The gaming variants of Intel’s Subsequent Unit of Computing (NUC) mini-PCs have all the time been costly. For the value, you bought distinctive, compact, and in the end turn-key choices for a transportable desktop PC. You may pay out the nostril, however you couldn’t replicate the expertise as a DIY builder. That’s what justified the price.
With the launch of Beast Canyon—formally generally known as the NUC11BTMi9 or NUC11BTMi7, relying on which model you get—the excessive value is tougher to justify.
Admittedly, the viewers for these gaming PCs wasn’t massive to start with. However Beast Canyon is a surprisingly tougher promote than I anticipated.
As soon as upon a time, Intel’s gaming NUCs had been tiny. That’s not so with Beast Canyon, which is an eight-liter small-form-factor (SFF) PC—or roughly the scale of an eGPU enclosure.
Like its predecessor Ghost Canyon, its energy lies in its straightforward CPU and GPU upgrades. Somewhat than a separate processor, motherboard, and cooler, you’ll as an alternative discover Intel’s latest Compute Ingredient inside Beast Canyon. It incorporates your selection of a Core i7-11700B or a Core i9-11900KB, the cooling for the CPU, slots for RAM SODIMMs and M.2 SSDs, system ports, and a wi-fi module. You pull it as a complete unit from the system and solely ever open it as much as set up storage and/or reminiscence, because the CPU is soldered on.
Once you outgrow the processor, you merely purchase the newest model of the Compute Ingredient, swap over RAM and storage drives as relevant, after which swap the outdated Compute Ingredient for the brand new one. The concept is you could improve your system like a DIY system, however in a mere handful of minutes. No must take care of elements lists, chipset compatibility, or BIOS updates.
Equally, your GPU is no matter two-slot, off-the-shelf graphics card you get your fingers on. And with Beast Canyon, you may match a full-length video card as much as 12 inches lengthy. Ghost Canyon, which was a daintier 5 liters in measurement, may solely maintain small-form-factor playing cards eight inches or shorter.
Intel cuts off the self-service there. The opposite elements like the ability provide, energy cables, and baseboard are proprietary. The ability provide specifically is a mildly bitter capsule to swallow, because it appears to be like like a simple swap for a retail SFX mannequin. But it surely has a customized energy cable hardwired into it that routes to the again of the case, which makes it troublesome to switch. When requested, Intel mentioned that it doesn’t present steering for utilizing off-the-shelf PSUs, as they may violate regulatory certifications. If you wish to cobble collectively your personal larger wattage PSU swap, you are by yourself.
In idea, working inside Beast Canyon needs to be easy. You might have simply two elements to take care of when making an attempt to maneuver elements out and in of this NUC. Nonetheless, I discovered moving into the case extra irritating than anticipated. Ghost Canyon tore down simply, with few difficult spots to navigate and durable materials. In distinction, Beast Canyon has extra plastic (and fragile plastic clips holding panels in place), plus a really particular order for disassembly. Go off script and also you may break a number of of these clips accidentally.
Intel has labeled some sections to provide disassembly clues, however you’ll wish to watch the official teardown video to guard such an costly buy.
Maybe as compensation for its extra complicated format, Beast Canyon does boast RGB lights, with a default rainbow sample. The entrance panel showcases a picture of a glowing cranium, whereas the USB ports and the underside of the case have accent lighting. You may change the sunshine patterns, colours, and even the picture itself for those who so select.
Worth, specs, and ports
As with Intel’s different NUCs, Beast Canyon is primarily offered as a bare-bones package. You get the case, a pre-installed 650W energy provide with pre-routed cabling, and the Compute Ingredient that homes your CPU, its cooling, system ports, and wi-fi connectivity module. To make it a totally useful gaming PC, it’s important to nonetheless purchase and set up your personal SSDs, RAM, and discrete graphics card. Alternatively, you should buy Beast Canyon as a pre-configured PC via shops like Merely NUC, however you’ll pay further going that route.
Our evaluate unit is the higher-end possibility, the $1,350 NUC11BTMi9, which sports activities the BNUC11DBBi9 model of the Compute Ingredient. Inside is an 8-core, 16-thread Core i9-11900KB with a base frequency of three.3GHz, a Max Turbo frequency of 4.9GHz, and an “Intel Thermal Velocity Increase” frequency of 5.3GHz. (The Thermal Velocity Increase clock velocity solely applies if CPU’s temperature is beneath 50 levels Celsius.) This 65W Tiger Lake H chip is similar to the Core i9-11980HK, which has near-identical TDP and clock speeds. Notice that for those who select to overclock this chip, which is just potential via Intel’s Excessive Tuning Utility, you lose the safety of Intel’s guarantee ought to one thing go sideways.
