Intel is updating its Next Unit of Computing (NUC) lineup of miniature computers with its 11th Gen processors, and it’s again including a gaming-focused model. The NUC 11 Enthusiast is a follow-up to the NUC 8 Hades Canyon from 2018, which managed to pack triple-A gaming performance (not to mention I/O that rivaled a full-size desktop) into a tiny enclosure.
Included in the refresh are updates to the company’s more traditional small-cube NUC Performance Mini computers, which previously had 10th Gen processors. The upgrade brings Wi-Fi 6 and Intel Xe graphics to the i5 and i7 models. Intel has also added a NUC Pro line, some of which have vPro-enabled CPUs and all of which can drive 8K displays. There’s also a NUC 11 compute unit, which is just a board meant to be integrated into future computers. This isn’t the first time Intel has had that idea, but we’ll get more into that in just a moment.
NUCs, however, are notable because of their size, and while the Performance and Pro lines are indeed very small, they’re more minor updates to what we already had before. What’s more interesting is the gaming version.
The NUC 11 Enthusiast, codenamed “Phantom Canyon,” promises gaming performance with a 28W quad-core i7-1165G7 (the same found in the 2020 Dell XPS 13) and an RTX 2060, which was made outdated the day before Intel’s announcement of the computer. It also keeps the stacked I/O that made the last generation great, including two Thunderbolt 4 ports, 2.5Gb Ethernet, a whopping six USB 3.2 Type-A ports, and Wi-Fi 6. The lack of HDMI 2.1 (it only has 2.0b) can be somewhat forgiven due to the inclusion of a Mini DisplayPort 1.4 output. And again, all of this is fitting inside an enclosure that’s roughly the size of a hefty book.
Like the other NUC models, the Enthusiast also has Xe integrated graphics, which should be good for streamers or creative professionals that enjoy Intel’s Quick Sync video encoding technology. While it’s a shame about the almost-up-to-date graphics card, the computer should still provide a good amount of gaming performance in an absolutely diminutive package, and I’m glad to see Intel’s still working on mini gaming PCs.
Intel has a long history of trying to make the NUC into a miniature gaming PC with full-sized performance. It even teamed up with AMD to put dedicated Vega graphics into the NUC 8, which was clearly hoping to appeal to gamers more than office workers, with a glowing skull logo emblazoned on the top. Then, at CES 2020, it showed off the NUC 9 Extreme, which aimed to be a gaming PC with an easy-to-upgrade compute unit. Except Intel, so far, hasn’t released any updates for the compute units, so at the moment, it’s just an expensive and modular-for-no-reason gaming PC.
Intel hasn’t released pricing and availability yet, but SimplyNUC.com has the Phantom Canyon starting at $1,349. That looks to be a better deal than the NUC 9 Extreme, which is $1,599 on the same site and also requires a separate mini graphics card. It also beats its more direct predecessor, the NUC 8 Hades Canyon, which is still $1,234 for nearly two-year-old hardware.
Intel appears to be using the same strategy it’s used for the NUC computers in the past, where people can buy either a complete computer or a kit where they’ll be required to provide the RAM, storage drive, and OS. SimplyNUC’s $1,349 model has the drive and RAM, but you will have to pay extra for or bring your own copy of Windows.