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Intel NUC 9 Extreme Review

Intel NUC 9 Extreme Review
Review

Price when reviewed

£2300

$2300
Check current price

Our Verdict

I’ve briefly met the Intel NUC Systems before and on the last meeting was impressed by the size and power. But, nothing could prepare me for the Intel NUC 9 Extreme.

This small skull embossed machine was originally aimed at gamers, but the specifications and performance mean that it’s equally suited to photographers and videographers.

The base system is relatively cheap, but our review unit is kitted out with mid to upper-level specifications, elevating the price considerably over a base model.

Even so, it’s cheap compared with a Mac and rips through video and photo editing in a way that would many professionals and enthusiasts.

For

  • Compact size
  • Pricing scalable to budget
  • Ultra-fast for video editing

Against

  • Price escalates with upgrades.
  • GPU difficulty to source at present

What is the Intel NUC 9 Extreme?

I’ve been a dedicated Mac user for years, and while I use PCs for some aspects of work, I’ve tried to avoid them, unless of course they’re installed with Linux, but that’s a whole other thing.

Ultimately I’ve chosen to use Apple computers because of their reliability – I had my MacPro 2011 in full-time use up until last year, never a glitch just performance, and the Mac Pro 2013 still flys through HD video edits.

However, I need an upgrade for my Mac desktop, for 4K video editing, but the new MacPro is far too expensive for me to even contemplate.

I have a MacBook Pro 2018, soon to be 2020, which should be up to 4K video editing, which it is for about 30 minutes to an hour, after that it gets hot and wants to take a break or sleep.

I’ve have looked at the Mac Mini. It’s very nice but limited to 16GB of RAM, is that enough for 4K video editing? It doesn’t feel like it would be, and then there’s the need for an eGPU, so I’ve ruled out the Mini, but do let me know in the comments below if you have one and it’s fine for 4K.

Of course, there’s the iMac.. Yep.

However, as a creative do you need to stick to Mac? Five years ago everyone was using and demanding Final Cut Pro; that now seems to have swapped to Premiere Pro and DaVinci Resolve.

This means I should now be able to shift to PC, and PC solutions are increasingly powerful and cheap compared with Macs, and that’s why I’m looking at the Intel NUC 9 Extreme.

Before I go on, NUC stands for, Next Unit Computing, and these machines give you an insight into the future.

NUC is essentially a modular system with an enclosed element that takes all the major computer components and wraps them into one compact form known as the Compute Element.

This compute element looks a bit like a graphics card, and simply slots into a compatible case.

The idea is that you can pop the Compute Element out of the case and pop in an upgraded one when you want, rather than having to upgrade the whole machine when that time comes.

As well as the compute element, some NUC cases offer additional slots for dedicated graphics, storage and other components.

I’m looking at the Intel NUC 9 Extreme which features the NUC9i9QNB, Compute Element, ASUS GeForce RTX, 32GB Ram, 1TB NVMe SSD, WiFi and plenty more all for around £2300.

That’s roughly on a par with a £3499 iMac, obviously without the screen, keyboard and mouse.

However, the Intel NUC was designed as a gaming machine, so can it switch from gaming to creative?

Within an hour of the Intel NUC 9 Extreme arriving it was connected and ready to go.

Initial performance is like nothing I’ve used before, there’s no waiting, programs load, files show thumbnails instantly, and I can work on 4K video all day without slow down.

The only issue is Windows; it looks horrid when you come from the refined look of Mac OS, you feel like you’re stepping back in time when it comes to the interface. Ultimately this is going to come down to performance, and er price.

Intel NUC 9 Extreme Review

Can this small machine keep up with what’s needed for 4K video editing and grading, or should it remain as a gaming only solution?

Specification

  • NUC: NUC9i9QNX
  • CPU: 9th Generation Intel® Core i9-9980HK
  • RAM: Dual-channel DDR4 SODIMMs max 64GB @ 2666 MHz
  • Storage: 3x M.2 key M slots
  • Graphics: Intel® UHD Graphics 630 or PCIe Discrete
  • Ports: 2 x ThunderBolt 3, 4 x USB 3.1
  • Video output: 3840 x 2160
  • HDMI: 2.0a
  • PCIe: 4 Slots
  • SDXC: Yes with UHS-II Support
  • Optional GPU: ASUS GeForce RTX

Build and Handling

Network gaming has been around for years, from the mass arena events of the late ’90s through to modern-day LAN parties. In all that time, the dedicated gamer has lugged their machine and screen from location to location.

Much the same is true for video editors, and as there are more events to cover, pre and I hope post-COVID of course, the need for compact, powerful machines is as ever important.

