Intel continues to roll out the perfect mini desktop with the NUC 12 Extreme, its latest “Next Computing Unit” DIY package. Called “Dragon Canyon”, it’s a slightly upgraded version of last year’s NUC 11 Extreme, which has a reputation for being the first of its kind to fit a full-size desktop graphics card. It now has Intel’s 12th-generation hybrid desktop processors, promising a huge upgrade over last year’s CPUs. While this latest package is still a bit cramped – it can easily get expensive once you’ve added your own RAM, SSD, and GPU – the NUC 12 Extreme proves that Intel is clearly committed to the world of boards small works. With Apple’s Mac Studio just around the corner, it may be more appealing to PC creators than ever.
Gallery: Intel NUC 12 Extreme Edition
Given how much effort Intel put into developing the massive NUC case last year, it is not surprising that the NUC 12 Extreme shares the same 8-liter case. It’s large enough to fit a 12-inch graphics card, but the rest of the interior is packed with power supplies and a computing unit, a removable card that houses the CPU, three NVMe SSD connections, and two RAM slots. This is evident in the case of gaming enthusiasts, with the features being the RGB LED skull on the front and additional lighting below. The NUC 12 Extreme is essentially the PC equivalent of the Honda Civic fed for street racing: it can’t exist without a bit of flash.
Despite its small stature, the NUC chassis has almost all the connectivity needs that you would get from a desktop. There’s a Thunderbolt 4 USB-C port on the front, a USB 3.1 Type-A socket, an SDXC card slot, and a headphone jack. On the back of the Compute Card, there are also two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C connectors, six USB Type-A ports, a HDb 2.0b socket, and two Ethernet jacks (10GbE and 2.5Gb). We reviewed the NUC12EDBi9 package, which contains the Core i9-12900 processor, but another package with i7-12700 is available.
Intel typically sends pre-built NUC kits for review so we can get straight to benchmarking. This year, however, the company released the same DIY package for consumers, which only includes the case, PSU, and computing card. That meant I had to roll up my sleeves and prepare for a joint bruise – it’s time to build a PC! I found 16GB of RAM and 1 TB Samsung SSD from my previous NUC Extreme, along with a spare NVIDIA RTX 3080 card, and started a business.
The NUC Extreme is easy to get into: you remove a few screws from the back, open the part of the case that blocks the PCI slot screws, and remove the panel side to reveal its interior. Fortunately, I managed to add RAM and SSD without removing the computation card. But if you want to pull it out, maybe to upgrade to a newer model, you have to click a latch to unlock the big three fans, remove them, and pull the card out like any other PCI card . Care must be taken when removing its antenna cable and power connector, but it is easy if you already have PC building experience. Given the gentle nature of the process, I would not recommend it unless you have to.
The RTX 3080 easily fits into the PCIe NUC Extreme slot, but I wish there was more internal space to handle all of its power cables. Like most powerful GPUs, the RTX 3080 needs two 8-pin PSU connections, which are attached to the card via dongles. Pressing all those cables into the NUC was a challenge, and I was always worried that they would get caught by the GPU fan blades. I also had difficulty accessing the PCIe latch to remove after installing the 3080. I eventually managed to unlock it with a flat blade screwdriver, as I usually do in compact PC buildings, but sooner as I removed the card, the latch flew away. Clearly, there is room to improve the quality of construction.
After I plugged everything in (and kept my poor ankle out of sharp edges and cables), I started the NUC and installed Windows 11 from the flash drive. Then I rewarded myself the way every PC maker must: I started playing games. While playing Halo Infinite on the ultrawide resolution (3,440 x 1,440) of my monitor, I averaged about 100fps with all graphics settings turned up to maximum. That’s impressive, but pretty much what I would expect from any RTX 3080 powered system. What I would say is that the NUC, more notably, has been able to play games for hours without overheating. I usually see a CPU temperature between 80 and 85 degrees Celsius under load, while the GPU never goes above 82 degrees Celsius. Not bad for a system with very limited airflow and no room to cool fluid.