Intel NUC 9 Extreme (2020) review: Going for broke

Intel NUC 9 Extreme
  • Intel NUC 9 Extreme
  • Intel NUC 9 Extreme
  • Expert Rating

    4.25 / 5

Pros

  • Dedicated graphics performance
  • Ports galore!

Cons

  • Larger form-factor
  • Fans make for a louder machine

Bottom Line

The Intel NUC 9 Extreme shatters the ceiling and raises the roof for what a micro-PC can deliver, even if it does cost you more for the privilege.

Would you buy this?

Should I buy the Intel NUC 9 Extreme?

The Intel NUC 9 Extreme has a lot in common with the chip-maker’s last portable powerhouse but some pretty differences as well. It’s less self-contained than the Hades Canyon was but, if you’re willing to treat your NUC as something a little closer to a hobby-grade DIY PC and a further from the standalone complex, there’s a lot to like here. 

Intel NUC 9 Extreme (2020) full review

Price

In Australia, the cheapest yoú’ll be able to find the Intel NUC 9 Extreme for is approximately AU$1713 for the i5 variant. More expensive configurations and kits will cost you more. You can find it through the following:

Design - Look, Feel and Features 

The new Intel NUC Extreme 9 is small. Not that small but, still, pretty small. As far as NUCs go, it’s the largest such micro-PC on Intel’s roster. It's not quite so wide as a Mini-ITX build might be but it's definitely got a lot more bulk than the previous Hades Canyon NUC did. Where the former is about the size of a video cassette, the latter has more in common with a novelty lunch-box. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday

While I’m personally finding it hard to get over the form-factor of NUCs past, it should be said that this latest increase in size doesn't come without an increase in possibilities. In addition to support for i9 processors, the Intel NUC 9 Extreme also brings with it support for discrete graphics cards. At least, those that'll fit within the Intel's sort-of-small-but-still-a-little-too-big case. Intel has tagged other brands like Razer to produce special custom cases for this thing but, I suspect, most will probably opt for the default so let’s focus on that. 

As someone who bought and uses their Hades Canyon NUC fairly regularly, there's definitely something positively delicious about the idea of a PC this small with a processor of that class. This isn’t the first NUC to offer high fidelity gaming but it is the first with the potential for next-generation graphics tech like ray-tracing. 

All told, the Intel NUC 9 Extreme can be kitted out with up to an Intel i9 processor, up to 64GB of RAM and up to two M.2 storage drives. If you’re the kind of person who likes the appeal of a compact PC like a NUC but doesn’t want to miss out on flashy graphical advances like DLSS and ray tracing, this isn’t a cheap way to reach that destination but it’s still probably the best one available at the time of writing. 

For the record, the Intel NUC 9 Extreme features a total of 17 ports:

Credit: Intel
  • 6x USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports

  • 2x Combo Audio Jack

  • 2x Thunderbolt 3  USB Type-C ports

  • 1x MicroSD (UHS-II SD)

  • 2x HDMI Out

  • 1x DisplayPort

  • 2x Ethernet ports

  • 1x DVI

As opposed to the Hades Canyon, the NUC 9 Extreme does away with the power supply brick, which makes for a slightly more subtle imposition on the cabling side of things. Another cute detail worth noting here is that Intel have included a sort-of suitcase, which you can use to safely transport your NUC. 

Performance - Specs, Benchmarks and Battery Life

Specs

The specs for our Intel NUC 9 Extreme were as follows:

  • Processor: Intel i9-9980HK

  • Operating System:  Windows 10 

  • RAM: 16GB

  • Storage: 380GB SSD + 2TB SSD

  • Graphics: Nvidia RTX 2070

  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5 

  • Dimensions: 9.37 x 8.5 x 3.78" / 238 x 216 x 96 mm

Benchmarks

Credit: Fergus Halliday
Credit: Fergus Halliday
  • PC Mark 2.0 - 6541

  • 3DMark Timespy - 8750

  • 3D Mark Firestrike Ultra - 5297

  • 3D Mark Firestrike - 19673

  • 3D Mark Port Royale - 5053

  • VR Mark Blue -2616

  • VR Mark Orange - 11278

  • Total War: Warhammer 2 - Battle (Ultra) - 77.5FPS

  • Total War: Warhammer 2 - Campaign (Ultra) - 91.4FPS

  • Total War: Warhammer 2 - Skaven (Ultra) - 66.1FPS

  • Monster Hunter: World (Ultra) - 79FPS 

  • Doom Eternal (Ultra Nightmare) - 175FPS

  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (Ultra) - 60FPS

  • Kingdom Come: Deliverance (Ultra High) - 47FPS 

  • Gears Tactics (Ultra) - 91.1FPS

Performance

In action, the Intel NUC 9 Extreme delivered above and beyond what the Hades Canyon could offer. That’s not a surprise but it is what it is. Bumping things up to an i9 processor made for snappier everyday tasks and the addition of a dedicated graphics card let me slide those settings up another couple of notches. You’re not going to be able to crank things to the maximum in the way you would you with a conventional PC build but you can get a lot closer to that than previous NUCs have let you get.

Credit: Intel

Nevertheless, There’s a part of me that longs for the dedicated graphics found in the Hades Canyon. There’s something really nice to the idea of buying a PC like this and having everything you need ready to go from the jump. I also found myself missing how quiet the Hades Canyon was by comparison. Under heavy load, the fans inside the NUC 9 Extreme make themselves pretty known. 

That being said, the move towards relying on a third-party graphics card here ends up yielding more than just the expected performance gains. It also simplifies the drivers side of the equation. As someone who owns and uses a Hades Canyon NUC, getting launch day drivers for it in order to fix day one bugs for newly released games has been something of a constant thorn. I’ve never been so happy to be annoyed at Nvidia’s GeForce Experience software.

The Bottom Line

As opposed to Intel’s last great gaming NUC, It really does feel like you have to invest in rounding the package out with a good graphics card for the new NUC 9 Extreme to be worth it. Inevitably, this caveat subtracts some of the charm. That being said, having a dedicated graphics card erodes a lot of the limits previously afforded to being NUC-bound.

 The Intel NUC 9 Extreme shatters the ceiling and raises the roof for what a micro-PC can deliver, even if it does cost you more for the privilege. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday

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