Review: Intel NUC 8 VR Mini PC – Hades Canyon

Imagine Apple updated the Mac Mini.

I know, I know it’s ludicrous to even imagine at this point but stick with me here.

Imagine Apple update the Mac Mini. When Intel released a new CPU every year they put it inside it. When the crazy, mind-blowing, never thought it would happen deal of Intel and AMD putting their tech together in a single integrated graphics solution came to fruition that Apple, whom already has relationships with both companies, took advantage of that and used it in their machine. Then on top of all that they put not one, but two thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, two HDMI ports, two DisplayPort ports and say… hmmm… I dunno… seven? Yeah why not… seven USB ports essentially making both the front and backs of the machine a cornucopia of inputs and outputs.

Then for shits and giggles take out the SSD & RAM, make it run Windows and put it in a black box with a ghastly illuminated blue skull (that you can thankfully disconnect) and you’d have the Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) 8, Enthusiast Edition.

Intel’s NUC lineup has been going gang busters since its introduction. Small, compact, and in this case – gaming orientated – PCs that pack a punch both in power and their wide range of connectivity options. The new NUC 8, is no exception. The 221 x 142 x 39mm unit is smaller than my mouse pad and yet kitted out with the latest of Intel’s 8th-gen core i7-8809G CPUs it has more brain power than my gaming PC.

The new integrated AMD Radeon Vega RX M graphics also mean that it’s no slouch in the graphics department either. Capable of pushing out a 4K HDR signal at 60Hz with full HDCP 2.2 support the “little NUC that could” can even serve as your VR rig whilst being compact enough to sit alongside your living room TV without being intrusive.

Disassembled Intel NUC 8

Naturally an integrated GPU, whether it’s AMD’s or not is still no match for a full tower’s performance however it did remarkably well in the play testing I did. Bethesda’s Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus had no issues running at a smooth 60fps with medium settings at the full 3440 x 1440 resolution of my Acer Predator 34″ Ultra Wide display. Pushing things towards the game’s higher settings did of course slow things down but had it been plugged into my TV at 1080p there would’ve been no issue, a nice balance point before embarking on 4K, which despite being capable of is not overly realistic.

With each game I tried I was surprised by how well the NUC performed. No I wasn’t playing in 4K with Ultra settings on but this thing costs less than a graphics card that could do that and by having slightly less detail you got a really competent & reasonably priced gaming PC.

Other games I took for a spin included PUBG, Rainbow Six: Siege and The Witcher 3. All of them performed similarly with The Witcher being the hardest on the little guy chugging to the point I scaled down to 1080p at medium in a couple of spots.

[benchmark photos]

While the NUC itself is quite comprehensive it’s also very bare-bones. Just like its predecessors the new model comes with no drives or RAM pre-installed. Immediately you’ll need to invest beyond its sticker price should you not already own an appropriate SSD and RAM, which some will consider a good thing and others bad.

Dual m.2 SSDs

In terms of drives it makes use of the relatively new m.2 connector meaning you’ll need an SSD like Intel’s Optane m.2 series to use as a drive. I tested the unit with two 800p SSDs which were ri-donk-iously fast booting into Windows in a couple of seconds.

RAM wise there are two slots with the unit supporting up to 32GB of dual channel DDR4 RAM in total.

Both the RAM and drive slots are easily accessible with an included Allen Key along with a pictured instruction guide stepping you through the process of popping the machines backplate and having at its guts.

The greatest annoyance of this setup/installation process, and of the machine entirely in my opinion, is its illuminating skull. When opening the case you’re required to disconnect the small jumpered lead that controls the light being switched on and off. It’s fiddly and a pain that blocks you getting to where you need to be immediately.

Two DDR4 RAM slots

It’s also ugly. I understand it was a brand aiming the NUC towards gamers from Intel’s beginnings of the line with its Skull Canyon model but it seriously needs to go.

Speaking of Skull Canyon the new Hades’ size absolutely dwarfs its predecessor. It’s still small, don’t get me wrong but the new version with its emboldened processor and GPU means adding fans and thinking about airflow effectively forcing the chassis to grow.

It’s nothing to be concerned by and to illustrate the fact Intel include a VESA mounting bracket which will mount the NUC smack bang on the back of your display completely hidden away.

I can see the Hades NUC being used for a lot of situations beyond the gaming world it’s being marketed to. Just like the Canyon before it, which found many homes in areas like  small business, home computing and other inventive low powered needs outside gaming the Hades shouldn’t be pigeon holed as purely a budget gaming box.

A great use case for the Hades would be for streamers for example. Quite often more professional level streamers will employ a second PC to handle the ingestion and production of their stream before being routed out. The NUC 8 could be that perfect box acting as a go between as well as being a portable solution for effective gaming-on-the-go whilst travelling perhaps.

The ports on the front of the Intel NUC 8

That doesn’t mean the NUC 8 isn’t a capable gaming rig, it more than is. That fact it’s VR capable is more than enough to qualify it of that. If you want to squeeze even more out of it though you can even spring an extra couple of hundred for an overlocking ready version that can be pushed even further to take it deep into the next level. That’ll cost you a few extra hundred bucks though, the more expensive version comes with a more powerful RX Vega M GH GPU that has the ability to be easily overclocked instead of the standard RX Vega M GL GPU on the cheaper version.

Despite comparing it to the Mac Mini at the beginning Intel’s NUC 8 is really an orange that can’t be compared to an Apple. A better comparison would be Valve’s ill-fated SteamOS boxes, the new NUC 8 Enthusiast is everything they should’ve been and more.

[P_REVIEW post_id=7384 visual=’full’]


Reader Rating0 Votes
Next level integrated graphics
Customisable to your specs
Ports, ports & more ports
Getting up there on price
Higher end model required for overclocking
Skull motif