If there’s ever a computing technology that’s inherently designed to be the next big thing, it’s Intel’s diminutive NUC (or Next Unit of Computing) PCs. The irony, of course, is that while NUC PCs are designed to be small in size, they’ve become increasingly big on performance.
Intel’s NUCs started out as small and convenient barebone PCs that came in a variety of form factors – they were traditionally employed in industrial applications (like running the automated menu screens at Maccas) or day-to-day desktop computing in the home or office, where the space-saving ability to mount a NUC on the back of a monitor made it a favourite of anyone after a discreet PC.
But with the evolution of computing tech leading to ever-smaller and more-powerful components, Intel’s new NUC 9 systems have reached the stage where they’re ready to overthrow the titans of the PC world: bulky workstations and gaming rigs. Though they’re still diminutive in size, in 2021 NUCs can handle the workload of any creative professional, from graphic designers to video editors, photographers, CAD designers and beyond... and for some after-hours enjoyment, you can even optionally pair a NUC 9 with an Nvidia RTX-30 graphics card for some 4K, ray-tracing-enabled gaming.
NUCs for pros and enthusiasts
At the heart of the new Intel NUC 9 range are two small form factor PCs. The workstation-oriented NUC 9 Pro Kit models can support Intel’s professional-grade Xeon processors – making them the first ever eight-core NUCs – as well as ECC RAM for enhanced reliability under critical workloads. They also utilise vPro Intel Active Management business features for remote maintenance and security, and everything runs on a certified system that’s designed to operate reliably 24/7.
The alternative to the Pro Kit units are the enthusiast-oriented NUC 9 Extreme models, which can support Intel’s top-end Core i9 processors and are ideal for both creators and gamers alike.
Both Pro and Extreme models include support for NVMe hard drives and multiple RAM configurations but, best of all is that both let you optionally add in discrete graphics – the first NUCs to do so.
More NUC choices than ever
That capability means these new NUCs have had to get a bit more flexible when it comes to form-factor. Intel itself offers two variants of an attractive new five-litre chassis, which is monitor-mountable and measures just 96 x 216 x 238mm. The Pro Kit workstation variant is called Quartz Canyon and the Extreme enthusiast variant is called Ghost Canyon – the latter is notable for its bad-ass skull motif! These can support 8-inch, dual-slot, consumer-grade graphics cards including Asus’ bespoke mini Nvidia RTX 3060 Ti GPU for gaming and creator applications plus workstation-designated Quadro P600 and Radeon Pro WX 3100 cards for industrial design workloads. Both units contain a large fan and vapor chamber to increase cooling efficiency while ensuring that noise is kept to a minimum.
The modular design means that third-party chassis’ can further expand upon the capabilities of the new NUCs. For instance, some cases support full-sized gaming-and-creator graphics cards like Nvidia’s all conquering GeForce RTX 30-series. The latter are exemplified by Cooler Master’s impressive MasterCase NC100, which will let you install up to an RTX 3070. Then there’s the NUC 9 Compute Element form factor, which sees the entire system housed upon a single PCIe card.
Hardware reliability is critical for creative pros working to tight deadlines, and paramount to Intel. During development, both the Ghost Canyon and Quartz Canyon undergo rigorous stress tests, with a working system (including memory and storage and with fans at 100% of PWM) run continuously for 90 days in a 35°C ambient temperature. In that tough test environment, Intel’s NUC Pros have demonstrated a 50,000-hour MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) – that’s over five and a half years!
Made with designers in mind
Intel’s NUC 9 Pro Kit has also been ISV Certified by Principled Technology which found that it “Ran 20 demanding apps for media and AEC workflows without issue.” Creators will be emboldened by seeing the likes of Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, Premiere Pro and After Effects on the list while hardened designers and engineers will gain peace of mind from knowing Autodesk’s 3ds Max, AutoCAD, Maya, Inventor Pro plus Revit join enterprise and industrial-grade applications from VMware, Bentley Microstation, Dassault Systèmes, Blackmagic Design, Ansys Discovery and Siemens NX.
Component specs for the NUC 9 Pro Kit (and Compute Element), revolve around two different CPUs. Firstly, there’s the Intel Xeon E-2286M octa-core, 16-thread processor which operates up to 5GHz. Secondly, there’s the 9th Generation, Intel Core i7-9850H hexa-core, 12-thread CPU which clocks up to 4.6GHz. Both incorporate Intel’s own, integrated UHD 630-series GPUs. The rest of the system includes an HDMI 2.0a port and two Thunderbolt 3 ports (which together can support three 4K displays) plus four USB 3.2 and two Gigabit LAN ports. They offer two DDR4 SODIMM slots (max 64GB) which support ECC RAM plus two M.2 PCIe ports (which support Intel Optane SSD enhancement) for superfast storage. There’s also Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5 and 7.1 digital audio built-in. Different cases offer different features but Intel’s Quartz Canyon sports a PCIe x16 slot, x4 slot and, externally, an SD card reader and a 3.5mm audio jack.
...and gamers and enthusiasts too!
The enthusiast-oriented NUC 9 Ghost Canyon (and its Compute Element counterparts) is available with a choice of processors ranging from Core i5 to the 9th Generation, 2.4-5GHz Core i9-9980HK octa-core, 16-thread behemoth. On one hand, these will suit those who want unassuming desktop PCs that can run general home and office tasks on a machine that can be covertly stowed behind a monitor. On the other, hardcore content creators and gamers will love the option of having a powerful, reliable desktop that’s so small and portable.
All models include a 3-year Intel warranty and product availability is also guaranteed for 3 years.
NUC your next PC
Whether you’re a creator or a gamer who needs a stacked, reliable, uncompromising PC or if you’re a business professional who requires certified reliability – all on a very small form formfactor – Intel’s new NUC 9 series has a system to suit.
There’s never been a better time to replace your bulky workstation or gaming rig, and you can check out the huge range of barebones and pre-built options at Mwave or configure your NUC 9 today!