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Intel NUC 11 Extreme (Beast Canyon) review

The Beast Canyon NUC is a small form factor powerhouse

Intel NUC 11 Extreme
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

With great power comes a bigger size, and in order to accommodate the performance levels that Intel's NUC 11 Extreme brings with it, Intel has had to massively increase the size of its latest NUC. With the added space, the Intel NUC 11 Extreme offers a beefier power supply, space for a full sized high-end graphics cards and excellent storage expansion capabilities.

For

  • Smaller than a gaming PC
  • Excellent gaming performance
  • Great expansion capabilities

Against

  • On the expensive side
  • You could build a gaming PC of similar size

Intel released the NUC 9 Extreme last year which brought two new things to the NUC family- a flexible Intel Compute Element and support for a discrete GPU. The latest generation of NUC - the NUC 11 Extreme - builds on the NUC 9 Extreme. It provides support for the latest 11th gen Intel processors, a full sized graphics card and a beefier power supply to power it all. And yes, there's some RGB lighting thrown in as well.

For the unfamiliar, the Compute Element is an all-in-one board that features the chipset, processor, RAM, storage and IO. It plugs into a PCI-E slot and potentially allows you to upgrade your NUC to the newest platform easily. You could take the Compute Element from this new NUC 11 and drop it in a NUC 9 to get most of its functionality.

Though this year's NUC 11 is much larger in size, it can still be classified as a small form factor (SFF) - and one that packs a punch when it comes to performance. Though these "extreme editions" of NUCs are targeted towards gamers, they can also comfortably be used in smaller spaces for creative work that requires powerful computing such as 3D rendering or video processing. 

Intel NUC 11 Extreme

(Image credit: Future)

Intel NUC 11 Extreme price and availability

Spec Sheet

Here is the Intel NUC 11 Extreme (Beast Canyon) configuration sent to TechRadar for review:

CPU: Intel Core i9-11900KB  (octa-core, 16 threads, 16MB cache, up to 5GHz)
Graphics: Asus RTX 3060 12GB Mini
RAM: 16GB DDR4 RAM
Screen: N/A
Storage: 500GB Sabrent Rocket 4.0 SSD
Ports: 2x USB-C, 6 x USB 3.1, Ethernet, optical audio out, 3.5mm headphone jack, HDMI, DisplayPort, memory card reader
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2
Camera: N/A
Size: 357 x 189 x 120mm W x D x H

Although Intel announced the NUC 11 at Computex in May 2021, it only went on sale in late July. At the time of announcement, the NUC 11 Extreme was expected to be available with 11th gen Core i5, Core i7 and Core i9 processors. However, Intel is now only making it available with the Core i7 or Core i9 processors.

Intel has put an MSRP of US$1,150 on the Core i7 model and US$ 1,350 on the Core i9 model for bare kits. Realistically speaking you'd be hard pressed finding them without any added RAM or storage from resellers. Expect to find it equipped with 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD as standard for a couple of hundred dollars more.

As you can imagine, prices for the NUC 11 Extreme can increase very quickly based on your preferred configuration. However, if you already have some RAM or storage and a Windows license lying around, you could save some money.

The review unit Intel sent us came with the eight-core, 16-thread Core i9-11900KB processor, an Asus RTX 3060 12GB graphics card, 16GB DDR4-3200 RAM and a 500GB Sabrent Rocket 4.0 SSD. A Windows 10 license was also included.

Intel NUC 11 Extreme

(Image credit: Future)

Design

People who are following the NUC series have seen its size increase considerably over the last few years. The NUC 9 Extreme was quite a bit bigger than it’s previous iterations, however that allowed it to be a lot more flexible and powerful.

The NUC 11 Extreme continues to head in the same direction and now is an 8L volume (357 x 189 x 120mm) unit which is approaching a size you could potentially build yourself. However, not everyone wants to build their own PC and you really won’t be that far off when you factor a 12-inch graphics card that the NUC 11 Extreme can be equipped with.

The mesh chassis allows good airflow but Intel makes sure your components stay cool by adding three fans on top and one pushing air out of the Compute Module from the back. You also have a fan on the PSU as well as one on the graphics card- all of which keep the PC cool and reasonably silent. 

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Intel NUC 11 Extreme

(Image credit: Future)
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Intel NUC 11 Extreme

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Intel NUC 11 Extreme

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Intel NUC 11 Extreme

(Image credit: Future)
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Intel NUC 11 Extreme

(Image credit: Future)

With RGB lighting added, the NUC 11 Extreme also looks the part. Two strips of LEDs sit below the unit and the front can also be lit up. It comes with the skull logo that’s long been associated with Intel gaming PCs but it is on a removable plate. We would have also liked to see RGB lighting on the three fans at the top of the chassis. If you're not a fan of RGB lighting, there is a button below the chassis to turn it off.

