Intel NUC 8 Mainstream Kit Core i7 (NUC8i7BEH)

"Intel's NUC is tiny in size and price, but not in performance."

  • Surprisingly easy to update

  • A lot of connectivity

  • Great performance for its size

  • Iris 655 makes easy gaming an option

  • Requires a do-it-yourself approach

  • Design is all function, not form

Most people still think of a tower PC when buying a desktop. There is another option. Smaller desktops have been around for years, and Intel's Next Unit of Computing – commonly abbreviated as NUC – is groundbreaking.

Intel uses NUC to prove what its hardware can do in a small space, but Intel also sells the NUC to home users. It even matches updates. The "Bean Canyon" NUCs, as they are called internally, are the latest mainstream option. The NUC 8i7BEH that we received for review is $ 480 and has an Intel Core i7-8559U. This is a low price for a powerful processor.

There's a reason for that – it's a kit PC. RAM, a hard drive and an operating system are not included. Is it worth the effort to build it yourself?

It is a box, but a small one

While the internals of the Intel NUC have changed drastically over the years, the basic footprint remains the same. Our test device was a tiny box, about five inches on one side and two inches in size. The entry-level models with less powerful processors are about half as thick. It's similar to a Mac Mini clad in dark gray metal, but the top is made of glossy plastic. The design sets function over form. It's just a box. So it's good that the NUC is small enough to hide in a drawer or behind a monitor.

Dan Baker / Digital Trends

You might think the size of the NUC upgrade is preventing it. Think again This is a kit PC, so easy access to the bowels is essential. That means you can open the NUC by unscrewing the four feet on its bottom. When these are removed, disconnect two cables and pull out the bottom. You will then immediately have access to two RAM DIMM slots and the M.2 solid-state drive slot. Our model also supported a SATA hard drive located at the top of the NUC, although we didn't decide to install one for our testing.

Upgrading a desktop doesn't get easier. The fact that you can easily change memory in a system half the size of a Mac Mini makes the easy access of the NUC even more remarkable.

The i7-8559U is a mobile chip at heart, but it lives its best life in the NUC.

Connectivity is also solid. You will find four USB-A 3.0 ports (two at the front and two at the back), connected with HDMI 2.0, Thunderbolt 3, an Ethernet socket, a microSD card reader and a 3.5 mm audio jack on the front. It offers a solid range of options for a small system and provides support for current and future peripherals.

It's a mobile processor, but a fast one

The NUC 8i7BEH1 model we tested was delivered with a Core i7-8559U processor. This is a quad-core chip with a maximum turbo clock speed of 4.5 GHz. Since the NUC we received was a kit, it had no RAM or hard drive. We installed 16 GB Timetec DDR4-2400MHz memory (in 2×8 GB configuration) and a Samsung 860 Evo 1 TB M.2 solid-state drive.

Dan Baker / Digital Trends

The i7-8559U is a mobile chip at heart, but it lives its best life in the NUC.

These performance results are pretty solid. According to Geekbench 4, the NUC's i7-8559U can keep up with any Core i7 laptop and only loses against these few Core i9 models. It loses against Apple's Mac Mini with a Core i5 processor, but not much.

The results of the hand brakes are just as impressive. The tiny NUC doesn't set any records, but is best suited for multiple laptops with similar prices, and comes surprisingly close to full-size desktops at and above its price range. The more expensive Hades Canyon NUC hardly defeats him.

Remember, this is a kit PC that you can buy for $ 480. The memory we bought was $ 130, the hard drive $ 150, and a copy of Windows 10 Home will bring you back $ 100. That's a total of $ 860, $ 240 less than the Mac Mini with Core i5, or $ 60 more than the Mac Mini with Core i3. The processor performance of the NUC is a good value. You just have to be brave and put it together yourself.

An unusual Intel graphics option offers unusual results

The NUC 8i7BEH1 contains a component that we have never tested. The integrated graphics hardware. It's Iris Plus Graphics 655 from Intel, the most extravagant incarnation of integrated Intel graphics we've tested. Intel boasted of its performance when it visited the company's Portland campus earlier this year.

Whether it is worth it depends on your perspective. As our tests show, Iris Plus Graphics is slightly south of Nvidia's MX150. This means that it can handle most modern games with low detail settings and less demanding games like Rocket League are fun. However, you can't expect to load a game like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and have a good time. Even Battlefield 1 is a stretch because it only contains an average of 20 frames per second at a resolution of 1080p and medium details. You must set it to low for a reasonable experience.

Remember this is a small system and not a particularly expensive one. Intel Hades Canyon NUC is available if you want to play. Iris Plus Graphics 655 makes at least less intense gaming an option, which is more than can be said for most entry-level desktops or even most laptops. Don't buy this if you want to play. But know you can enjoy a few rounds of Rocket League if you want to.

Our opinion

The latest NUC from Intel fits into its niche just like previous models. Most people don't want a small but powerful PC that does a little DIY, but if you do, the NUC is the obvious choice. It's extremely fast for its size and not a bad value, even compared to larger desktops. Geeks who want to simplify their desktop should keep this in mind.

Is there a better alternative?

The NUC has few direct competitors. Kit PCs are not the most popular category. Small desktops are also rare.

Apple's Mac Mini is a possible alternative. You can't just customize or update it, and it's not that small, but it offers faster processor options and is far more intuitive. Intel's own Hades Canyon NUC is another alternative because it offers a slightly faster processor and an AMD graphics chip. However, it is much more expensive since most retailers sell it for at least $ 750. The faster model we've reviewed often costs around $ 1,000.

You can also compare it to medium-sized desktops like Dell Inspiron and HP Pavilion. These often offer the same service at a slightly lower price, but the discount is not significant. However, keep in mind that affordable desktops sometimes offer a graphics card option. This is important if you have plans to play.

How long it will take?

The RAM and hard drive of the Intel NUC can be updated so that you can optimize them if you need the most storage space in the future. However, you cannot change the processor. We believe it will offer at least five years of service, but may show its age towards the end.

The Intel NUC offers a one-year warranty. This is standard for the category.

Should you buy it

Yes, if you are familiar with installing your own RAM and hard drive. The NUC does its job well, but fits into a small niche and its small size affects its potential performance. However, if you want a small and inexpensive PC, it is difficult to go wrong with a NUC.

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