I take a look at the Intel NUC 13 Extreme, formerly codenamed Raptor Canyon, a mini-PC chassis, PSU, and motherboard with an unlocked 13th Gen Intel Core processor.
The Intel NUC 13 Extreme, formerly codenamed Raptor Canyon, arrived in a sizable pelican case, not what I was expecting at all. Indeed, the actual device was surprisingly big and weighty.
When I think of a NUC, I think of a little box, about the same size as two Blu-ray cases, tucked away around the back of a monitor. But gone are the days of compact PCs being just a cheap way of kitting out an office with PCs.
It would seem today’s high-performance NUCs have a form factor about the same size as a 1990s desktop PC. The big difference is that unlike beige vintage Hewlett Packard 486 desktop PCs, which were virtually empty when opened up, the stylish-looking NUC 13 Extreme is packed to the gills with high-end components, heatsinks, and fans.
If PCs were game consoles, they would look like the Intel NUC 13 Extreme does inside. Half of the case is taken up by the standard-sized PCIe GPU with the other half being a dirty great heatsink and several fans. Wedged behind all this is a dinky motherboard with a couple of sticks of ram poking out. There’s also an SSD packed in there, somewhere.
It’s like a laptop that you can pull to bits (and customise). The device comes with detailed instructions showing you how to disassemble the modular design. This allows users to easily insert their choice of memory, GPU, and M.2 SSDs into the NUC. The retail units require the end user to supply DDR5 SODIMM memory(up to 64GB), NVMe M.2 storage, an operating system, and a PCIe graphics card.
Rather than some staid office machine, the supplied Intel NUC 13 Extreme review sample was a powerhouse of a gaming rig. Tightly packed inside was an Intel Core i9-13900K mounted on an Intel motherboard paired with an Nvidia RTX 3080 Ti, 32GB of DDR5 SODIMM memory, and a 930GB NVMe SSD for storage.
The Intel NUC 13 has three CPU options. There’s the 13th generation Intel Core i9, as supplied, or the Core i7 and Core i6 versions.
The Intel motherboard has three M.2 slots, one 80mm PCIe Gen4 x4 NVMe slot, and two 42mm/80mm PCIe x4 Gen4 NVMe or SATA3 SSD slots. The device is RAID-0 and RAID-1 capable.
The GPU is served by a PCIe x16 Gen5 slot with PCIe 5.0. The NUC has three 6+2-pin PCIe power connectors and supports up to 450W, 313 mm length, triple-slot graphics cards. The NUC’s small form factor will limit the choice when it comes to selecting a graphics card.
The NUC’s connectivity options are without compromise. The front panel has a USB Type-C socket and two USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-A sockets, as well as an audio jack. The rear IO panel has six USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-A sockets and a further two Thunderbolt 4 / USB4 Type-C ports. The rear panel also has two Ethernet sockets, an HDMI socket for the CPU’s onboard GPU, and two connectors for the Wi-Fi antenna. Line-in, line-out, and mic-in jacks can also be found on the back of the NUC.
Benchmarking this machine was a bit of an unnecessary formality, as it’s about the same specification as my gaming PC. The difference is that my PC is encapsulated in a massive tower and the Intel NUC 13 Extreme is about a quarter of the size and half the weight.
To test the machine’s capabilities, I used UL’s PCMark and 3D Mark as well as BAPCo’s Crossmark, Unigine’s Superposition Benchmark, and Cinebench R23. These benchmark tests give a good indication of a PC’s capabilities across productivity, gaming, and 3D rendering applications.
The PC Mark 10 score of 9440 makes it a very good machine across the board for productivity and creative applications. The high digital content creation score of 16384 made it perfect for video and photo editing. The PC Mark scores were further validated by the Crossmark results which again gave the PC top marks for productivity, creativity, and responsiveness. These results do partially reflect the performance of the user-specified RAM, GPU, and storage, as opposed to the included components at retail. The results do, however, illustrate what can be achieved with the right components in such a compact chassis.
The Cinebench results highlighted the impressive performance that the included Intel Core i9-13900K provides for the NUC. It has superb multi-core 3D rendering capabilities with impressive single-core results.
The impressive Superposition and 3D Mark tests are more to do with the supplied RTX 3080 Ti’s performance than the device at retail. But, again, the results serve to show what an optimally configured Intel NUC 13 Extreme can achieve. The 3D Mark Time Spy Extreme score of 9949 placed the NUC in the top 84% of all results. Even with the gruelling 3D Mark Port Royal test the device’s 12911 placed it in the top 75%.
Testing the machine with the recently released PC version of The Last of Us Part I yielded some impressive results. This is a game that is bringing a lot of players’ high-end PCs to their knees. The Intel NUC 13 Extreme armed with its RTX 3080 Ti GPU managed a reasonable 80 frames per second running in 4K with a few tweaks to the settings, but no major degradation of the image quality. Even more impressive was that, unlike my tower gaming rig, which sounds like it is about to take off when running the game, the NUC was virtually silent.
As supplied, the NUC held its own against my similarly configured tower PC. It was also a lot quieter and a lot smaller.
At around AUD$2,000, the Intel NUC 13 Extreme isn’t cheap. Saying that, the equivalent micro-ATX components will likely cost not far off the same amount, but probably not with the same build quality or quiet operation. You’ll also likely not get the same easy-to-install modular design.
Intel NUC 13 Extreme is a beefy, but compact, barebones mini-PC. It’s an uncompromising design for those wanting to save on space. The NUC offers users the opportunity to customise the machine for their needs and budget, from a reasonable gaming rig to an absolute powerhouse.