If that’s too wealthy in your blood, you may go for the $1,150 NUC11BTMi7 and its BNUC11DBBi7 Compute Ingredient, which incorporates a Core i7-11700B with a base frequency of three.2GHZ, a Max Turbo frequency of 4.8GHz, and an Intel Thermal Velocity Increase frequency of 5.3GHz. That’s as low-cost because it will get—Intel isn’t providing a Core i5 model of Beast Canyon.
Other than which Compute Ingredient they arrive with, each of those NUCs are in any other case the identical. You may set up as much as three M.2 SSDs (two slots assist both NVMe or SATA drives, and are suitable with RAID 0 or RAID 1, whereas the third is NVMe solely), and all slots are suitable with PCIe 4.0 drives. The Compute Parts additionally assist Optane SSDs and reminiscence (M10, H10, and H20), in addition to as much as 64GB of dual-channel DDR4-3200 RAM.
For ports, you’ll discover six USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gbps) Sort-A ports, two Thunderbolt 4 ports, a 2.5Gb ethernet port, and one HDMI 2.0b on the Compute Ingredient. Two further USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gbps) Sort-A ports, a 3.5mm stereo headset jack, and an SDXC slot with UHS-II assist can be found on the entrance of the chassis. Inside are two USB 3.1 headers and two USB 2.0 headers. For wi-fi connectivity, Beast Canyon helps Wi-Fi 6E AX210 and Bluetooth 5.2.
Intel outfitted our Beast Canyon pattern as you’d count on from a mid-range gaming PC (assuming you possibly can get your fingers on a graphics card at an affordable value)—no Optane drives with eye-watering costs this time round. Our configuration has an Asus Twin RTX 3060 12GB graphics card, 16GB 3200MHz RAM, an Sabrent Rocket 4.0 500GB M.2 NVMe SSD, and a Home windows 10 Professional license.
All instructed, this technique comes out to a little bit underneath $2,000, assuming an inventory value for the GPU. That’s cheaper than Ghost Canyon was at launch, however nonetheless on the excessive aspect for what you get. So can this machine ship on efficiency sufficient to justify the premium you’ll pay?
Beast Canyon’s competitors is just about most different gaming machines. And but, they’re not direct rivals, both.
On one aspect, you’ve gotten gaming laptops. Out the gate you already know that you simply’re diminished gaming efficiency (because of thermal constraints) in change for an included display and portability. On the opposite aspect, you’ve gotten SFF gaming PCs. Not solely are you able to construct a robust PC in 8 liters, it’s also possible to measurement as much as 13 or 14 liters for far more energy, larger value financial savings, and simpler meeting for those who’re not set on an ultra-minimal footprint.
As you’ll see, Beast Canyon falls just about the place you’d count on for a gaming PC that has a cell CPU however a discrete GPU—making it susceptible to mentioned competitors.
Let’s kick off with a take a look at how Beast Canyon’s Core i9-11900KB handles itself in assessments that focus solely on processor efficiency.
First up is Cinebench R20, a preferred 3D-rendering benchmark. This benchmark takes only a handful of minutes to complete, and usually the extra cores you’ve gotten, the quicker it goes. We use it as a strategy to ballpark how the chip will deal with temporary intervals of full utilization.
As a cell chip, Beast Canyon’s i9-11900KB has the identical constraints as its laptop computer counterparts, together with the i9-11980HK. The dimensions of the laptop computer (or on this case, the Compute Ingredient) influences the fashion and quantity of cooling, and thus efficiency. Nonetheless, Tiger Lake H is trying fairly good, particularly for those who already personal a Compute Ingredient and are itching for an improve to cut back the time of multithreaded, CPU-intensive duties.
As for single-core efficiency, you’ll be hard-pressed to seek out fault with Beast Canyon’s cell chip. Many video games don’t make full use of all obtainable cores and threads on higher-core depend CPUs, so for those who’re contemplating Beast Canyon for gaming, it holds up fairly effectively—as you’ll see extra concretely within the gaming benchmarks.
Content material creators intent on having a small, moveable PC could also be much less satisfied that Beast Canyon is the fitting selection for them, although. In our Handbrake check, which entails transcoding a 4K video formatted as an MP4 file to a 1080p MKV file, Beast Canyon’s i9-11900KB chews via it fairly fast…however continues to be 15 p.c slower than the 5900HX. Decide up a heftier laptop computer with an, ahem, beastly Ryzen 9 5900HX and you may tear via encodes quicker—with the good thing about having a really work-from-anywhere machine, in addition.
We already know from Ghost Canyon that Intel lets its top-tier cell chips stretch their legs adequately inside the Compute Ingredient, permitting them to submit robust numbers in video games. Beast Canyon’s CPU benchmarks don’t contradict that, however how a lot efficiency do you sacrifice in comparison with a DIY gaming PC?
