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 conveyable desktop PC. You would possibly 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 often called the NUC11BTMi9 or NUC11BTMi7, relying on which model you get—the excessive value is more durable to justify.
Admittedly, the viewers for these gaming PCs wasn’t massive to start with. However Beast Canyon is a surprisingly more durable promote than I anticipated.
As soon as upon a time, Intel’s gaming NUCs have 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 simple CPU and GPU upgrades. Slightly than a separate processor, motherboard, and cooler, you’ll as a substitute discover Intel’s latest Compute Ingredient inside Beast Canyon. It accommodates 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 previous Compute Ingredient for the brand new one. The concept is that you could improve your system like a DIY system, however in a mere handful of minutes. No must take care of components lists, chipset compatibility, or BIOS updates.
Equally, your GPU is no matter two-slot, off-the-shelf graphics card you get your arms 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 dimension, may solely maintain small-form-factor playing cards eight inches or shorter.
Intel cuts off the self-service there. The opposite parts like the ability provide, energy cables, and baseboard are proprietary. The ability provide specifically is a mildly bitter tablet to swallow, because it appears like a straightforward 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 tough to interchange. When requested, Intel stated that it doesn’t present steerage for utilizing off-the-shelf PSUs, as they may violate regulatory certifications. If you wish to cobble collectively your individual greater wattage PSU swap, you’re by yourself.
In concept, working inside Beast Canyon must be simple. You’ve gotten simply two parts to take care of when attempting to maneuver components out and in of this NUC. Nonetheless, I discovered stepping into the case extra irritating than anticipated. Ghost Canyon tore down simply, with few tough 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 would possibly break a number of of these clips by chance.
Intel has labeled some sections to present disassembly clues, however you’ll need to watch the official teardown video to guard such an costly buy.
Maybe as compensation for its extra advanced structure, 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’ll be able to change the sunshine patterns, colours, and even the picture itself if you happen to so select.
Value, specs, and ports
As with Intel’s different NUCs, Beast Canyon is primarily bought as a bare-bones equipment. 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 completely useful gaming PC, it’s important to nonetheless purchase and set up your individual SSDs, RAM, and discrete graphics card. Alternatively, you should purchase Beast Canyon as a pre-configured PC by means of shops like Merely NUC, however you’ll pay additional going that route.
Our overview 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 under 50 levels Celsius.) This 65W Tiger Lake H chip is similar to the Core i9-11980HK, which has near-identical TDP and clock speeds. Observe that if you happen to select to overclock this chip, which is barely doable by means of 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 encompasses 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’ll be able to 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 extra 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 may get your arms on a graphics card at an inexpensive worth)—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 informed, this method comes out to somewhat beneath $2,000, assuming an inventory worth 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 could have gaming laptops. Out the gate you already know that you just’re taking a look at lowered gaming efficiency (resulting from thermal constraints) in alternate for an included display and portability. On the opposite aspect, you could have SFF gaming PCs. Not solely are you able to construct a strong PC in 8 liters, you can even dimension as much as 13 or 14 liters for rather more energy, higher value financial savings, and simpler meeting if you happen to’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 weak to stated competitors.
Let’s kick off with a take a look at how Beast Canyon’s Core i9-11900KB handles itself in checks 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 could have, the quicker it goes. We use it as a strategy to ballpark how the chip will deal with transient 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 scale 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 if you happen to 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 rely CPUs, so if you happen to’re contemplating Beast Canyon for gaming, it holds up fairly nicely—as you’ll see extra concretely within the gaming benchmarks.
Content material creators intent on having a small, transportable PC could also be much less satisfied that Beast Canyon is the appropriate 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 by means of it fairly fast…however remains to be 15 % slower than the 5900HX. Choose up a heftier laptop computer with an, ahem, beastly Ryzen 9 5900HX and you’ll tear by means of encodes quicker—with the good thing about having a very 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 sturdy 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 in all 3DMark’s well-known artificial benchmarks. So as to embody some laptops from our older evaluations, I’ve appeared on the outcomes for the Fireplace 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 present a common sense of how our Beast Canyon overview unit handles itself and to indicate what’s modified between it and Ghost Canyon since my overview 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 that 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 worth, that’s.)
These charts additionally present that upgrading Ghost Canyon with Beast Canyon’s Tiger Lake H-based Compute Ingredient isn’t actually well worth the money, if you happen to solely use that NUC for gaming. As our overview 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 quite a bit.
You’ll be able to see that in just a few of the extra punishing benchmarks that I ran, the place our Beast Canyon unit went up towards Ghost Canyon with the identical RTX 3060 card. Shadow of the Tomb Raider had the biggest margin, with Beast Canyon pulling forward by about 15 % in comparison with Ghost Canyon when utilizing the identical graphics card in each programs.
Since video games range through which parts 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) choose 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 related and even higher specs on paper when these programs are constrained by obtainable area for cooling, whereas generally with the ability to grasp with greater desktop PCs with extra highly effective CPUs.
In earlier NUC evaluations, I’d touch upon each how loud the unit would get and the way a lot energy it could draw. Sadly, the PCWorld employees remains to be working predominantly from house, in order with with Ghost Canyon, I didn’t have the meter I would like 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 good thing about bigger case followers. Ghost Canyon had 80mm followers on the high, 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 overview unit was on the louder aspect, however simply blotted out by carrying headphones.
Intel’s gaming NUCs have all the time carried this air of the final word luxurious product. Positive, they have 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 greater system (relative to these predecessors that might 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 worth.
However at eight liters, Beast Canyon doesn’t stand as strongly towards 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 house testing setup, I’d have hung out pitting Beast Canyon towards these two choices, somewhat 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’ll be able to journey freely with a laptop computer, with out fear a few cell GPU getting older horribly. Sure, you’ll need to take care of some nerfed efficiency due to eGPU bandwidth limitations, however that compromise is palatable. You’ll be able to no 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 components into the case and routing the cabling, you get rather 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 overview unit, it got here in between $1,500 to $1,700, relying on the processor technology 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’ll bypass even that work by shopping for a completely constructed out system.
However in contrast to with Ghost Canyon (and even older gaming NUCs), I’d query somebody rather more carefully 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 every thing.