Setup Notes and Platform Analysis

The review sample of the NUC11BTMi9 came package in a fancy plywood casing, signifying its premium nature. Since the review configuration was ready for benchmarking, the package contents only included the main unit, power cord, Windows 10 Pro installation DVD, and a USB key containing the drivers for the system. The retail packaging is bound to be quite different, as these pre-production samples are packaged to make unboxing videos attractive.

The NUC11BTMi9 sports the Intel VisualBIOS with a modern interface. It has plenty of enthusiast options to fine tune the performance. The video below presents the entire gamut of available options.

The specifications of our Intel NUC11BTMi9 review configuration are summarized in the table below.

Intel NUC11BTMi9 (Beast Canyon) Specifications
Processor Intel Core i9-11900KB
Tiger Lake-H, 8C/16T, 3.3 (4.9) (5.3) GHz
24MB L2+L3, 10nm, 65W TDP
Memory Kingston HyperX KHX3200C20S4/8G DDR4 SODIMM
20-22-22-42 @ 3200 MHz
2x8 GB
Graphics ASUS Dual GeForce RTX 3060 12GB GDDR6
Intel UHD Graphics for 11th Gen.
Disk Drive(s) Sabrent Rocket NVMe 4.0
(500GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 4.0 x4 NVMe; Kioxia 96L 3D TLC; Phison E16 Controller)
Networking Intel Wi-Fi 6E AX210
(2x2 802.11ax - 2400 Mbps)
1x Intel I225-LM 2.5G Ethernet Adapter
Audio 3.5mm Audio Jack (Front)
Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Miscellaneous I/O Ports 1x UHS-II SDXC Slot (Front)
2x USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) Type-A (Front)
6x USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) Type-A (Rear)
2x Thunderbolt 4 (40 Gbps) Type-C (Rear)
Operating System Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 10 Enterprise x64
Pricing (As configured) $2006
Full Specifications Intel NUC11BTMi9 Specifications

Our review sample came with Windows 10 Pro x64 pre-installed, but, we wiped the drive and installed Windows 10 Enterprise x64 21H1 prior to benchmarking. Our initial benchmarking and reports collection was done without opening up the system. The AIDA64 system report for the hardware configuration supplied by Intel provided the following information:

  • [ North Bridge: Intel Tiger Lake-H IMC ]:
    • PCIe 4.0 x16 port #2 In Use @ x8 (nVIDIA GA106 - GeForce RTX 3060 12GB Video Adapter, High Definition Audio Controller)
  • [ South Bridge: Intel Tiger Point WM590 ]:
    • PCIe 3.0 x1 port #19 In Use @ x1 (Intel Wi-Fi 6E AX210 160MHz Wireless Network Adapter)
    • PCIe 3.0 x1 port #20 In Use @ x1 (Intel I225-LM 2.5G Ethernet Network Connection)

The two Type-C ports in the Compute Element are enabled directly from the CPU. They can operate in Thunderbolt 4 (40Gbps), native USB 4 (10Gbps), and native DP1.4 modes. Each port can supply up to 15W. The rest of the I/Os are off the Tiger Point PCH. One of the key aspects here is that the DMI bottleneck has largely been alleviated with Tiger Lake. There are plenty of I/Os directly off the CPU package - including the Thunderbolt 4 ports and the CPU-attached Gen 4 NVMe storage slot. With Thunderbolt 4, it is in fact possible to completely bypass the PCH while transferring data between internal and external storage devices.

The NUC11BTMi9 is one of the few SFF systems that we have evaluated which happen to come with a discrete user-replaceable GPU. Systems with MXM GPUs are pretty much set in terms of graphics capabilities for the lifetime of the unit. In addition to the Ghost Canyon NUC from last year, we have the Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EK71080 to compare against the Beast Canyon NUC. Zotac introduced the ZBOX MAGNUS ONE earlier this year with a Comet Lake CPU and an Ampere GPU that we still have in our review queue. So, the main focus in this piece will be on three systems - Beast Canyon, Ghost Canyon, and the ZBOX MAGNUS EK71080.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the Intel NUC9i9QNX against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. The relevant configuration details of the machines are provided so that readers have an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are skewed for or against the Intel NUC11BTMi9 when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Intel NUC11BTMi9 (Beast Canyon)
CPU Intel Core i9-11900KB Intel Core i9-11900KB
GPU ASUS Dual GeForce RTX 3060 12GB GDDR6
Intel UHD Graphics for 11th Gen
ASUS Dual GeForce RTX 3060 12GB GDDR6
Intel UHD Graphics for 11th Gen
RAM Kingston HyperX KHX3200C20S4/8G DDR4-3200 SODIMM
20-22-22-42 @ 3200 MHz
2x8 GB
Kingston HyperX KHX3200C20S4/8G DDR4-3200 SODIMM
20-22-22-42 @ 3200 MHz
2x8 GB
Storage Sabrent Rocket NVMe 4.0
(500 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 4.0 x4 NVMe; Kioxia 96L 3D TLC)
(Phison E16 Controller)
Sabrent Rocket NVMe 4.0
(500 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 4.0 x4 NVMe; Kioxia 96L 3D TLC)
(Phison E16 Controller)
Wi-Fi Intel Wi-Fi 6E AX210 Intel Wi-Fi 6E AX210
Price (in USD, when built) $1350 (barebones)
$2006 (as configured / No OS)
$1350 (barebones)
$2006 (as configured / No OS)
Introduction and Product Impressions BAPCo SYSmark 25
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  • Spunjji - Friday, July 30, 2021 - link

