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Intel is making a NUC desktop that’s big enough for a triple-slot GPU

Enlarge / Intel’s “Raptor Canyon” NUC brings Intel’s mini PCs much closer in size to some mini ITX desktops that use standard components.

Intel’s NUC Extreme series of mini PCs have always tried to straddle the line between keeping the NUC’s traditional tininess and providing the power of a full-size desktop. The NUC 11 and NUC 12 Extreme models both included enough room inside for a dual-slot GPU up to around 300 mm in length, but the company is apparently going even further with the NUC 13 Extreme, codenamed “Raptor Canyon.” Intel showed off a new version of the box at TwitchCon (via VideoCardz) that is large enough to fit a triple-slot GPU alongside new 13th-generation Intel Core CPUs.

The Raptor Canyon box is apparently 13.9 L in volume, not quite double the 8 L volume of the NUC 12 Extreme. And that’s still plenty small, but given the non-standard motherboard size and the amount these NUC Extreme boxes usually cost, we are drifting much closer to volumes you can achieve in some of the smaller mini ITX PC cases. Cases like the Sliger SM560 (11 L) or Sliger Conswole (10.9 L) can fit a triple-slot GPU in a smaller space, and the Cooler Master NR200P (18.5 L) or SSUPD Meshlicious (14.7 L) (geez, these names) are only a little larger and cost a bit less.

The new NUC's non-standard motherboard, also called a "Compute Element," is a nonstandard part that will be hard or impossible to upgrade a few years from now.
Enlarge / The new NUC’s non-standard motherboard, also called a “Compute Element,” is a nonstandard part that will be hard or impossible to upgrade a few years from now.

The problem with compact-but-powerful ITX gaming builds — and the opening for the NUC 13 Extreme box — is that these cases are often tricky to build in and require careful measuring, planning, and cable management to ensure that all the components fit and that they’re adequately cooled (I say this from sometimes-painful experience). Tiny cases and small-form-factor SFX power supplies also command their own price premium over full-size components. The benefit of building with standard parts is that you’ll have more options for upgrading a few years down the road. But the simplicity of the NUC might be worth it for someone who wants something small and fast without all the hassle.

It’s sort of funny that we’re hearing about this case on the same day as GeForce RTX 4090 reviews are going live — other cards in the 4000-series will surely be small enough to fit in a “mere” triple-slot case, and Nvidia’s partners may even figure out how to do it with a 4090. But the trend has been toward ever -larger GPUs, and owners of this new NUC (or many other GPU-compatible ITX cases) may find triple-slot compatibility more limiting in the future than it has been in the past.

The NUC 13 Extreme boasts triple-slot GPU compatibility, though graphics cards are already getting thicker than that.
Enlarge / The NUC 13 Extreme boasts triple-slot GPU compatibility, though graphics cards are already getting thicker than that.

Intel is also continuing to make smaller, more tightly integrated NUCs, like the recently announced NUC 12 Enthusiast box that combines a 12th-gen Intel Core CPU with a discrete Intel Arc GPU. Arc has its problems, but it’s still surprisingly competitive with midrange Nvidia and AMD GPUs in many games.

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