October 6, 2022

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Alder Lake and Arc Amalgamate in NUC12 Enthusiast

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Intel officially unveiled the latest member of their Alder Lake-based NUC12 family earlier this week. The NUC12 Enthusiast (like the three previous Enthusiast NUCs) caters to the gamer/creator market looking for a machine with a small form factor and a discrete GPU. As a refresher, Intel created the NUC Enthusiast category in 2016 with the introduction of the Skull Canyon NUC (NUC6i7KYK). With a 4″ x 5″ motherboard, it had a slightly larger footprint than traditional NUCs. However, the increased size allowed for the inclusion of a 45W TDP processor with increased graphics flexibility. The second generation Hades Canyon moved to a slightly larger board (5.5″ x 8″) while retaining the industrial design of the Skull Canyon NUC. It uses the Kaby Lake-G processors with a Kaby Lake processor and AMD GPU packaged together (with a total TDP budget between 65 W and 100 W). The NUC11 Enthusiast (Phantom Canyon) opted for a more traditional gaming laptop architecture with a Tiger Lake-U Core i7-1165G7 and an NVIDIA RTX 2060 laptop GPU. The NUC12 Enthusiast retains a similar architecture. The key difference lies in the fact that this is the first NUC to use Intel’s discrete Arc GPU. The GPU specifications are much more powerful than the NVIDIA RTX2060 and this led to a redesign of the cooling solution as well as the dimensions of the chassis compared to the NUC11 Enthusiast.

Like the Phantom Canyon family, the Serpent Canyon will also come in two varieties – a barebones version and another with a 1TB SSD / 16GB DDR4-3200 RAM / Windows 11 Home pre-installed. The SKUs use the Intel Core i7-12700H notebook processor and Intel Arc A770M discrete GPU with 16GB VRAM.

The NUC12 Enthusiast features a rich array of I/O. There are two Thunderbolt 4 ports (one on the front and one on the back) that also carry the display output from the Intel Iris Xe Graphics in the Core i7-12700H. Two USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports and an SDXC UHS-II slot, along with an audio jack and a quad-microphone array complete the front panel. On the back we have an audio output jack (supporting TOSLINK), a single 2.5 Gbps LAN port, four USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports (with a hub chip on the back) and the display outputs (1x HDMI 2.1 4Kp60 and 2x Display Port 2.0 (1.4 certified)) by Intel Arc A770M.

The table below compares the flagship specifications of the last three generations of Enthusiast NUCs.

NUC for Intel enthusiasts
Model Snake Canyon
Phantom Canyon
Hades Canyon
processor Intel Core i7-12700H

Alder Lake6P + 8E / 20T
4.7 GHz (P) / 3.5 GHz (E)
45W TDP (up to 115W)
Intel Core i7-1165G7

Tiger Lake-U4C/8T
2.8 – 4.7 GHz
Intel Core i7-8809G

Lake Kabi4C/8T
3.1 – 4.2 GHz
100W package TDP
GPU Intel® Intel Arc A770M 16GB GDDR6 @ 1.65 GHz (discrete) NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6GB GDDR6 (N18E-G1-B Notebook class 115W) @ 1.285 GHz (discrete)
Graphics Intel® Iris® Xe (96EU) @ 1.3 GHz (Integrated / On-Die)
Radeon RX Vega M GH 4GB HBM2 @ 1.19 GHz (discrete / in package)
Intel® HD Graphics 630 @ 1.1 GHz (Integrated / On-Die)
memory 2x DDR4-3200 SODIMM modules
1.2V, 64GB max.
2x DDR4-2400+ SODIMMs
1.2V, 32GB max.
Motherboard 7″ x 8″ (optional) 5.5″ x 8″ (optional)
Storage 2x M.2 22×80 (M key) PCIe 4.0 x4 NVMe SSD (attached to CPU)
1x M.2 22×80 (M key) SATA3 or PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD (via PCH)
1x M.2 22×80/110 (key M) PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe/AHCI SSD
1x M.2 2280 (M key) SATA3 or PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe/AHCI SSD
2x M.2 22×42/80 (M key) SATA3 or PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe/AHCI SSD
I/O ports 2x Thunderbolt 4 Fast charging (front + rear)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A fast charging (front)
4x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (rear)
1x SDXC UHS-II card slot (front)
CIR (Front)
1x SATA III Power + Data Internal Header
2x USB 2.0 internal connector
2x Thunderbolt 3 (rear)
4x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (rear)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A fast charging (front)
1x SDXC UHS-I card slot (front)
CIR (Front)
1x SATA III Power + Data Internal Header
2x USB 2.0 internal connector
Networking Intel Killer Wi-Fi 6E AX1690i
(2×2 802.11ax Wi-Fi incl. 6 GHz + Bluetooth 5.2 module)

