Intel’s Next Unit of Computing (NUC) desktops rose to prominence about a decade ago by being small; they were basically laptops with no screen or battery, crammed into a tiny box.
But in the years since, Intel has flirted with larger NUCs. They have always been relatively small, but as they have grown from laptop dedicated GPUs to regular dedicated GPUs to even larger dedicated GPUs, NUC Extreme PCs have steadily grown to the point that they are now encroaching on desktops DIY desktops built around mini-ITX motherboards, small SFX power supplies, and other size-sensitive components.
Enter “Raptor Canyon”, the latest and greatest in Intel’s desktop lineup. It replaces the “Dragon Canyon” NUC design and improves upon it by making room for longer triple-slot GPUs, up to 12 inches (or just over 300mm) long. That’s not enough space for one of Nvidia’s huge RTX 4090 and 4080 cards, but it can hold just about anything else.
Raptor Canyon might appeal to people who want a powerful gaming desktop without doing the legwork, research, and trial and error that comes with building a computer in a tiny case. It’s a desktop computer that won’t make sense to everyone, and there are still some compromises you’ll make if you buy it. But the ability to fit more powerful GPUs means it will make a bit more sense than Dragon Canyon’s mid-box.
The Raptor Canyon NUC Extreme box is just twice the size of the old NUC Extreme – it looks like two old Dragon Canyon boxes stacked on top of each other. And Intel uses a lot of the same tricks to save space.
The heart of the NUC Extreme is the “Compute Element”, a proprietary motherboard with an LGA 1700 CPU socket, along with room for two laptop-sized DDR5 SODIMMs and three PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots for internal SSDs. This compute element plugs into the top of a separate proprietary card, which also has a PCIe 5.0 slot at the bottom to connect the dedicated GPU (the old NUC Extreme also used an intervening card like this, but with the GPU slot next to the compute element slot instead of the opposite side of the board).
Intel makes some allowances for standard parts; the unit’s 750W power supply appears to be a standard SFX model that could be swapped out, as are the 120mm case fans that exhaust hot air from the left side of the system. The side, top and bottom panels are all made primarily of mesh for airflow. Our review unit had three 8-pin PCIe power connectors pre-installed and a 12VHPWR connector rated at 300W. That’s not quite enough power for an RTX 4080 or 4090, not that one could physically s fit inside the case in the first place.
The Compute Element also has the majority of the computer’s ports aside from the outputs on the GPU you’re using: one 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet port, one 10 Gigabit Ethernet port, two Thunderbolt 4 ports, audio jacks , an HDMI port (for onboard GPU output), plus six USB-A ports. The motherboard headers provide connections for a USB-C port, another pair of USB-A ports, and an audio jack at the top front of the PC for easy access.
One final upgrade over the older Dragon Canyon NUC design (for people who want even more storage than M.2 slots can provide): an empty disk tray on the left side of the computer can hold a pair of 2.5-inch SATA drives or a single 3.5-inch SATA drive
What Raptor Canyon gains in function, it loses in style. The Dragon Canyon box had built-in LED lighting in the form of a glowing skull logo on the front (which I could take or leave) and glowing LED strips on the sides and front (which, to my opinion, is pretty). There are no LEDs on Raptor Canyon other than the white one around the power button, and the compute element doesn’t appear to include standard 3- or 4-pin RGB headers for people who want to switch the regular 120mm fans on the side. for RGB versions. I like the understated look, but people who want their PCs to light up with LEDs will be disappointed.