We’ll begin with one among 3DMark’s well-known artificial benchmarks. To be able to embrace some laptops from our older opinions, I’ve regarded on the outcomes for the Hearth Strike check, which simulates DX11 1080p gaming on Medium settings. I’ve additionally included outcomes from a few older video games, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Center-earth: Shadow of Mordor, each to provide a normal sense of how our Beast Canyon evaluate unit handles itself and to point out what’s modified between it and Ghost Canyon since my evaluate of the latter.
In these first few charts, the one machines with desktop graphics playing cards are Beast Canyon and Ghost Canyon. They usually fall proper the place I’d count on—cell discrete GPUs usually carry out at about one stage down in comparison with their desktop equivalents. The primary profit to Beast Canyon right here is you could simply swap out that RTX 3060 for a beefier, extra highly effective GPU in minutes. (In a world the place GPUs may be broadly discovered at record value, that’s.)
These charts additionally present that upgrading Ghost Canyon with Beast Canyon’s Tiger Lake H-based Compute Ingredient isn’t actually definitely worth the money, for those who solely use that NUC for gaming. As our evaluate of the RTX 3060 confirmed, its efficiency is about on par with the RTX 2070, and that bears out right here. In video games that lean extra on the CPU, the hole in efficiency begins to widen, however not by rather a lot.
You may see that in just a few of the extra punishing benchmarks that I ran, the place our Beast Canyon unit went up in opposition to Ghost Canyon with the identical RTX 3060 card. Shadow of the Tomb Raider had the most important margin, with Beast Canyon pulling forward by about 15 p.c in comparison with Ghost Canyon when utilizing the identical graphics card in each techniques.
Since video games range through which elements they hit hardest, it’s not a shock to see the PCWorld benchmarking desktop PC (which sports activities AMD’s powerhouse 5900X and a full-length RTX 3060) decide up a transparent lead in a single title—and little or no in one other.
For essentially the most half, that’s actually how one can boil down Beast Canyon’s efficiency. Relying on the sport, it’ll outperform laptops which have comparable and even higher specs on paper when these techniques are constrained by obtainable house for cooling, whereas generally having the ability to dangle with larger desktop PCs with extra highly effective CPUs.
In earlier NUC opinions, I’d touch upon each how loud the unit would get and the way a lot energy it might draw. Sadly, the PCWorld employees continues to be working predominantly from residence, in order with with Ghost Canyon, I didn’t have the meter I want to check energy draw.
As for noise ranges, Beast Canyon stays pretty quiet throughout common duties. It’s extra silent than Ghost Canyon was—a advantage of bigger case followers. Ghost Canyon had 80mm followers on the prime, whereas Beast Canyon has three 92mm followers.
In video games, you’ll hear the followers audibly kick up, so the graphics card you select will affect the general sound profile. The 2-fan Asus RTX 3060 included with our evaluate unit was on the louder aspect, however simply blotted out by sporting headphones.
Intel’s gaming NUCs have all the time carried this air of the final word luxurious product. Positive, they had been costly, however you couldn’t replicate them as a DIY builder with out severe compromises. Even when Ghost Canyon confirmed up as a a lot larger system (relative to these predecessors that would match into the entrance pouch of a backpack), it carried on the legacy of being a dead-simple, ultra-compact gaming PC price its premium value.
However at eight liters, Beast Canyon doesn’t stand as strongly in opposition to its competitors. Its bigger footprint, proprietary energy provide, and better teardown complexity would make me weigh a few alternate options earlier than committing to a purchase order. Relying on the scenario, a laptop computer plus an eGPU or a DIY SFF gaming PC may work out higher. (Had been I higher geared up in my residence testing setup, I might have hung out pitting Beast Canyon in opposition to these two choices, quite than simply gaming laptops and bigger gaming PCs.)
However even within the summary, it’s clear to see the strengths of these two alternate options. You may journey freely with a laptop computer, with out fear a couple of cell GPU getting old horribly. Sure, you’ll need to take care of some nerfed efficiency due to eGPU bandwidth limitations, however that compromise is palatable. You may not less than improve the graphics card down the street.
As for a DIY construct—whereas you’ll have to play a little bit of Tetris getting the elements into the case and routing the cabling, you get far more management over what goes into the machine. You’ll additionally get monetary savings, in addition. Once I configured a DIY system similar-ish to our Beast Canyon evaluate unit, it got here in between $1,500 to $1,700, relying on the processor era I selected. (The cheaper variant sported a Ryzen 7 3700X; the extra equal model had a Core i7-11700K.) And that’s together with a $250 Dan A4 7.25L case.
Beast Canyon nonetheless represents an possibility for a skinny slice of PC players and content material creators who desire a very small, very highly effective, and quite simple DIY-ish PC. It does streamline the small-form-factor constructing expertise, and you may bypass even that work by shopping for a totally constructed out system.
However not like with Ghost Canyon (and even older gaming NUCs), I might query somebody far more intently in the event that they expressed an curiosity in Beast Canyon. This NUC most closely fits somebody who prioritizes a small footprint and ease of upgradability over the whole lot.