Intel teases NUC-leheads with new desktop-class graphics systems and a fast i9 CPU

Deep-pocketed gamers stare into Ghost Canyon at consumer show

CES At this year's overstuffed Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Intel teased its upcoming NUC (Next Unit of Computing) desktop — the NUC 9 Extreme, codenamed Ghost Canyon.

This is the first of Intel's diminutive PC boxes to support standard desktop GPUs, making them an option for gamers looking for a smaller machine. This heightened potency will also lend favourably to developers, who use GPUs to expedite complicated computational tasks, like training AI models.

Introduced in 2012, the initial concept for the NUC saw Chipzilla offer minimalist bare-bone kits that include a motherboard, a CPU, and not much else. The goal was to afford users as much customisability as possible — from the amount of RAM installed, to the choice of operating system. And although NUC-based systems had a reputation for being slightly pricy, they nonetheless managed to carve out a worthwhile slice of the market, thanks to their versatility.

Their small size and ease of deployment (NUCs can be attached to a VESA bracket) meant the NUC was well-suited to powering digital signage and kiosks. Others bought them as streaming servers. And some found their way into the education market.

In recent years, Intel has tried to position the NUC as a platform for high-performance computing, particularly gaming. In 2018, it introduced the eighth generation of the NUC, which packed a laptop-class AMD Radeon RX Vega M. This was no slouch; benchmarks showed it compared favourably with the Nvidia GeForce GTX 960 and GTX 980 graphics cards, making it well-suited for most contemporary AAA titles.

With support for dedicated graphics cards, Intel has raised the ante with the upcoming Ghost Canyon NUC. More to the point, this is the first of Intel's customisable desktops to support its Core i9 silicon — albeit the laptop version, rather than the larger and more power-hungry desktop-grade chips.

And, according to a slide released by Intel, the Ghost Canyon NUC will be the first to support Intel’s Compute Element boards. This will see components — namely the CPU — turned into swappable cartridges, making it easy to service and upgrade the machine.

This presumably is for the customers who are using Intel's NUC machines in commercial environments — like kiosks and embedded systems — where you may only need to make relatively small, incremental upgrades over the system’s lifecycle.

Compared to previous generations, the Ghost Canyon is significantly heftier, with a total volume around five litres. To give you a better sense of perspective, it's roughly in-line with what you'd get with a games console, with the PS4 Pro displacing 5.3 litres, and the Xbox One measuring 4.3 litres.

The Ghost Canyon is vastly smaller than the majority of gaming towers, which are hefty beasts indeed. But given Intel's cramming in an i9 processor and dedicated GPU slot, it makes sense that this NUC would have a bigger footprint than its predecessors.

More details about the Ghost Canyon will emerge later this week, as CES enters full swing. El Reg is curious to see what ports it'll pack, as well as pricing and configuration details. ®

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