    "Can I buy the new compute element card and put it in a Ghost Canyon case?"
    I've been wondering that - I thought part of the point of the Element was to enable that sort of upgrade, but then I guess you'd lose the PCIe 4.0 compatibility
    Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Friday, July 30, 2021 - link

    Question: Can you purchase (I believe you can) JUST the element and place it into the previous model's chassis? That's what I was led to believe with this 'supposed' upgradability. If not, then possibly avoid this machine as there won't (probably) be an upgrade path. I did own the previous gen.

    Question 2: What the heck is going on with the smaller Nuc 11 units? I cannot seem to buy one ANYWHERE (u.k.).
    Reply
  • mode_13h - Monday, August 2, 2021 - link

    I think Tiger Lake is simply in high-demand. Intel likely prioritizes notebook OEMs above its own NUCs. Most NUC buyers probably don't know or care about the difference between 10th gen and 11th gen, so it's less bad to undersupply that market. Of course, this is all speculation. Reply
  • vol.2 - Tuesday, August 3, 2021 - link

    I'm assuming they use the cheapest fans they can get away with. I'm sure the noise would improve dramatically if you replaced them with some better ones. Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Wednesday, August 11, 2021 - link

    I’m sure the laws of physics are malleable. Reply
  • JoeDuarte - Tuesday, August 3, 2021 - link

    1. It would help to benchmark them with more realistic specs, and consistent specs across the different SFF computers you included. 16 GB of RAM is too little for something this high-end, with an 8-core i9 Tiger Lake CPU, and a new-gen Nvidia 3060 GPU. (And you had 32 GB of in the Zotac...) 512 GB of SSD is too small for this kind of build, and there are big differences in SSD performance between 512 GB units and 1 TB+ sizes. (And you have different SSD models and sizes across the tested computers, ruining the validity of the results.)

    2. Intel's prices are still a bummer. I love the idea of a NUC, and of these X Canyon big-NUCs, but their prices and availability have always ruled them out. It's just worth it for what you get. We have to add several hundred dollars to that $1,350 price for this model. And hundreds more for a display, keyboard, and mouse. It's easily a $2,000 build, probably more like $2,300, all before taxes.

    It makes more sense to go to PCPartPicker and build out a compact PC using one of those cuboid cases. They're a lot bigger than NUCs, but much smaller than mid-towers.

    3. Intel really struggles with naming and model numbers. The NUCs are a messy jumble of letters and digits. And Intel commits the sin of having multiple names for the same thing, and you have to keep track of numerous confusing terms and their relation to each other. e.g.:

    -- Goldmont vs. Apollo Lake, using Skylake arch, vs. Braxton vs. Willow Trail
    -- Cherryview vs. Cherry Trail vs. Airmont
    -- Beast Canyon vs. Bean Canyon vs. NUC vs. NUC11BTMi9
    -- NUC11BTMi9 vs NUC11DBBi9, where the former is supposed to be a computer and the latter is a "Compute Element"

    Nothing about the substring BTMi9 screams "computer", and nothing about the substring DBBi9 screams "Compute Element". It's all such a mess, and it makes it hard to shop for and buy Intel's products. If you don't already know the exact model number of what you want, there's no way to know from the model numbers that you encounter what you're getting or where it fits into the larger context of NUC models. These are things that any organization should be able to fix – clean, consistent naming, and clean, concise, and non-ugly model numbers.
    Reply
  • mode_13h - Wednesday, August 4, 2021 - link

    > It makes more sense to go to PCPartPicker and
    > build out a compact PC using one of those cuboid cases.

    Except you cannot buy a Tiger Lake-H CPU. They're only sold in BGA and mostly found in laptops.

