, and slide out of the way. Two more screws on the compute element need to be disengaged, at which point the front shroud will fold down too allow access to two of the M.2 slots and the memory slots.
Once inside, there are also a pair of expansion slots, one PCIe x4 and one PCIe x16 and a mix and spare power cables available to accommodate a range of different graphics cards.
At CES, Intel had a display showing off the inner-workings of the system. Apologies for the somewhat blurry image, but it was snapped from a video the company posted on its YouTube channel. What you can see is that the compute element is essentially a system on a card, that plug into a separate PCB with the expansion slots and power connectors.
We configured our NUC 12 Extreme with an EVGA GeForce RTX 3060, 16GB of DDR4-3200 RAM (dual-channel), and a 250GB Samsung PCIe 4.0 M.2 SSD. It should be fairly speedy with these components, backed by the Core i9-12900. So, what do you say we get to some benchmarks?