November 30, 2021

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THIS IS BEAST CANYON, THE EVOLUTION OF INTEL’S MODULAR MINI GAMING PC

Building your own gaming PC may be a labor of affection . It’s not something that must be “easier,” exactly. But from the instant I set a screwdriver to Intel’s new NUC 11 Extreme, aka “Beast Canyon,” I couldn’t help marveling at how brilliant an eight-liter gaming machine are often .

Beast Canyon is Intel’s fourth plan to design a more compact gaming PC than most gamers could dream of building on their own, and paradoxically, it’s Intel’s biggest chassis yet. Like last year’s Ghost Canyon, it’s attempting to vary the way mini-PCs are built with its Compute Element cartridges, which contains a miniaturized motherboard, CPU, memory, storage, and ports you’ll swap all directly . That way, you’ll theoretically upgrade your entire system a bit like you’d upgrade a graphics card, right right down to plugging it into a PCI-Express slot. (As I’ll explain, the reality could also be a touch more complicated.)
Where Ghost was a 5-liter rounded rectangular prism that hardly fit an 8-inch-long graphics card, Beast lives up to its name with room for 12 inches of GPU power and an included 650-watt 80+ Gold power supply. it had been enough to let me easily fit and sufficiently power one among the foremost powerful GPUs on the market, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Ti Founder’s Edition, and it instantly takes this box’s gaming cred far beyond Intel’s previous attempts.

That extra room and power is vital , because the upgrade options for a smaller 5-liter box just like the Ghost haven’t been looking that hot. While a number of Nvidia and AMD’s most powerful cards in prior years have shrunken right down to fit tiny cases, the newest batch of RTX 3000 and AMD 6000 series GPUs have gone the other direction, with most OEMs choosing oversized cards even compared to Nvidia’s own Founder’s Editions. Last I checked, the foremost powerful card which will fit the Ghost is EVGA’s RTX 3060 Ti, but the Beast can hold practically every dual-slot graphics card up to a 350W TDP, which with great care happens to be where the RTX 3080 Ti tops out anyways.That might make this 8-liter box one among the littlest competent 4K gaming PCs you’ll buy — in benchmarks with a pre-production sample of the Core i9-11900KB, I saw the Beast post numbers within a stone’s throw of these my colleague Tom Warren saw when he reviewed the 3080 Ti together with his full-size desktop.

And while you’ll probably build a more satisfying, less plasticky, and skull-laden rig with boutique cases just like the 8.2-liter Louqe Ghost S1 and seven .2-liter Dan A4, most prebuilt mini gaming rigs are far larger, just like the 12-liter Corsair One. Perhaps more importantly, I doubt any of them are as effortless to figure inside.
It’s not just the very fact that Intel’s modular Compute Element cards allow you to theoretically swap a bunch of components directly . the interior layout also just is sensible. rather than having to pivot-pivot-pivot your GPU in and out of the system (or physically remove a part of the case, like Intel’s Ghost) you’ll flip up the whole top of the Beast, triple-fan-array and every one , to simply swing a full-size graphics card in and out of the machine. the entire top pivots on a hinge.

The Beast also has perfect-length power cables for its fully modular SFX power supply, special wire channels for its Wi-Fi antennas and fan cables to travel just they have to be, and spring-loaded screws with their own retaining clips. It’s not the prettiest build, inside or out, but there’s a lot of utility. Also, you’ll close up the LED lighting with a fanatical hardware button on rock bottom .
Ports include eight full-size USB 3.1 plus additional 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 just wish one among those USB-C ports was on the front of the case for easier access.

Oh, and there’s room for up 64GB of DDR4 memory and 4 full-length M.2 slots for your stick SSD storage — three M.2 2280 slots inside the Compute Module and a rare 110mm long M.2 slot with Intel Optane support on rock bottom of the case. Also, the whole NUC chassis is five PCIe slots wide rather than four, supplying you with room for a further single-slot card — or the included CPU fan shroud for better ventilation.
Despite all this goodness, I’m not sold on Intel’s Beast, and it comes right down to three things: 1) I’m a cheapskate who knows I can generally get more for my money if I don’t lock myself to one brand, 2) finding any graphics card is an exercise in frustration immediately, much less a dual-slot, and 3) I still don’t trust Intel, or anyone, to stay pumping out modules for as long as I’d wish to upgrade such a computer.

To be fair, Intel’s doing better than most therein regard. While Alienware broke its upgradable promise entirely with the Area-51m, Intel says the 11th Gen Compute Element will add last year’s Ghost Canyon — kinda.