    Unlike the Gemini/Jasper/Elkhart Lake CPUs (which are also BGA and often found in Chromebooks), you probably can't buy a mITX motherboard with them pre-installed, either.
    Reply
  • JoeDuarte - Thursday, August 12, 2021 - link

    I didn't think of that, though it wouldn't matter in my case. Whenever I build out a system at PCPartPicker I choose the Core i7-11700 or one of the Zen 3 chips – I think it's called a 5600 or 5800, but I forget. I don't think Tiger Lake-H would be an improvement from those, just maybe lower power.

    The GPUs are decent for integrated, and that has made me lean toward Intel because of the difficulty in finding current gen discrete GPUs like the 3060 Ti, but I haven't pulled the trigger yet. The Zen 3s don't have integrated GPUs, which would leave me without a GPU unless I settled for an obsolete 1650 or something. I'd rather live with the Intel 750 for a spell until the powerhouses are available at normal prices.
    Reply
  • mode_13h - Friday, August 13, 2021 - link

    > I choose the Core i7-11700 ... I don't think Tiger Lake-H would be an improvement
    > from those, just maybe lower power.

    There are some notable differences. The desktop 11th gen CPUs are Rocket Lake, built on Intel's 14 nm++++ process, using Cypress Cove cores. Those cores are a 14 nm back-port of Ice Lake's (launched in 2019) Sunny Cove.

    The Laptop & NUC 11th gen CPUs are Tiger Lake, which use Intel's 10 nm+++ node (also called 10 nm SF). They use Willow Cove cores, which are a generation newer than Ice Lake's (and therefore Rocket Lake's). However, the generational gains of the cores were modest, with the main difference being that Tiger Lake clocks higher.

    Now, if you want to compare spec-for-spec, try this:

    https://ark.intel.com/content/www/us/en/ark/compar...

    The main thing that shows is that Tiger Lake-H has 50% more cache and the top-end model clocks lower. However, being a laptop chip, the top-end model also has a TDP of just 65 W. So, it's probably better to compare it with the fastest 65 W Rocket Lake:

    https://ark.intel.com/content/www/us/en/ark/compar...

    According to that, Tiger Lake-H is able to offer a much better Base clock, though its turbo is still lower. That's probably because its peak power is also lower, again being a laptop chip. Furthermore, clock speeds don't tell the whole story. In the end, specs are no match for actual benchmarks:

    https://www.tomshardware.com/news/intels-enthusias...

    These benchmarks show Rocket Lake pulling ahead in GPU tests, probably due to its faster turbo. However, when it comes to CPU-intensive tests, we see Tiger Lake hold its own.

    Unfortunately, not many people seem to have run that exact comparison. Most are either comparing with the top Rocket Lake SKU or just other SFF PCs. If anyone else has benchmarks of the i9-11900KB vs. i9-11900, please share.

    I guess the point is that if you care about power/noise/size, this NUC Extreme seems pretty compelling. If you're willing to spend a bit more and go for a top-of-the-line desktop, then you should probably fare better with Rocket Lake.

    I wish Tiger Lake-H came in a LGA-1200 socketed version, so we could really see it stretch its legs. I'll bet it would beat even i9-11900KF by a noticeable amount.

    > The Zen 3s don't have integrated GPUs

    They do now! Check out the new Ryzen 5000G models!

    https://www.anandtech.com/show/16824/amd-ryzen-7-5...

    They're decent, for an integrated GPU, but not on par with the RTX 3060 in this NUC Extreme.
    Reply
  • mode_13h - Wednesday, August 4, 2021 - link

    > And Intel commits the sin of having multiple names for the same thing,
    > and you have to keep track of numerous confusing terms and their
    > relation to each other. e.g.:
    >
    > -- Goldmont vs. Apollo Lake, using Skylake arch, vs. Braxton vs. Willow Trail
    > -- Cherryview vs. Cherry Trail vs. Airmont

    Goldmont is the core. Apollo Lake is the SoC. The "Mont" cores are the low-power ones. They've been very consistent about that: Silvermont, Airmont, Goldmont, Goldmont+, Tremont, and soon Gracemont.

    Starting with Ice Lake, the big cores are named after coves, so far.

    And the "Trail" names seem to be system designs, or something?

    The one naming convention that really got out of control is the "lakes". Those seem to have very little consistent meaning. I think they have a few Lakes that aren't even CPUs/SoCs.

    > Nothing about the substring BTMi9 screams "computer"

    It's just a model number, dude. Just type it into a search engine and look it up. And some places I've seen will at least say it's a NUC compute element, although that requires you to know how one differs from a regular NUC.

    > It's all such a mess

    I will agree that Intel's product line is full of subtle variations, like NUCs with one vs. two Ethernet ports. I was staring at two Tiger Lake NUC listings, trying to figure out the difference, until I noticed that.
    Reply

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