When I first saw the teaser of the Ghost Canyon NUC and its compute Element, I was surprised and excited to learn about it. IT was quite the rabbit hole as information trickled out. It never entirely left my mind, but also, I moved on to other things, but when I was contacted for an early sample to review, the fire quickly ignited again.
I do wish we could have got some overclocking done on the 9980HK, but we hit ICCMax almost immediately with marginal gains at best. I tried even at considerable risk moving the amperage allowances to much higher than the silicon could pull or use, and it just did not want to work with me. I am hoping it is merely a version issue, and a new one will come soon so we can see what the Ghost Canyon can do with the limits pulled back a bit.
What we like
This new Compute Element is an excellent way to make for an upgradeable system that can be as easy as a card swap. While I know that it will not be for everyone, as many users love to build flashy rigs, but this is a potent gaming level rig that can run 4K and can fit in a backpack. The ability to upgrade down the line via the purchase of an upgraded compute element is a new prospect as the plug into a standard PCIe slot.
After my first time disassembling the unit, I quickly was able to reassemble the entire Element and chassis in about half an hour, which is not bad at all. The ability to have a strong eight cores and sixteen threads in such a small package is very nice, and with eth cooling solution, it stays in boost quite well. The noise level during testing was not bad, and about average for most reasonable performing air coolers under load.
What do we think could be better?
Things we don't like about the new NUC 9 Extreme or Ghost Canyon would be first and foremost the price. Some users will find that paying up to 1500-1600 bucks for an i9 powered module like this where they cannot upgrade the CPU, not really of interest. However, Intel took a top-end notebook, removed the screen and other bits, and turned it into an SFF PC.
I can understand the apprehension as buying into the Compute Element solution means locking yourself into that ecosystem, at least for that rig. The only other gripes I could bring up would be a lack of higher-speed networking, which is becoming the norm on most enthusiasts class motherboards and systems.
Lets wrap it up
At the price point demanded, I think the NUC 9 Extreme/Ghost Canyon NUC will find a happy home with many users. They may be using it for various things outside of gaming, such as VM hosting, home servers, or numerous other use cases I cannot even think of. But this is an item that is truly one of a kind, and I, for one, do not have a worthy competitor with a similar design and feature set that I can pit it against.
I would say, if you want an SFF gaming machine that is ultra-portable or simply out of the way, the new NUC 9 Extreme series is worth a consideration. And one last thing, don't forget there are capable i5 models at just over $1000 with the chassis and everything, minus storage, RAM, and OS.
The Bottom Line
Intel has pulled off an impressive feat of engineering and innovation with the new NUC 9 Extreme kits. The ability to upgrade your systems as easy as a GPU swap, will likely capture plenty of new SFF builders.
- 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]