Review: Intel’s “Raptor Canyon” NUC is a compact stress-free gaming PC

By | November 30, 2022

new from intel
Extend πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Intel’s new “Raptor Canyon” NUC Extreme (rear) is much larger, but also much more capable than previous NUC Extreme boxes (front).

Andrew Cunningham

Intel’s NUC (Next Computing Unit) desktops gained prominence about a decade ago for being small; they were essentially laptops without screens or batteries crammed into a tiny box.

But in the years since, Intel has flirted with bigger NUCs. they always were relatively small, but as they went from dedicated laptop GPUs to regular dedicated GPUs to even larger dedicated GPUs, NUC Extreme PCs have steadily grown to the point where they are now encroaching on DIY desktops built around mini ITX motherboards, small SFX power supplies and other components with reduced form factor.

Enter “Raptor Canyon”, the latest and greatest in Intel’s desktop lineup. It replaces the “Dragon Canyon” NUC design and improves on it by making room for longer triple-slot GPUs – up to 12 inches (or just over 300mm) in length. That’s not enough space for one of Nvidia’s massive RTX 4090 and 4080 cards, but it’ll fit just about anything else.

The Raptor Canyon might appeal to people who want a powerful gaming desktop without putting the legwork, research, and trial and error that go along with building a computer inside a tiny case. It’s a desktop that won’t make sense for everyone, and there are still some tradeoffs you’ll make if you buy it. But the ability to fit more powerful GPUs means it’ll make a little more sense than the mid-range Dragon Canyon box.

Maximizing the space

The Raptor Canyon NUC Extreme box is only twice the size of the old NUC Extreme – it looks like two old Dragon Canyon boxes stacked on top of each other. And Intel is using 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 space for two laptop-sized DDR5 SODIMM sticks and three PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots for internal SSDs. This Compute Element plugs into the top of a separate proprietary card, which also has a PCIe 5.0 slot on the bottom for connecting the dedicated GPU (the old NUC Extreme also used a mid-range card like this, but with the GPU slot on the side the Compute Element slot instead of on the opposite side of the card).

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

An audio jack, two USB-A ports and a USB-C port on top of the NUC Extreme.
Extend πŸ‡§πŸ‡· An audio jack, two USB-A ports and a USB-C port on top of the NUC Extreme.

Andrew Cunningham

The Compute Element also has most of your computer’s ports, plus the outputs of whatever GPU you use: a 2.5 gigabit Ethernet port, a 10 gigabit Ethernet port, two Thunderbolt 4 ports, audio jacks, an HDMI port (for integrated GPU output), plus six USB-A ports. Connectors 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 PC for easy access.

One last update on the old Dragon Canyon NUC design (for people who want even more storage than the M.2 slots can provide): an empty drive tray on the left side of the computer can accommodate a pair of 2.5 SATA drives inches or a single 3.5-inch SATA drive

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

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