Accessing the insides of the NUC 11 Extreme is actually a bit easier than the NUC 9 Extreme. There’s just four screws on the back and the rest of it either slides out or flips open. This made changing the graphics card very easy and there is plenty of space to put a full sized card such as an RTX 3080. There are two 8-pin power connectors for larger cards, connected to a beefier 650W PSU which should be able to accommodate an Nvidia RTX 3080 graphics card.

Intel NUC 11 Extreme

(Image credit: Future)

You also have four M.2 slots for adding drives, three of which are on the Compute Module but the last one is located behind a screwed-in door at the bottom of the chassis for those not wanting to open the Compute Module. Also present on the compute model are two DDR4 SO-DIMM slots for expanding your memory up to 64GB.

On the outside, you have two USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports and an SDXC card reader on the front. The back has six additional USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports along with two Type-C Thunderbolt 4 ports. There’s a 2.5GB Ethernet port on the back as well along with a Kensington lock. For wireless connectivity you also have Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2 support.

Performance

Benchmarks

Here is how the Intel NUC 11 Extreme (Beast Canyon) fared in our suite of benchmark tests:
3DMark: Night Raid: 59,685; Fire Strike: 22,229; Time Spy: 10,950
Cinebench R23: 11,263 points
PCMark 10: 7,271
GeekBench 5: 1,651 (single-core); 7,891 (multi-core)
Total War: Three Kingdoms (1080p, Ultra):  89.8 fps; (1080p, Low): 285.7 fps
Metro Exodus (1080p, Ultra): 81.29 fps; (1080p, Low): 177.75 fps 

The Intel NUC 11 Extreme not only looks the part with RGB lighting but is also able to keep up with any benchmark you throw at it. With an 11th-gen Core i9 processor that features 8 cores and 16 threads as well as support for a top-of-line graphics card, this little box can rival performances of much larger towers.

The review unit we got from Intel was equipped with an ASUS RTX 3060 graphics card, 16GB or RAM and a 500GB Sabrent Rocket 4.0 NVME SSD. With these specs, not only can the Intel NUC 11 Extreme handle gaming with ultra settings at 2K resolution but also make a very powerful box for creative professionals working on anything from 3D rendering to video processing. The SDXC reader on the front will allow you to quickly transfer your videos and photos to the PC. 

The NUC 11 Extreme crushes benchmarks and easily allows you to play games at Ultra settings at 1080p and high settings at 2K. This is what the NVIDIA RTX 3060 Ti is capable of, so equipping the NUC 11 Extreme with a higher-end graphics card such as an RTX 3080 will result in an even better performance.

Intel NUC 11 Extreme

(Image credit: Future)

Whereas the previous generation NUC 9 Extreme was able to play slightly older games at high resolution and settings, the newer model has no trouble playing the latest AAA titles at high settings and is comparable to a very high-end PC that you could build. 

Should I buy the Intel NUC 11 Extreme?

Buy it if...

You want a compact gaming powerhouse
The Intel NUC 11 Extreme is mighty powerful, handling any new games with ease. The fact that you can equip a full sized graphics card makes it an ideal choice for gamers that don't want to compromise on performance but have limited space.

You want a workstation you can move around
With powerful graphics, processor and a good amount of storage ports and I/O, the NUC 11 Extreme would be a fine workstation that's small on size but could handle editing 4K videos with ease.

You like to customize
Like previous models, the Intel NUC 11 is a bare-bones system, which lets you add your own hardware. However, the larger size and beefier power supply now allows you to add a very high-end graphics card.

Don't buy it if...

You’re on a budget
Like it’s predecessor, the NUC 11 Extreme is on the pricey side. Unlike its predecessor, you’re not sacrificing much in terms of performance and upgradeability though.

You want to water-cool your PC
Air flow is harder in smaller PCs and the NUC 11 Extreme is no exception. If you prefer a silent PC with no fans then you'd be better off building a larger box to accommodate water-cooling.

You want the absolute high-end specs
Although the NUC 11 Extreme can be equipped with a full sized graphics card, it won't be able to provide enough space and power for the absolute top-of-the-line GPU such as the RTX 3090. If you want the absolute best, you're better off building a larger rig.

Abbas Jaffar Ali

Abbas has been living and breathing technology before phones became smart or clouds started storing data. He also has commitment issues towards mobile phones.

Driven by tech and passion, he has successfully negotiated into bringing the largest gaming and tech publications to the Middle East that include IGN, CNET and TechRadar.