Intel NUC 12 Extreme Dragon Canyon | Review

Intel NUC 12 Extreme Dragon Canyon | Review

Intel NUC devices are famous among enthusiasts for offering power in a small space: they are real mini PCs, more compact than a Mac Mini, usually equipped with low consumption CPUs (the same ones we find on laptops) and sold in "barebones" kit, where the user has to add storage (SSD or HDD) and RAM, often in SO-DIMM format.

NUCs are often found inside offices, as they are perfect for a work that mainly involves surfing the net, managing emails and using the Office suite, with perhaps some sporadic image editing using Photoshop or similar software. However, there is a type of NUC that goes beyond what has been described so far and is designed for enthusiasts who want a powerful system, more oriented to gaming, streaming and content creation, than to office work: the NUC Extreme.

Today we talk about the Intel NUC 12 Extreme "Dragon Canyon", the latest iteration of the high-performance segment of the NUC family. As you will imagine seen, the target for which it is designed is not as compact as the models described above, but the philosophy behind it does not change: Intel has managed to condense everything into a chassis of only 8 liters, which measures 357 x 196 x 120 mm. Inside we find an Intel NUC 12 Extreme Compute Element "Eden Bay" with a 65W Intel Core i9-12900 processor, as well as an 80+ Gold certified 650W power supply and an Intel AX211 6E WiFi card and 10Gb LAN managed by a controller Marvell AQtion AQC113.

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Aesthetically, the NUC is very sober and in some ways anonymous: when turned off it is completely black, with the two side panels and the upper one in mesh, to facilitate the passage of air. The best of it obviously gives once switched on: the skull of the NUC Extreme series appears on the black front plate, while in the lower part LEDs light up and project their light on the desk. Both the skull and the LEDs are RGB and can be customized, and the logo can also be replaced with one chosen by the user.

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As you can see from the images, the space inside the NUC 12 Extreme is really small. The Compute Element features the skull symbol of the NUC Extreme series in plain sight and is equipped with a fan, which expels the air from the back of the PC and helps in cooling. Also for cooling, in the upper part of the NUC 12 Extreme we find three 92mm fans configured in extraction, equipped with a protection grid to prevent the GPU power cables from interfering.

Once the Compute Element is open we find space to install two NVMe PCIe 4.0 SSDs (M.2-2242 and M.2-2280 formats supported) and two SO-DIMM RAM modules, while a third slot for M.2-2280 SSD is available on the back. The configuration we received is equipped with a 512GB Samsung 980 SSD and 16GB of RAM marked Crucial at 3200MHz, but we remind you that the NUC 12 Extreme is sold as "barebones", so you can install SSD and RAM of your choice. In correspondence of the fan it is possible to notice the presence of two thermal pads, which help to better dissipate the heat generated by the SSDs.

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The video card, however, is certainly the most important element to be inserted in the NUC 12 Extreme "Dragon Canyon", which is also designed to support future models with a PCIe 5.0 x16 interface. Given the particularity of the product we decided to do some tests with different GPUs; The 650W power supply, the presence of only two PCIe 8 pin power connectors and the 2 slot GPU support "limits" the choice, so keep in mind these constraints if you plan to buy this NUC and have to choose the GPU to match. To give you an idea of ​​the overall dimensions, we tried installing an RTX 3080 FE, an RTX 3070 FE and a Radeon RX 6700 XT Reference.

As you can see from the images, the RTX 3080 fits comfortably in the NUC 12 Extreme and is not particularly complex to install, but you will have to bend and squeeze the 8-pin to 12-pin adapter to be able to reposition the upper part. The same goes for the RTX 3070: as you can see from the image, the adapter is crushed, but this does not involve any risks or operating problems. Also with regard to the Radeon RX 6700 XT, which requires an 8 + 6 pin connection port at the top, there have been no particular problems, however you will have to pay attention and avoid that the cables, once the NUC is closed, slip into the inside the protective grille of the upper fans.


Once the video card was installed and the NUC 12 Extreme was closed, we ran benchmarks to measure performance, selecting different games and some rendering and productivity software. For the tests we decided to combine the configuration described above with an RTX 3070, in our opinion the best solution to be combined with the Core i9-12900.

As for games, we tested Watch Dogs Legion, Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition , Far Cry 6, Assassin's Creed Valhalla, Apex Legends, Forza Horizon 5 and Gears 5, enabling Ray Tracing and DLSS where available (respectively with “Ultra” and “Quality” settings where selectable), both in Quad HD and Full HD resolution. Below we leave you the test results.

