This is the Intel NUC 9 Extreme
Intel NUC is a family of Intel processor-based devices, computers, and kits that have two things in common: the latest Intel technology and a small form factor. How small? Well, some of the available models are plates of just ten centimeters, and others are complete computers that fit in the palm of our hand. And in the middle, there are the kits, which offer what is necessary to assemble our own computer. Recently, Intel also announced a new laptop, the NUC 15, for other brands to take advantage of.
Intel NUCs offer the latest Intel hardware in a tiny form factor Intel Omicron
The star of the range, at least for now NUC is the NUC 9 Extreme, which promises to be a high-end computer that takes up minimal space. That is what we have had the opportunity to test, with interesting results.
It should be noted that the NUC 9 Extreme is not sold as a complete computer but as a kit. That means the box, the processor, the power supply, and the exclusive motherboard are included, but we will have to buy the RAM and the graphics card separately; or get a kit already pre-assembled with everything.
Based on an Intel Core i9-9980HK, it is Intel’s ninth-generation leading chip designed for laptops, which tells us two things: that we are facing a ‘beast’, but that at the same time it is designed to consume little energy and produce less heat.
So small it’s scary
The choice of processor is important because the Intel NUC 9 Extreme is an absurdly small computer for the power it promises. It’s hard to do justice to its size in photos. It is tiny not only by the standards of a gaming computer but by any standard.
It is such a small system that we can take it with one hand without problems; although then we will realize that it is heavier than it appears, thanks to the pre-installed internal cooling system.
The Intel NUC 9 comes in a spectacular carrying case Adrian Raya Omicron
Carrying the Intel NUC 9 from one place to another is easy not only because of the size, but because it comes in a specially designed carrying case to support our travels. Yes, we rarely praise a box, but in this case, it is so practical and has such a great visual impact, that we consider it a ‘plus’ for the experience.
The rest of the NUC range does not stand out precisely for its appearance, opting for basic designs that will be hidden in the office. With the Intel NUC 9, the story is different; Intel knows very well that those looking for a product like this want something more.
The design of the Intel NUC 9 is very aggressive Adrian Raya Omicron
It’s no wonder the design of the Intel NUC 9 Extreme is so striking. It consists of a central band covered by two meshes, which guarantee the maximum possible cooling; It is a chassis that maximizes airflow, but at the same time offers details for those who want to look for them. The most obvious is the skull logo, painted and engraved on one of the side meshes.
On the other hand, we do not find much in terms of lighting. The only lights we find are a blue LED inside, which indicates that the system is receiving power and the white light that surrounds the power button.
That it is such a small computer has many advantages, but also some disadvantages. In particular, finding a state-of-the-art graphics card that fits in the chassis can be difficult; the unit we tested came with an Nvidia RTX 2070, a version created by Asus that takes up less than usual. But, for example, we weren’t able to mount one of AMD’s new RX 6800s. When setting up a small team like this, it is important to take measurements into account.
The form factor of the Intel NUC 9 is achieved thanks to the “compute element” Intel Omicron
It is not possible to achieve this shape format with a conventional motherboard. The NUC 9 uses what Intel calls a “computing element,” in which the processor, storage, and ports are integrated into a card that connects to a motherboard of its own. This not only reduces the space required but also makes it easier to update the system since, in theory, we only have to buy a new card to instantly upgrade the computer.
The Intel NUC model that we have been able to test has an Intel Core i9-9980HK processor, so we had high hopes; Although it is a processor for laptops, its power, and the high frequencies it is capable of reaching out the best cooling systems to the test.
Using a laptop processor on a desktop may sound like a cheat, but the truth is that the i9-9980HK is up to the task. The eight cores and sixteen threads give it great versatility in multitasking, something especially important for telecommuting and content creation.
PCMark 10 test on the Intel NUC 9 Omicrono
In PCMark10, the final score was 6655 points, with 9670 points for ‘essential’ tasks, 8325 points for productivity, and 9934 points for content creation; these are very good figures for a laptop processor and at the height of a conventional mid/high range processor. And indeed, our real-life tests showed that this computer performs exceptionally well on a day-to-day basis. Surely the score would have been better with 16GB of RAM since the computer we were able to test only had 8GB.
