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This is Beast Canyon, the evolution of Intel’s modular mini gaming PC
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This is Beast Canyon, the evolution of Intel’s modular mini gaming PC

Constructing your personal gaming PC is a labor of love. It’s not one thing that must be “simpler,” precisely. However from the second I set a screwdriver to Intel’s new NUC 11 Excessive, aka “Beast Canyon,” I couldn’t assist marveling at how sensible a eight-liter gaming machine could be.

Beast Canyon is Intel’s fourth try to design a extra compact gaming PC than most avid gamers might dream of constructing on their very own, and paradoxically, it’s Intel’s greatest chassis but. Like last year’s Ghost Canyon, it’s trying to vary the approach mini-PCs are constructed with its Compute Component cartridges, which accommodates a miniaturized motherboard, CPU, reminiscence, storage, and ports you possibly can swap all of sudden. That approach, you possibly can theoretically improve your complete system identical to you’d improve a graphics card, proper right down to plugging it right into a PCI-Specific slot. (As I’ll clarify, the fact could also be just a little extra sophisticated.)

The place Ghost was a 5-liter rounded rectangular prism that hardly match an 8-inch-long graphics card, the 8-liter Beast lives as much as its title with room for 12 inches of GPU energy and an included 650-watt 80+ Gold energy provide. It was sufficient to let me simply match and sufficiently energy one of the strongest GPUs on the market, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Ti Founder’s Version, and it immediately takes this field’s gaming cred far past Intel’s earlier makes an attempt.

That further room and energy is necessary, as a result of the improve choices for a smaller 5-liter field like the Ghost haven’t been trying that sizzling. Whereas some of Nvidia and AMD’s strongest playing cards in prior years have shrunken down to suit tiny circumstances, the newest batch of RTX 3000 and AMD 6000 collection GPUs have gone the wrong way, with most OEMs choosing outsized playing cards even in comparison with Nvidia’s personal Founder’s Editions. Final I checked, the strongest card that may match the Ghost is EVGA’s RTX 3060 Ti, however the Beast can maintain virtually each dual-slot graphics card as much as a 350W TDP, which simply so occurs to be the place the RTX 3080 Ti tops out anyhow.

That may make this 8-liter field one of the smallest competent 4K gaming PCs you should buy — in benchmarks with a pre-production pattern of the Core i9-11900KB, I noticed the Beast put up numbers inside a stone’s throw of these my colleague Tom Warren noticed when he reviewed the 3080 Ti with his full-size desktop. I can’t name right this moment’s article a full evaluation with out tons of testing on a full manufacturing board, however primarily based on the numbers I’m seeing in demanding video games like Watch Canine: Legion (which fell simply brief), most different titles ought to common over 60 frames per second at 4K with most settings sans raytracing.

And whilst you might in all probability construct a extra satisfying, much less plasticky and skull-laden rig with boutique circumstances like the 8.2-liter Louqe Ghost S1 and seven.2-liter Dan A4, most prebuilt mini gaming rigs are far bigger, like the 12-liter Corsair One. Maybe extra importantly, I doubt any of them are as easy to work inside. (I really like my 12.7-liter Ncase M1, however even it’s a squeeze generally.)

It’s not simply the incontrovertible fact that Intel’s modular Compute Component playing cards allow you to theoretically swap a bunch of parts directly. The inner format additionally simply is smart. As a substitute of having to pivot-pivot-pivot your GPU out and in of the system (or bodily take away half of the inner body, like Intel’s Ghost) you possibly can flip up the complete high of the Beast, triple-fan-array and all, to simply swing a full-size graphics card out and in of the machine. The entire high pivots on a hinge.

The Beast additionally has perfect-length energy cables for its absolutely modular SFX energy provide, particular wire channels for its Wi-Fi antennas and fan cables to go simply they must be, and screws with their very own retaining clips (although not spring-loaded screws, like the Ghost). It’s not the prettiest construct, inside or out, however there’s hundreds of utility. Additionally, you possibly can flip off the LED lighting with a devoted {hardware} button on the backside.

Like earlier Intel NUCs, there’s above-average connectivity and expandability, too. Ports embrace eight full-size USB 3.1 plus extra headers inside the case, two Thunderbolt 4 ports, 2.5Gbps Ethernet, HDMI 2.0, an UHS-II SD card slot, a 3.5mm audio jack, Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2. I simply want one of these USB-C ports was on the entrance of the case for simpler entry.

Oh, and there’s room for up 64GB of DDR4 reminiscence and 4 full-length M.2 slots in your stick SSD storage — three M.2 2280 slots inside the Compute Module and a uncommon 110mm lengthy M.2 slot with Intel Optane assist on the backside of the case. Two of them can do PCIe NVMe Gen 4 storage, the different two supply your alternative of Gen 3 NVMe or SATA 3. Additionally, the complete NUC chassis is 5 PCIe slots extensive as a substitute of 4, supplying you with room for an extra single-slot card — or the included CPU fan shroud for higher air flow.

Regardless of all this goodness, I’m not offered on Intel’s Beast, and it comes down to a few issues: 1) I’m a cheapskate who is aware of I can usually get extra for my cash if I don’t lock myself to a single model, 2) discovering any graphics card is an train in frustration proper now, a lot much less a dual-slot, and three) I nonetheless don’t belief Intel, or anybody, to maintain pumping out modules for so long as I’d wish to improve such a pc.

To be honest, Intel’s doing higher than most in that regard. While Alienware broke its upgradable promise entirely with the Area-51m, Intel says the eleventh Gen Compute Component will work in final yr’s Ghost Canyon — kinda.

The brand new module “will be capable of technically plug into the NUC 9 Excessive Equipment, however Intel is not going to be offering interactive assist for that utilization mannequin,” a rep tells me, including that “There have been some design selections essential that take away sure options comparable to entrance panel audio and PCIe Gen4 is additionally not a sure assure.” It’s additionally not guaranteeing any assist for Cooler Master’s NC100 and the Razer Tomahawk, each of which used an NUC Compute Component as their brains.

In case you’re questioning, the Compute Component from my Beast Canyon wouldn’t even energy on in the Ghost Canyon, one thing Intel proactively warned us about, and says will probably be fastened in manufacturing. It suits positive bodily, although.

In a extra excellent world, perhaps Intel, AMD, and different PC giants would be part of forces to show this type of PC into a brand new business customary, a substitute for the 20-year-old Mini-ITX motherboard format that dominates small-form-factor PCs right this moment. That’s what I’d wish to see. And perhaps a bigger, higher window to indicate off my graphics card, as a substitute of mesh with an odd array of square cutouts beneath.

Pictures by Sean Hollister

Correction: The screws on the Ghost Canyon case had been spring loaded, however the ones on the Beast Canyon are usually not (save these on the Compute Component itself). They’re routinely retained while you take away them, although.

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