Intel Beast Canyon NUC11BTMi9 review

The gaming variants of Intel’s Subsequent Unit of Computing (NUC) mini-PCs have at all times been costly. For the value, you bought distinctive, compact, and finally turn-key choices for a transportable 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 associated fee.

With the launch of Beast Canyon—formally often known as the NUC11BTMi9 or NUC11BTMi7, relying on which model you get—the excessive price is tougher to justify.

Admittedly, the viewers for these gaming PCs wasn’t giant to start with. However Beast Canyon is a surprisingly tougher promote than I anticipated.

Design

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. Fairly than a separate processor, motherboard, and cooler, you’ll as a substitute discover Intel’s latest Compute Factor 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 an entire 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purchase the newest model of the Compute Factor, change over RAM and storage drives as relevant, after which swap the outdated Compute Factor for the brand new one. The concept is you can improve your system like a DIY system, however in a mere handful of minutes. No have to cope with components lists, chipset compatibility, or BIOS updates.

Zoomed out view of Beast Canyon NUC interior layout Alaina Yee / IDG

A top-down view of Beast Canyon’s inside format. The followers on the prime flip as much as give entry to the Compute Factor and graphics card. Sandwiched between the 2 is a separate fan shroud for the Compute Factor’s fan, which directs the new air out the again of the unit.

Equally, your GPU is no matter two-slot, off-the-shelf graphics card you get your fingers on. And with Beast Canyon, you possibly can match a full-length video card as much as 12 inches lengthy. Ghost Canyon, which was a daintier 5 liters in measurement, might 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 straightforward swap for a retail SFX mannequin. However it 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 stated that it doesn’t present steering for utilizing off-the-shelf PSUs, as they might violate regulatory certifications. If you wish to cobble collectively your individual increased wattage PSU swap, you are by yourself.

In principle, working inside Beast Canyon ought to be easy. You’ve simply two elements to cope with 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 offer disassembly clues, however you’ll wish to watch the official teardown video to guard such an costly buy.

Close up of RGB on Beast Canyon NUC (red) Alaina Yee / IDG

Beast Canyon fully makes up for Ghost Canyon’s lack of rainbow LEDs with a customizable RGB entrance panel, plus RGB accent lighting over the entrance I/O ports and alongside the underside of the chassis.

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 should you 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 Factor that homes your CPU, its cooling, system ports, and wi-fi connectivity module. To make it a completely practical gaming PC, it’s important to nonetheless purchase and set up your individual SSDs, RAM, and discrete graphics card. Alternatively, you should buy Beast Canyon as a pre-configured PC via shops like Simply NUC, however you’ll pay additional going that route.

Our evaluate unit is the higher-end choice, the $1,350 NUC11BTMi9, which sports activities the BNUC11DBBi9 model of the Compute Factor. Inside is an Eight-core, 16-thread Core i9-11900KB with a base frequency of three.3GHz, a Max Turbo frequency of four.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. Note that if you choose to overclock this chip, which is only possible through Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility, you lose the safety of Intel’s guarantee ought to one thing go sideways.

If that’s too wealthy on your blood, you possibly can go for the $1,150 NUC11BTMi7 and its BNUC11DBBi7 Compute Factor, which encompasses a Core i7-11700B with a base frequency of three.2GHZ, a Max Turbo frequency of four.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.

Beast Canyon NUC close up of proprietary PSU Willis Lai & Adam Patrick Murray / IDG

The 650W energy provide included in Beast Canyon could appear like a regular SFX energy provide, but it surely’s a proprietary design that may’t be simply changed. Intel does say that has examined it with as much as an RTX 3080 Ti with no subject, nonetheless.

Other than which Compute Factor 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 help both NVMe or SATA drives, and are suitable with RAID zero or RAID 1, whereas the third is NVMe solely), and all slots are suitable with PCIe four.zero drives. The Compute Components additionally help 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 three.1 Gen 2 (10Gbps) Kind-A ports, two Thunderbolt four ports, a 2.5Gb ethernet port, and one HDMI 2.0b on the Compute Factor. Two extra USB three.1 Gen 2 (10Gbps) Kind-A ports, a three.5mm stereo headset jack, and an SDXC slot with UHS-II help can be found on the entrance of the chassis. Inside are two USB three.1 headers and two USB 2.zero 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 would get your fingers on a graphics card at an inexpensive 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 four.zero 500GB M.2 NVMe SSD, and a Home windows 10 Professional license.

Size comparison between Ghost Canyon NUC, Beast Canyon NUC, and Meshlicious case Alaina Yee / IDG

From prime to backside: Ghost Canyon (5 liters), Beast Canyon (Eight liters), and a SSUPD Meshlicious case (14 liters). Beast Canyon is roughly the identical measurement as an eGPU enclosure.

All instructed, this method comes out to just a little beneath $2,000, assuming an inventory value for the GPU. That’s cheaper than Ghost Canyon was at launch, however nonetheless on the excessive facet for what you get. So can this machine ship on efficiency sufficient to justify the premium you’ll pay?