One of the obvious choices is the new Mac Mini. These compact Apple machines are incredibly powerful, small and compact, they’re also robust, but lack some of the graphic processing grunt that many videographers are after.

The Intel NUC 9 Extreme is slightly larger than the Mac Mini but features built-in storage and graphics processing that virals desktop PCs. It also, like the Mac Mini, fits neatly inside a standard Peli case.

Build wise the Intel NUC 9 Extreme is extremely neat and well made. Intel has put a lot of thought into the design of the case, known as Ghost Canyon.

Much of that design comes down to the original intended user, the gamer, but this means that it’s equally suited to photographers and videographers who want mains powered portable processing power.

Due to the processing capability of this small machine, ventilation is incredibly important. A quick look at the sides and top show a tight mesh surface that enables the fans to pump cooling air around the system as needed.

On the front, there are two USB Type-A, 3.1 ports, and an SD card slot which is handy for quickly downloading content, either directly or from a reader.

Flip the machine around, and there are a further four USB Type-A ports, again 3.1, two Ethernet ports which are handy if you’re hardwired into the network and want to use an ATOM Mini or similar network device, and then there’s an HDMI and two Thunderbolt 3 ports.

These two Thunderbolt 3 ports are one of the features that make this Intel box so interesting to video editors. Through these ports, you can attach ultra-fast Thunderbolt 3 storage such as the Lacie Big Box or link into a hub such as The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock.

There’s also a 3.5mm audio jack out.

As mentioned the additional PCIe slots in the Intel NUC 9 Extreme enable the insertion of a dedicated graphics card which gives a huge processing boost to applications such as Premiere Pro and Photoshop.

The addition of a dedicated card is a major benefit for video editors alongside options for 32 or 64GB of RAM, more than enough for HD and 4K video editing and rendering.

There’s also the subject of storage. Having external storage is always good but lugging around drives can be annoying. Having three internal M.2 NVMe slots enables you to access plenty of ultra-fast internally working storage and gives you the ability to upgrade as you can afford more.

Of course, going back to those two Thunderbolt 3 ports, these give you the option to link in further displays, more storage, and even additional eGPU’s if you require. It’s all very expandable and futureproofed.

After using the machine for a couple of weeks and refamiliarising myself with the Windows operating system, I couldn’t resist taking a look inside.

After all, this is a modular machine. I have the Intel NUC 9 Extreme, but you could buy the Ghost Canyon base with the configuration you can afford, and when you want to expand it.

But the question that I had was how easy it is to add more storage, RAM, graphics, and when the time comes to a new NUC?

Removing the top of the case was easy enough, two Philips style screws hold it in place, then you pull it back and the top lifts away.

Flip the top over and you see the depth of technology used, the top contains two large fans that draw heat and air up through the system. Simple prongs interface with the case, meaning that there are no wires to battle with.

Looking into the top and the NUC and Graphics cards are neatly, but tightly, installed side by side. I’ll go through how the NUC Extreme all goes together in another article as it does take a little figuring out if you are going to buy the base unit and upgrade when the budget allows.

It’s not overly complicated, more fiddly and you need the right-sized tools.

After taking a good look inside and installing a couple of fresh Lexar M.2 SSDs I’m pretty confident that upgrading the NUC Extreme is possible for anyone whatever their level of knowledge.

Intel NUC 9 Extreme Review

I’m impressed with the build and quality of the NUC Extreme and would be more than happy to cart this around to different locations.

The Unit does arrive with it’s a hard case for portability; this case is a very gamer. However, I checked it out, and it fits perfectly inside the Peli case, which feels like a far better fit for me.

Performance

I’m presently using a MacBook Pro 2018 i9 with Blackmagic eGPU to boost the graphics performance. The MacBook Pro features an 8th gen i9 while the Intel is a 9th gen. Both systems are fitted with 32GB of RAM so they’re quite a close fit for performance.

The Blackmagic features a Radeon Pro 580 while the NUC Extreme is fitted with the ASUS GEFORCE RTX.

Intel NUC 9 Extreme Review

Before getting into the real world testing I thought I’d test the Intel NUC 9 Extreme with a few benchmarks.

Like gaming when it comes to video editing sequential read-write speeds are important, checking the results on the main storage drive resulted in the following:

Intel NUC 9 Extreme
Read: 2500MB/s
Write: 2206MB/s

This compares with the MacBook Pro 2018
Read: 2648MB/s
Write: 2601MB/s

The speed is impressive, and results show that for all 4K editing the drive is more than capable. Swapping out the M.2 drive supplied may increase this read-write speed.

