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Intel NUC 9 Extreme review

Intel's latest high-end Next Unit Computing mini PC offers stellar performance in a stunningly small package but its price is sky high.

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Our Verdict


A well-thought-out mini gaming PC, although it’s hideously expensive.

If you like mini PCs, then you’ll probably have heard of Intel’s Next Unit of Computing, or NUC platform. These tiny, but fully-fledged PCs could fit in the palm of your hand, and the first ones made for ideal HTPCs and office PCs, and even sported upgradable memory and storage. However, they were a little limited, with low-power embedded CPUs and no option for discrete graphics. Intel has recently been gearing up the NUC for a more power-focused design, though, and the result is the NUC 9 Extreme.

It sports several individual PCBs, and there’s now a separate 500W inside as well, instead of a power port for an external unit. The motherboard is part of what Intel calls a Compute Element, which has an integrated blower-style cooler, and the whole section sits like a graphics card in the case, slotting into a second PCB with a PCI-E slot and an expansion slot bracket on the end. It features an embedded CPU, two M.2 ports, and a pair of SODIMM memory slots.

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However, that second PCB has two PCI-E slots, because this time there’s space for a discrete GPU. Our review unit came equipped with an Asus GeForce RTX 2070 Dual Mini graphics card, which is the most potent option with significant size constraints. However, the PSU does offer two 8-pin power connectors, so you may be able to upgrade to a more powerful mini graphics card in the future.

This does mean the NUC 9 Extreme isn’t particularly small compared to previous NUCs, although it’s still well south of the volumes of even the smallest mini-ITX cases with space for discrete graphics cards, measuring 24cm tall and just 9.6cm wide.

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The NUC 9 Extreme comes as a barebones unit without storage, memory or a graphics card, but can be configured with various options at simplynuc.co.uk. Even in its barebones form, though, it costs a whopping $1,600. Specifying a similar configuration to our review unit, with 16GB of RAM, a 1TB NVMe SSD (our sample came with Optane storage, but this isn’t available as an option at retail), and the Asus RTX 2070 Dual Mini, takes the price closer to $2,500. That’s with the flagship mobile CPU option of Intel’s Core i9-9980HK, which is actually overclockable, has eight cores (16 threads) and a peak boost frequency of 5GHz.

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A similar ATX system would cost half that amount, and a mini-ITX equivalent using Intel’s Z490 chipset would cost around a grand less. That’s a lot of cash for the hardware, but it’s the price you pay for a lot of proprietary hardware and a seriously small and relatively powerful gaming system.

The chassis itself is gorgeous and very well made, containing two roof-mounted 80mm fans with vented fine-mesh and slide-off side panels. The fans are powered by pins that make contact with others in the main chassis as you slide on the roof section, meaning you can easily clean the innards without needing to detach any cables.

Meanwhile, the motherboard offers 802.11ax Wi-Fi and, even without a discrete graphics card, the HDMI video output supports 4K output. The front panel also sports two USB 3.1 Type-A ports, with the obvious omission of USB Type-C, although two of the latter are included on the rear I/O panel instead. There are four USB 3 ports here too, as well as a single audio jack and two Gigabit Ethernet ports.

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Intel NUC 9 Extreme performance

A RealBench image editing score of 54,697 puts the NUC’s CPU in the realms of Core i9-9900K, which managed around 4,000 more points at stock speed. The video encoding score was noticeably slower than that desktop CPU, though, at 522,968 versus 596,625, and AMD’s Ryzen 7 3700X is quicker with a score of 577,540. The overall system score of 248,866 was also a little slower than the Core i9-9900K and closer to the Ryzen 5 3600X. It’s fast for such a small machine, though.

In games, the mini RTX 2070 handled all our tests at 1080p with ease, only dipping below 35fps in Metro Exodus and hitting a minimum of 92fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. At 2,560 x 1,440, the tests got tougher, with the minimum frame rate dropping to 27fps in Metro Exodus, but the system still maintained a much healthier 44fps minimum in Total War: Warhammer II and 66fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

The system’s idle power draw was also supremely low, at just 36W when idle, and peaking at 281W with Prime95 and Metro Exodus running at the same time to put the PC under full load. In games, the GPU remained fairly quiet, but the case fans and 80mm blower fan that cools the CPU did spin up to dish out a reasonable amount of noise, although the sound was never unpleasant.

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Intel NUC 9 Extreme pros and cons


  • Supremely small
  • Decent gaming performance
  • Plenty of upgradable parts


  • Embedded CPU
  • A little loud under load
  • Expensive

Intel NUC 9 Extreme specs

The Intel NUC 9 Extreme specs list is:

CPU Intel Core i9-9980HK
Motherboard  Intel custom CM246
Memory 16GB DDR4 2666MHz
Graphics Asus GeForce RTX 2070 Dual Mini
Storage 380GB Intel Optane 905p M.2 SSD
Networking 2 x Gigabit Ethernet, dual-band 802.11ax Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5
Cooling 2 x 80mm case fans, 1 x 80mm blower fan
Ports  Front: 2 x USB 3.1, SD card reader, 1 x audio; rear: 2 x HDMI, 1 x DisplayPort, 1 x DVI-D, 4 x USB 3, 2 x USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3
Operating system Windows 10
Warranty  One year parts and labour collect and return, followed by two years labour only return to base

Intel NUC 9 Extreme price

The Intel NUC 9 Extreme price is $1,600 just for a barebones unit without a graphics card or storage, making it a very expensive though impressively compact PC. 

Price: Expect to pay $1,600 (£1,600).

Intel NUC 9 Extreme review conclusion

Unless you create a case from scratch or extensively modify an existing one, there are very few if any options for an eight-core CPU with an RTX 2070 in a PC this small. Intel has clearly put a lot of thought into the design, and there are very few elements we’d change. The fact that the graphics card is upgradable is a huge boon, and the CPU is unlikely to be a bottleneck, even if more powerful graphics cards become available that fit into the case.

The proprietary hardware comes at a price, though, which is enormous for the specification – you could build a better-looking and more powerful small PC for a lot less money. However, if you want the fastest PC possible in this size and have a suitably large wallet, the NUC 9 Extreme is a well-designed pocket rocket.