Efficiency

Beast Canyon’s competitors is just about most different gaming machines. And but, they’re not direct rivals, both.

On one facet, you have got gaming laptops. Out the gate you already know that you simply’re taking a look at decreased gaming efficiency (because of thermal constraints) in alternate for an included display and portability. On the opposite facet, you have got SFF gaming PCs. Not solely are you able to construct a strong PC in Eight liters, you can too measurement as much as 13 or 14 liters for far more energy, better price financial savings, and simpler meeting should you’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 cellular CPU however a discrete GPU—making it susceptible to stated competitors.

Common efficiency

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 customarily the extra cores you have got, the quicker it goes. We use it as a approach to ballpark how the chip will deal with transient durations of full utilization.

bc nuc cinebench r20 mt v3 PCWorld

As a cellular 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 Factor) influences the model and quantity of cooling, and thus efficiency. Nonetheless, Tiger Lake H is trying fairly good, particularly should you already personal a Compute Factor and are itching for an improve to scale back the time of multithreaded, CPU-intensive duties.

bc nuc cinebench r20 1t v2 PCWorld

As for single-core efficiency, you’ll be hard-pressed to search out fault with Beast Canyon’s cellular chip. Many video games don’t make full use of all accessible cores and threads on higher-core rely CPUs, so should you’re contemplating Beast Canyon for gaming, it holds up fairly effectively—as you’ll see extra concretely within the gaming benchmarks.

bc nuc handbrake 1.3.3 PCWorld

Content material creators intent on having a small, moveable PC could also be much less satisfied that Beast Canyon is the proper 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 % slower than the 5900HX. Decide up a heftier laptop computer with an, ahem, beastly Ryzen 9 5900HX and you’ll tear via encodes quicker—with the advantage of having a very work-from-anywhere machine, in addition.

Gaming efficiency

We already know from Ghost Canyon that Intel lets its top-tier cellular chips stretch their legs adequately inside the Compute Factor, 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?

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We’ll begin with certainly one of 3DMark’s well-known artificial benchmarks. As a way to embrace some laptops from our older evaluations, I’ve seemed 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 offer 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.

bc nuc rise of the tomb raider vh 1080p PCWorld

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—cellular discrete GPUs usually carry out at about one degree down in comparison with their desktop equivalents. The primary profit to Beast Canyon right here is you can simply swap out that RTX 3060 for a beefier, extra highly effective GPU in minutes. (In a world the place GPUs might be extensively discovered at listing value, that’s.)

bc nuc middle earth som ultra 1080p PCWorld

These charts additionally present that upgrading Ghost Canyon with Beast Canyon’s Tiger Lake H-based Compute Factor isn’t actually definitely worth the money, should you 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 quite a bit.

bc nuc metro exodus PCWorld

You may see that in a number of 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 % in comparison with Ghost Canyon when utilizing the identical graphics card in each methods.

bc nuc shadow of the tomb raider PCWorld

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) choose up a transparent lead in a single title—and little or no in one other.

bc nuc borderlands 3 PCWorld

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 methods are constrained by accessible area for cooling, whereas typically with the ability to grasp with greater desktop PCs with extra highly effective CPUs.

Acoustics

In earlier NUC evaluations, I’d touch upon each how loud the unit would get and the way a lot energy it might draw. Sadly, the PCWorld workers continues 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 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 facet, however simply blotted out by carrying headphones.

Remaining ideas

Intel’s gaming NUCs have at all times carried this air of the last word luxurious product. Certain, they had been costly, however you couldn’t replicate them as a DIY builder with out critical 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 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 options earlier than committing to a purchase order. Relying on the state of affairs, a laptop computer plus an eGPU or a DIY SFF gaming PC might work out higher. (Had been I higher geared up in my house testing setup, I’d have frolicked pitting Beast Canyon in opposition to these two choices, slightly than simply gaming laptops and bigger gaming PCs.)

eGPU Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Pairing a laptop computer with an eGPU isn’t essentially low cost, however should you’re contemplating Beast Canyon, value in all probability isn’t crucial issue for you. (And whether it is, there’s the DIY SFF route.)

However even within the summary, it’s clear to see the strengths of these two options. You may journey freely with a laptop computer, with out fear a couple of cellular GPU growing old horribly. Sure, you’ll need to cope with some nerfed efficiency due to eGPU bandwidth limitations, however that compromise is palatable. You may no less than improve the graphics card down the highway.

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 far more management over what goes into the machine. You’ll additionally lower your expenses, in addition. After 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 technology I selected. (The cheaper variant sported a Ryzen 7 3700X; the extra equal model had a Core i7-11700Ok.) And that’s together with a $250 Dan A4 7.25L case.

Beast Canyon nonetheless represents an choice for a skinny slice of PC avid gamers and content material creators who need 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 not like with Ghost Canyon (and even older gaming NUCs), I’d 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 all the pieces.

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