To get a fuller idea about the speed of the system, I ran GeekBench 5, which produced the following results:

Intel NUC 9 Extreme
Single Core: 1239
Multi-Core: 7552
Compute: 90463

This compared with the MacBook Pro 2018:
Single Core: 1139
Multi-Core: 5610
Compute 580: 32068
Compute 560: 19330

Benchmarking out of the way and it’s apparent that Intel has a fair amount of additional processing power, but it’s in the power of the GPU that it gets the real boost, almost 3x the compute score.

These scores are all well and good for benchmarks, but the real test happens when the machine is put under load for a sustained time.

I ran several projects over the test using a mix of DaVinci Resolve and Premiere Pro. All the footage I used was shot using the Sony A7 III and A7 II with S-Log2, 4k at 25fps and 1080p at 50fps.

Starting with DaVinci Resolve, I applied a few edits and a LUT from BounceColor. Once completed, I rendered the 2-minute files out with the following results.

DaVinci Resolve
Intel NUC Extreme
4K Render: 1:36
1080p to 4K Render: 6:20

I then ran much the same test shooting 1080p 50fps but upscaling to 4K to push the processing.

MacBook Pro
4K Render: 2:07
1080p to 4K Render: 4:11

The final results are in, and it’s been an interesting comparison. Both the NUC and the MacBook Pro use the mobile version of the i9 chip, and for most tasks, the Intel NUC proves the better machine for editing, but for one video the MacBook Pro bettered the NUC’s render time by over 2 minutes.

The only time when the MacBook beat the NUC was when the footage was scaled during the Render.

Aside from the difference in render times, there are a couple of other factors to note. As you start to apply load to the Intel NUC 9 Extreme the fans startup, and while not loud, you do hear them in the background.

This is the same with the MacBook Pro which during renders can sound like it’s about to take off before it throttles, and you have to leave it to cool down.

When it comes to editing the Intel Nuc wins hands down on performance. However, there was a bit of a surprise when it came to rendering.

Setting the same video and similar project but this time using Premiere Pro and the results were achieved.

Here the results from the Intel were far faster than those on the Mac by some considerable distance.

Premiere Pro
Intel NUC Extreme
4K Render: 0:52
1080p to 4K Render: 0:21

MacBook Pro
4K Render: 2:30
1080p to 4K Render: 2:21

Final thoughts

After a month of testing the Intel NUC 9 Extreme, it’s made me reconsider using PCs for creative work. A PC doesn’t have to be large, noisy and ugly, this small box despite the Skull logo has proven swift, elegant and fast.

The machine’s small size makes it ultra-portable, and while this is not as convenient as a laptop, it does make me think.

My MacBook Pro costs in the region of £3800 whereas this full spec’d Intel NUC cost £2300 that’s £1500 difference.

Checking out what laptops I can buy for £1500 and there’s a huge selection of slim, powerful options that would suit my off-site needs.

However, this would mean two computers, but then I’ve been hopping between several machines for the last year while MacBooks have been off for repair, so ultimately having a full-time back-up sounds like a sensible idea.

Intel NUC 9 Extreme Review

The Intel NUX 9 Extreme has won me over. Using both DaVinci Resolve and Premiere Pro has proven that this machine is faster than anything I have tried before.

So will I change from Mac to PC, has the Intel NUC 9 Extreme offered enough? I’ve loved Mac, like all Mac users, but having had so many issues with the last three MacBook Pro’s and needing a powerful desktop solution the time for change has arrived, and that change is the Intel NUC 9 Extreme. Now I just need a decent laptop for £1500.

Price Comparison logo Camera Jabber - (id: 928) Intel NUC9i9QNX 400 Search Intel NUC Kit BXNUC9I9QNX NUC9I9QNX I9-9980HK M.2 (Power cord not Included) Amazon £1300.76 INTEL - NUC NUC GHOST CANYON NUC9I9QNX I9-9980HK HDMI WLAN USB3 M2 DDR4 eBay £1573.12 Layout Intel NUC Kit BXNUC9I9QNX NUC9I9QNX I9-9980HK M.2 (Power cord not Included) £1300.76 INTEL - NUC NUC GHOST CANYON NUC9I9QNX I9-9980HK HDMI WLAN USB3 M2 DDR4 £1573.12 Products to display 3 CODE× CLOSE Script Iframe AMP Geolocation WIDGET CODE
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Aryan
Aryan
1 year ago

Hello M1

Paul
Paul
1 year ago

I think you meant 1 TB SSD, I doubt you’d want to use a Hard Drive with this setup.