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Intel NUC Beast Canyon review

Intel's Beast Canyon offers up stellar performance in an unbelievably small package.

(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

The latest Intel NUC isn't the cheapest small form factor gaming PC you can buy, but it does pack a hell of a lot of power and charm into its compact chassis.

For

  • Great performance for work and play
  • Tiny size fits a full-size GPU
  • Excellent selection of IO ports

Against

  • Very expensive
  • Not much room for upgrade

PC Gamer Verdict

The latest Intel NUC isn't the cheapest small form factor gaming PC you can buy, but it does pack a hell of a lot of power and charm into its compact chassis.

Pros

  • + Great performance for work and play
  • + Tiny size fits a full-size GPU
  • + Excellent selection of IO ports

Cons

  • - Very expensive
  • - Not much room for upgrade

The Intel NUC Beast Canyon is the Godzilla of NUCs. But it's still small, so maybe the Godzuki of NUCs. Starting at $1,399, Beast Canyon is built around an Intel NUC 11 Extreme. Somehow Intel has managed to fit a full-sized discrete GPU alongside it in one of the most interesting small form factor gaming rigs I’ve encountered. At just eight liters, the chassis, with its striking ‘Calaveras’ style skull logo on the front, makes quite the statement (and raises many an eyebrow) when on display on your desk or TV cabinet. 

Intel NUC Beast Canyon Specs

CPU: Intel Core i9 11900KB
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti
Memory: 16GB DDR4
Storage: 512GB NVMe SSD
Front I/O: 1x 3.5mm audio jack, 2x USB 3.2 Gen 1, 1x UHS II SD Card Reader.
Rear I/O: 2x Thunderbolt 4, 6x USB 3.1 Gen 2, audio ports, 2.5G Ethernet, 1 DisplayPort, 2x HDMI
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, LAN
PSU:
650W 80 Plus Gold
Dimensions:  14.1 x 7.4 x 4.7 inches
Price: $3,000 (£3,000)

Beast Canyon is available with either a Core i9 or Core i7 processor. I've got the flagship Core i9 11900KB here, which is part of the special 65W B-series Tiger Lake family. It’s not as fast as the regular 11900K, having a slower base clock of  3.3Ghz and a boost of just 4.3Ghz. 

It’s unlocked though, so you can try and squeeze a little more out of it. In testing, this CPU is more than sufficient for most games, so the benefit of overclocking it isn't obvious. Aside from the core compute elements, everything else is customizable and the unit sent for testing came with an Asus Dual RTX 3060 Ti, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB NVMe M.2 SSD. You can of course switch these up for higher capacity components thanks to the modular nature of the Beast.

The heart of each Beast Canyon is the Compute Element that houses the CPU soldered to a motherboard and connects to the rest of the system via a PCIe 4.0 x16 Slot. You can swap this out for an upgrade down the road. The Compute Element also contains the bulk of the IO including offering support for dual Thunderbolt 4, eight USB 3.1 Gen 2, a UHS-II SD Card reader, 2.5Gb Ethernet, and an HDMI 2.0. Also, depending on whether you have a discrete GPU, you’ll get up to two HDMI 2.1 and a DisplayPort 1.4. 

Beast Canyon measures 14.1 inches front to back, 7.4 inches wide, and 4.7 inches high which is enough to house a 12-inch long discrete GPU and a 650W 80Plus Gold power supply to give enough juice to everything.

At the front is the proud skull logo which you’ll either love or hate—the latter for me. It’s also RGB lit which makes things even more pronounced. There’s additional RGB lighting under the chassis which altogether doesn’t look bad at all. I was also happy for the extra USB, SD Card Reader, and headphone jack on the front of the case. 

(Image credit: Future)

Now talking performance, your mileage will vary based on your particular configuration. This test unit delivered impressive results all around. Productivity and creative tasks are handled with aplomb as attested by my scores in Cinebench (11,058) and Geekbench Multicore (8505).

Everyday use in Windows, web browsing, Adobe Lightroom editing, and general tasks flew by with no fuss. 3DMark 11 and Uniengine Superposition all delivered great results and this carried over to real-world gaming where every title I tested ran well above 60FPS at 1080p and 1440p with the highest settings. 

I was even able to run 4K games at medium to high settings at 60FPS thanks to the arcane powers of Nvidia’s tensors and DLSS 2.0. Even Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition managed an average of 56fps, while Forza Horizon 4 was buttery smooth at 103fps in 4K. This means those looking for a great PC to pair with their 4K HDMI 2.1 capable TV won’t be disappointed.

(Image credit: Future)

As you can imagine, these performance numbers had me concerned about the heat produced, but my fears were quickly blown away. The triple 92mm fan radiator on the top of the case and mesh panels kept everything really cool with CPU and GPU averaging around low 70’s Celsius after unhealthily long grinds in Destiny 2 Beyond Light at 4K60ps. 

Additionally, the noise was minimal—nowhere near as noticeable as most gaming laptops. This makes the Beast Canyon a great living room gaming machine that you can hook up to your TV and not irritate the neighbors with your fan noise. 

(Image credit: Future)

Ultimately, I was really impressed with the Intel NUC Beast Canyon and would recommend it in a heartbeat if it weren’t for the price. The model reviewed costs about $3,000 which quite frankly is too much. One would have thought the NUC kit would bring down the overall pricing down but no. 

This kind of money can get you seriously more powerful hardware (albeit in bigger ITX cases) that would give you far better performance, upgradability, and longevity. Still, if you don’t like the complexities of building your own tiny PC that will work great in your living room and desk, then Beast Canyon could well be the answer. An expensive answer, for sure, but still an answer.

The Verdict
Intel NUC Beast Canyon review

The latest Intel NUC isn't the cheapest small form factor gaming PC you can buy, but it does pack a hell of a lot of power and charm into its compact chassis.

Kizito Katawonga

Kizzy is the consummate geek, with black turtleneck design sensibilities, always on the hunt for the latest, greatest and sexiest tech. He's played Doom on the OG Pentium and still remembers how to hack a dial-a-phone. After four decades crazy about tech, he's literally just getting started. It's the age of the, geek, baby!