Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
Intel introduced the NUC back in the latter part of 2012, and the name NUC stands for "Next Unit of Computing." Since the dual-core Ivy Bridge inception, the NUC team over at Intel have been taking the small brick PC's to new levels as each new chipset and architecture launched. The NUC series has enjoyed deployments for everything from digital signage to simple to setup device that you could install for a less tech-savvy family member or someone who did not need the horsepower of a full-fledged desktop PC.
Well, the team inside Intel who push the limits of NUCs have made it a goal to go beyond the perceived use case of a low power PC, to make the NUC more desirable to power users. While several of the small square units like you see above had some powerful options, Intel had ambitions to revive their extreme edition moniker and skull design for their tiny systems. The first we saw of this was the Skull Canyon in 2017, powered by a 6th gen quad-core paired with Intel Iris graphics. That was a good start as it sported dual M.2 slots when NVMe was just starting to become a mainstream storage solution.
The following year we saw the release of the newer Hades Canyon NUC, which was massively upgraded to an 8th gen with options for the highest performance option offering a 10W i7-8809G. This was a joint venture between surprising bedfellows as Intel worked with AMD's Radeon group to equip the new CPU with an RX Vega M GH. This new solution was called Kaby Lake G, and it was one of the strangest things we had seen in some time as the high-performance CPU core was now coupled with the Vega GPU and on-chip HBM. This solution made for a reasonably powerful 1080p gaming machine, especially for those who play eSPORTS titles primarily.
That leads us to today...
Today we have in the lab the newest in the NUC series codenamed Ghost Canyon. Ghost Canyon was teased at CES with coverage of the compute element and its related PCIe BBWC1B Baseboard used for expansion. The unit we have today carries a part number of NUC9i9QNX. This part number correlates to the kit version of the NUC, which has the compute element and the chassis with PCIe board and PSU. We will discuss those more in the meat of the review.
There are several models of Ghost Canyon, but the chassis is the same for all of them. The chassis measures in at 9.37" x 8.50" x 3.78", and this is quite the small package for what it can offer. There are three total models of Compute Elements at the time of launch.
These are similarly named with the only difference being i5, i7, and i9. This should quickly tell you what you need to know. The i5 unit at the bottom of the stack comes equipped with a 9th gen Core i5 9300H, while the i7 version comes with a Core i7 9750H, and the top of the stack the i9 model, which sports the i9 9980HK. This is a full-fat 8-core, 16 thread CPU with boost speeds up to 5GHz. The i9 version, as you would expect, is the one which we are testing today. Now, do note that those part numbers I listed above are all for the Compute Elements, which means you would need to install the unit into a compatible chassis. While some 3rd party chassis was shown in prototype form at CES, I have not seen any come across our lab yet. Removing the QNB Suffix and swapping it to QNX would be the kit version with the chassis and PSU.
For storage, the Compute element has dual onboard M.2 slots, both of which support PCIe x4 or SATA, and are connected via DMI via the CM246 PCH. The PCIe BBWC1B Baseboard found in the chassis also has a PCIe x4 M.2 slot, which will be nestled below the compute card and has its cooling solution. This M.2 slot is PCIe only, so keep that in mind as there is no SATA interface reaching this M.2 location. There is an onboard SATA header on the board that appears to be a flip-lock style ribbon connector. There were no SATA ribbons included, so this may be something Intel offers in the future. The PSU in the chassis provided for our Ghost Canyon NUC is an FSP unit that looks to be a small Flex ATX unit rated at 500W and 80 PLUS Platinum.
A vapor chamber style cooler accomplishes cooling for the Compute Element CPU. The cooler has an integrated cooling fan, which is 80mm. If you get the kit with chassis, then you also have two 80mm fans at the top, helping to push heat out of the top of the chassis. While I would love to say there are custom cooling solutions available, but as of the time of writing, there are not any, and I am not sure if any will come. Ideally, I would love to see some AIO coolers made to fit in the enclosure and keep the CPU under boost longer. I guess time will tell if anyone will end up supporting the NUC 9 Extreme for aftermarket or enthusiasts level cooling solutions.
Price point for the new NUC 9 Extreme kits are as follows:
- NUC9i9QNX Ghost Canyon NUC i9 kit ~$1,700
- NUC9i7QNX Ghost Canyon NUC i7 kit ~$1,250
- NUC9i5QNX Ghost Canyon NUC i5 kit ~$1,050
This is pricing for the NUC 9 Extreme Compute Element and the chassis with power supply and PCIe interface board; you will still need to supply your own SO-DIMM DDR4 memory, M.2 storage, and operating system. This will enable the unit to run off the Intel iGPU; however, if you plan to game, you will want to add the cost of a discrete GPU to the list. Do keep in mind that GPU length for the kit chassis is 8", but as shown at CES, there are several chassis in the works that look to support far larger Graphics solutions.
- Page 1 [Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing]
- Page 2 [Packaging]
- Page 3 [NUC 9 Extreme NUCi9QNX Kit]
- Page 4 [Inside the NUC 9 Extreme NUCi9QNX Kit]
- Page 5 [Compute Element Disassembly and Analysis]
- Page 6 [Compute Element Disassembly and Analysis Continued]
- Page 7 [BIOS and Testing Setup]
- Page 8 [Test Setup and CPU Benchmarks]
- Page 9 [Graphics Benchmarks]
- Page 10 [Power Consumption and Thermals]
- Page 11 [Final Thoughts]