February 4, 2023

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Review: The Intel "Raptor Canyon" NUC is a compact gaming PC without the stress

Review: The Intel “Raptor Canyon” NUC is a compact gaming PC without the stress

Zoom in / The new Intel “Raptor Canyon” NUC Extreme (rear) is much larger but also more capable than previous NUC Extreme cases (front).

Andrew Cunningham

Intel NUC (Next Unit of Computing) desktop computers rose to prominence about a decade ago by being small; They were basically portable computers without screens or batteries, crammed inside a small box.

But in the years since then, Intel has tackled large new urban communities. They always have been relatively Small, but as it moved from dedicated laptop GPUs to regular dedicated GPUs to larger dedicated GPUs, NUC Extreme PCs have grown steadily to the point where they are now encroaching on do-it-yourself desktops built around motherboards mini-ITX, mini SFX power supplies, and other size-conscious components.

Enters “Raptor Canyon“The latest and greatest in the line of desktop PCs from Intel. It replaces”Dragon Canyon“The NUC design and optimization by making room for longer, three-slot GPUs – up to 12” (or just over 300mm) in length. That’s not enough room for anyone. The mighty RTX 4090 from Nvidia and 4080 cards, but it can fit just about anything else.

Raptor Canyon may appeal to people who want a solid gaming desktop without the effort, research, and trial and error that comes with building a PC inside a small case. It’s a no-brainer desktop for everyone, and there are still some trade-offs you’ll make if you buy it. But being able to fit more powerful GPUs means it’ll make a little more sense than a Dragon Canyon midway box.

space maximization

The Raptor Canyon NUC Extreme box is just shy of twice the size of the old NUC Extreme – it looks like two old Dragon Canyon boxes stacked on top of each other. And Intel uses many of the same tricks to save space.

The heart of the NUC Extreme is the “Compute Element,” a proprietary motherboard with an LGA 1700 CPU socket, along with room for two laptop-sized DDR5 SODIMM sticks and three PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots for internal SSDs. This computing element plugs on top of a separate proprietary board, which also has a PCIe 5.0 slot on the bottom for attaching a dedicated GPU (the old NUC Extreme also used a go-to board like this, but with the GPU slot next to the Compute Element slot instead of on the side the other from the painting).

Intel makes some allowances for standard parts; The unit’s 750-watt power supply appears to be a standard SFX model that can be swapped out for another, as do the 120mm case fans that blow hot air from the left side of the system. The side, top and bottom panels are all made mostly of mesh for airflow. Our review unit had three 8-pin PCIe power connectors pre-installed and a 12VHPWR connector rated at 300W. That’s not quite enough power for an RTX 4080 or 4090, and not one that would actually fit inside the case in the first place.

An audio jack, two USB-A ports, and a USB-C port are on top of the NUC Extreme.
Zoom in / An audio jack, two USB-A ports, and a USB-C port are on top of the NUC Extreme.

Andrew Cunningham

The Compute Element also contains the majority of a computer’s ports, aside from the outputs on whatever GPU you’re using: a 2.5Gb Ethernet port, a 10GbE port, two Thunderbolt 4 ports, audio jacks, an HDMI port (for onboard GPU output), plus six USB ports -A. Headers on the motherboard provide connections for a USB-C port, another pair of USB-A ports, and an audio jack on the top front of the computer for easy access.

One final upgrade on the old Dragon Canyon NUC design (for people who want more storage space than M.2 slots can provide): an empty drive tray on the left side of the computer can fit a pair of 2.5″ SATA drives or a single 3.5″ drive SATA

What Raptor Canyon gains in functionality, it loses in taste. The Dragon Canyon box has some built-in LED lighting in the form of a glowing skull logo on the front (which I can take it or leave it) and glowing LED strips on the sides and front (which I think looks nice). There are no LEDs on the Raptor Canyon other than a white light around the power button, and the Compute Element doesn’t appear to include standard 3- or 4-pin RGB headers for people who want to swap out the regular 120mm fans on the side for RGB versions. I like the minimalist look, but people who want their PC to light up with LEDs will be disappointed.

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