As you can see, the NUC 12 Extreme “Dragon Canyon” with an RTX 3070 Founders Edition installed does not disappoint. , guaranteeing excellent performance in games: the only title where it does not nominally reach 60 FPS, stopping at 59 FPS, is Watch Dogs Legion with RT and DLSS active at Quad HD resolution, but just set the latter to "Balanced" or " Performance ”to cross the threshold. The eSport and lighter titles, such as Apex Legends, reach very high framerates even with the highest graphic quality, giving the possibility to make the most of high refresh rate monitors if played with the right settings.

As mentioned , in addition to the games we also performed some tests that put more stress on the CPU, such as Blender, CrossMark and PCMark 10. In the Blender test, where we go to render the Classroom demo file, the NUC 12 Extreme records a time of 6 minutes and 42 seconds, while in CrossMark and PCMark 10 he gets a score of 2001 and 8125 points respectively. All in all, these are good results, showing how the NUC 12 Extreme and the Core i9-12900 are suitable not only for gaming, but also for other workloads, including content creation.

Temperature and consumption

To measure the temperature and consumption of the NUC 12 Extreme we ran a loop of Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition with the same settings as the benchmark, at 4K resolution. Below we leave you the graphs of temperature and consumption trends for both the processor and the video card, extracted from the logs recorded with the HWInfo software.


The initial part of the graph shows the situation before starting the benchmark: consumption is low, except for a 143 watt CPU spike recorded by the software. During the benchmark we see that the power consumption of the video card rapidly rises to 150 watts, and then increases again during the test until it reaches a peak of 183 watts, while that of the Core i9-12900 remains stable at around 60 watts. just under the PBP of 65W. It is interesting to note how, at the start of each run of the loop, the CPU records a spike of about 77 watts. The valleys in the GPU graph correspond to the end of each run.


For the temperature graph too, the initial part shows the situation before the loop start: the video card is stable at 36 ° C, while the CPU stays between 50 ° C and 54 ° C. During the benchmark, the video card gradually rises, reaching higher and higher peaks with each run, closing with a maximum recorded temperature of 72.25 ° C. The CPU instead shoots up quickly until it touches 90 ° C, and then drops and oscillates between 75 ° C and 85 ° C, again touching peaks of 90 ° C in some cases.

Although it has a PBP of only 65 watts, the Core i9-12900 has a maximum Turbo Power (MTP) of a whopping 221 watts, which it can hold (if the cooling system allows) for 28 seconds. In our tests we have never recorded a similar consumption, not even at peak and for a second, probably because the cooling system of the NUC 12 Extreme is unable to effectively dissipate the heat generated in a similar situation: let's clarify immediately, we are not there. never faced with thermal throttling problems or performance drops, as you can see from the graph below the operating frequency is always oscillated between 3GHz and 4.2GHz during the benchmark and during the test the average temperature stands at 78.3 ° C, but as we have shown you the consumptions never went above 60 watts and remained below the PBP.


This NUC 12 Extreme "Dragon Canyon" is an extremely particular machine with an extremely specific target: enthusiast users who are looking for a lot of power in a format that is as small as possible, even more than most of the mini ITX cases currently on the market, and that for for one reason or another they cannot assemble a PC from scratch, but are looking for a solution where only the latest components need to be installed.

The ease with which you access the NUC is fantastic: just a few, simple ones steps to install SSD and RAM. To facilitate everything are the opening systems of the upper part, the one in which the fans are located, and of the Compute Element, both well studied by Intel. GPU installation may be slightly more complex if you opt for longer models than the ones we have shown you, but it shouldn't take you more than ten minutes in more complicated situations.

Overall we can also be satisfied with the performance offered: The NUC 12 Extreme performs as well in gaming as in the rest, whether it is content creation or other. The cooling system also performs quite well, but it has quite obvious limitations regarding CPU management: the Core i9-12900 reaches objectively high peaks and, albeit with an average temperature of 78 ° C during our stress test it keeps well below the critical values, it can never push on the accelerator using the particularly high PL2. Nothing particular to report instead regarding the video card, which can take fresh air from the side bulkhead and expel it upwards, with the help of the upper fans: the temperatures always remain within the norm, even during our most demanding benchmarks. .

With a price of around 1500 euros (1450 $ for the American market) for the version with Core i9-12900 to which must be added SSD, RAM and video card, the NUC 12 Extreme "Dragon Canyon" is undoubtedly a product for the few, but Intel never intended it for the masses. It is a solution designed to meet specific needs: if you fall into this category, we recommend that you evaluate the purchase, since the performance is good and the market offers very few similar alternatives, if not none. If, on the other hand, you are simply looking for a powerful PC, but one that is as compact as possible and does not take up too much desk space, we recommend that you build a mini ITX system with your own hands using chassis such as the DAN A4 SFX V4.1, the Meshlicious or the Cooler Master NR200, which allow you to obtain a very similar result (especially the DAN A4), spending much less.

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