1 × 2.5 GbE ports (Intel I225-LM)
Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201
(2×2 802.11ax Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 5.1 module)

1 × 2.5 GbE port (Intel I225-LM)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265
(2×2 802.11ac Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 4.2 module)

2 × GbE ports (Intel I219-LM + Intel I210-AT)
Display outputs 2x DP 2.0 (1.4 certified) (via Thunderbolt 4 Type-C, iGPU)
1x HDMI 2.1 (up to 4Kp60) (rear, dGPU)
2x DP 2.0 (1.4 certified, dGPU)
2x DP 1.4a (via Thunderbolt 4 Type-C ports, iGPU Display Pipe)
1x mini-DP 1.4a (rear, dGPU, up to 8Kp60, MST)
1x HDMI 2.0b (rear, dGPU, up to 4Kp60)
1x HDMI 2.0a (front, dGPU)
1x HDMI 2.0a (rear, dGPU)
2x mini-DP 1.3 (rear, dGPU)
2x DP 1.3 (via Thunderbolt 3 Type-C ports, dGPU)
audio 7.1 digital (via HDMI and DisplayPort)
L+R+Microphone (Front)
L+R+TOSLINK (rear)
Audio Codec Realtek ALC274 Realtek ALC700
Enclosure Metal and plastic
Kensington lock with basic protection
Power supply 330W (19V @ 16.9A) Adapter 230W (19V @ 12.1A) Adapter
Dimensions 230mm x 180mm x 60mm / 2.5L 221mm x 142mm x 42mm / 1.3L 221mm x 142mm x 39mm / 1.2L
Various functions Vertical stand included A vertical stand and a VESA mount are included VESA mount included
Cover with custom RGB LED lighting behind a user-replaceable mask
CEC support for HDMI ports
Front panel CIR support for IR remotes
Front panel status LEDs
Beam-forming microphone array
3 years warranty

The block diagram below gives some idea of ​​the system design in relation to the I/O capabilities.

Although the Arc A770M supports a PCIe 4.0 x16 connection to the host CPU, the Serpent Canyon configuration supports the x8 connection. Both PCIe 4.0 M.2 2280 slots are attached to the CPU. The SD card slot is connected via PCIe lane instead of USB – this should allow the maximum possible performance for different SD cards. While the official specifications indicate that the slot is UHS-II, the product’s technical specification document also indicates SD Express support. This depends on the exact SD controller used in the board, and we’ve reached out to Intel for clarification. Three of the four Type-A ports on the back are enabled by a 1:4 Gen 2 hub, which isn’t ideal in terms of bandwidth sharing. Having extra ports is always welcome though. On the display front, the front Thunderbolt 4 port can support a display bandwidth of around 17 Gbps, while the rear port can support up to 35 Gbps. With Type-C port multi-streaming support, the system can drive a total of six different displays – five at 4Kp144 (DP/Alt-DP) and one at 4Kp60 (HDMI). Two 8Kp60 displays can also be controlled using a multi-cable/port solution.

Intel also provided a full teardown picture along with the press release. The combined CPU and dGPU cooling solution with heat jacket and heat pipes is clearly visible. Whether this solution helps/allows performance tuning via the Intel Deep Link Dynamic Power Share feature remains to be seen in practical evaluation.

Overall, the Serpent Canyon NUC is a huge step forward for Intel. Moving to an all-in-house solution for both CPU and dGPU in a small form factor portable machine will allow the company to gain a larger share of the overall addressable gaming / creation systems / esports market. Based on the specs on paper, the level of integration and gaming capabilities in the NUC12 Enthusiast should exceed what is traditionally possible in this form factor. As for pricing, the Mini-PC version with a pre-installed operating system will cost $1,350, while the barebones version can be purchased for $1,180 later this month. These numbers roughly track the introductory price for the previous generation Enthusiast NUC.

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