Intel Hades Canyon NUC review

Intel Hades Canyon NUC review
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Last Updated on by Daniel Lawrence

Although there are a handful of mini PCs with gaming capabilities, most are significantly compromised when it comes to performance. The Intel NUC8i7HVK (also known as the Intel Hades Canyon NUC or NUC Enthusiast 8) might be the first machine to buck this trend, and it could be the best mini PC for gaming.

It can put out comparable performance to an entry-level gaming tower with its Kaby Lake G hybrid processor ($799 starting, $999 as reviewed). Hades Canyon’s NUC is an enticing mini PC option for gamers due to its impressive power and RGB lighting, though it’ll cost you quite a bit of money if you purchase RAM, SSD, and an operating system for this bare-bones PC.

Intel Hades Canyon NUC: Design

gaming pc

Intel’s new gaming-focused NUC, the Hades Canyon, is a small, black brick that you can easily toss in your bag or slide into your entertainment center.

At 8.7 x 5.6 x 1.5 inches, it is considerably larger than the Kangaroo Plus Mobile Desktop (4.9 x 3.2 x 0.5 inches) but much slimmer and shorter than the Alienware Alpha (7.9 x 7.9 x 2.2 inches). The device is a fraction of the size of a game console and will barely leave a mark on your desk.

When you turn it on, Hades Canyon looks unassuming. Upon turning on, the NUC’s top panel emits a striking, skull-shaped glow. By using the included LED Manager app, you can customize the skull and eyes to glow any color you like, and set the lights to pulsate quickly or breathe in and out.

In addition, you can customize the PC’s front-facing lights to correspond with specific things, such as whether your power plug or Ethernet cable is connected. Would you like to turn off all LEDs? No problem. For a PC this size, the NUC’s RGB options are quite robust, and I appreciate that the skull is LED-based instead of etched into the design as it was on the previous Skull Canyon model.

Intel Hades Canyon NUC: Ports

Even though it is small, the Hades Canyon NUC offers an impressive number of ports. Upfront, the mini PC has two USB 3.0 ports, a USB-C port, an SD card slot, and a 3.5mm audio jack, as well as a front-facing HDMI port for easy VR setup.

There are four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, two Ethernet ports, and an optical audio jack on the back. There are also two mini DisplayPort 1.2 ports, as well as an HDMI port, so you can connect to your monitors in a variety of ways.

Intel Hades Canyon NUC: What’s included

Intel’s Hades Canyon NUC is a bare-bones system, meaning it comes with the PC’s Intel Core i7-8009G/AMD Radeon RX Vega M GH hybrid processor out of the box. Memory, storage, and operating system will have to be provided by you.

We received from Intel a 512GB Intel 545s series SSD ($139), an Intel Optane SSD 800P ($115), two 8GB HyperX DDR4-3200 RAM modules ($94 each), and a new copy of Windows 10 ($119). In addition to our $999 review unit, the price of these parts will cost you about $1,400 for a fully configured system.

Intel Hades Canyon NUC: Gaming performance

The new NUC’s biggest selling point is its 8th-Gen Intel Core i7 with Radeon RX Vega M processor (also called Kaby Lake G), which combines a traditional Intel CPU with AMD graphics on one chip.

If our experience with NUC is any indication, it provides desktop-gamer-grade performance in a mobile-sized processor. It performed similarly to an entry-level, Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti-powered gaming tower, and it even handled some VR.

In our Hitman benchmark (1080p, max settings), Intel’s PC produced 59 frames per second, beating Lenovo’s compact Legion Y720 Cube desktop (52, Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti) but falling short of our 87-fps average.

We tested the NUC and Legion on Grand Theft Auto V (1080p, max settings) and found both PCs turned in highly playable 33 frames per second despite trailing our average of 82 frames per second.

Virtual reality is possible on Intel’s tiny desktop, but the experience won’t be optimal. On the SteamVR Performance Test, the NUC scored 4.6 out of 11, earning it a “medium” grade. Hence, it can produce VR but is not recommended for the highest fidelity.

Using 3DMark Fire Strike, the NUC scored 8,451 in synthetic tests. Compared to our average of 14,070, that puts the NUC just above the Legion (6,166).

Intel Hades Canyon NUC: Performance

Despite its gaming capabilities, the Core i7-8809G proved just as capable for everyday multitasking.

The NUC achieved a 17,683 score on the Geekbench 4.1 overall performance test, topping the Legion Y720 (8,110; Intel Core i3-7100U) while trailing the category average of 18,238.

Using the 512GB Intel 545s series SSD that came with our unit, we copied 5GB of files in 16 seconds, a rate of 310 MB per second. With 69 MBps, it beats the 1TB hard drive of the Legion (69 MBps), but just misses the average gaming performance of 343 MBps.

Intel Hades Canyon NUC: Configurations

Hades Canyon NUCs are available in two flavors: a $799 configuration aimed at content creators, and an overclocked $999 version. Both models feature a Core i7 Kaby Lake G CPU, but the former features Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics (comparable to an Nvidia GTX 1050), while the latter sports Radeon RX Vega M GH graphics (comparable to an Nvidia GTX 1060 Max Q).

Pros Cons
Customizable RGB lighting Expensive
Tons of ports
Compact, attractive design
Impressive graphics performance

Intel Hades Canyon NUC: Verdict

In an absolutely tiny chassis, the Hades Canyon NUC is the perfect display of Kaby Lake-G’s potential, offering midrange gaming performance and respectable VR abilities. In addition to the customizable RGB lighting, the system’s plethora of ports makes it ideal for command centers and living rooms alike.

Although the NUC’s performance is high, it comes at a high price. With the highest-end, VR-ready nook and your own memory, storage, and operating system, it could cost up to $1,400. It’s not the best value, since you can get a similarly powerful and fully featured tower, such as the Lenovo Legion Y720 Cube, for as little as $599. However, if you’re a mini PC enthusiast willing to spend some money on a bare-bones system, the Intel NUC offers some killer performance.