UserBenchmark test on the Intel NUC 9 Omicrono
This is something that we were able to confirm with UserBenchmark, which marked the team with the highest level by achieving a score of 106% in games, 101% on desktop, and 102% in the workstation.
3DMark test on the Intel NUC 9 Omicron
Indeed, it is not far behind in games either. 3DMark showed a CPU score of 7410 points, which puts it above average. To give us an idea of how portable CPUs have improved, it is at the level of a Core i7-5960K, which a few years ago was the reference, although with much higher consumption.
That the i9-9980HK, with a TDP of only 45W, can fight one-on-one against such a powerful chip is a great achievement that Intel should be proud of; and it makes us think about what the eleventh generation Intel Core that is already coming will be like.
However, the format of the Intel NUC and the use of a portable processor does not bring only good stories. Heat dissipation is always a challenge, and much more in such a small format where it is not possible to use large fans or create a flow of cool air.
The consequences are noticeable in performance. During our ‘abuse’ tests, we were able to see how the system controlled itself so as not to reach dangerous temperatures. It seems to us that Intel algorithms lower the frequency when we reach 80 ºC. This resulted in a general drop in frequencies during prolonged workloads.
Intel NUC 9 reduces processor frequency during heavy loads Omicron
On paper, the Core i9-9980HK has a maximum clock of 5 GHz, but in reality, at no point did we get close; the closest we got was 4.8 GHz, but it didn’t last long. At peak times, we saw the frequency drop to 3.5 GHz. Under the circumstances, this is not a bad figure, and the system performed well.
Intel NUC 9 processor reached worrying temperatures Omicron
More concerning is when the algorithms don’t do their job. During one of the tests, we were surprised when the processor temperature reached 100 ºC; it was only in an instant and no case for a long time, and no matter how hard we tried, we could not repeat the circumstances. But it is still alarming when a processor reaches those temperatures, albeit sporadically.
The best of Intel
There are more reasons to go for an Intel NUC than the space it takes up; These systems have also become the perfect place to demonstrate what Intel is capable of.
A good example is an Optane technology for storage. It consists of using a buffer memory, much faster than an SSD, where the files that we use or need the most are automatically stored. When the operating system needs the file, it does not have to request it from the SSD but gets it from this memory.
Intel Optane is, by itself, a reason to use a NUC Omicron
As a result, the file transfer speed on the Intel NUC can be, in a word, absurd. In our tests, we have achieved write rates of 2,487 MB / s, more than 2 GB per second, and more than 1 GB per second; These are figures that are far ahead of those of a conventional SSD, and that can only improve with the arrival of new standards such as PCIe 4.0.
The NUC 9 also allows you to enjoy new technologies such as WiFi 6, as well as taking advantage of two Thunderbolt 3 ports to connect anything from storage to external graphics.
Intel 100% concentrated
The Intel NUC 9 Extreme is a device that does not leave indifferent, even before taking it out of the box. Once installed, we realize that its presence exceeds its size; The design, without being overloaded, is striking enough to attract attention wherever you take it. And thanks to its small size, and the included transport box, you will be tempted to take it anywhere.
Intel NUC 9 Extreme Adrian Raya Omicrono
The characteristics of this particular model, the Intel NUC 9 Extreme, may already be somewhat obsolete as they are based on a ninth-generation Intel Core, but it serves to give us an idea of the concept of the NUC: computers in which Intel can put the rest, a demonstration of power and latest technology. If you buy a NUC, you will receive the full Intel experience, and that is something you cannot get on any other computer.
If we want something more modern, last CES Intel introduced the new generation of NUC, including a new model: the Intel NUC 11 Enthusiast. Part of an 11th generation Intel Core i7-1165G7, and has an even smaller and thinner form factor than the NUC 9; that doesn’t allow us to change the graphics card, and it comes with a built-in Nvidia RTX 2060 for running current games.