Intel Hades Canyon NUC Review. The new Intel Hades Canyon NUC is a small and powerful mini PC which combines an Intel quad core CPU with AMD Radeon graphics, so let’s get into it and find out what this small package has to offer and see how well it performs in some benchmarks.
Let’s start with the specs, as there’s some really interesting hardware in use here. There’s an i7-8809G processor, which is an 8th generation Kaby Lake-G CPU with AMD Radeon Vega graphics on the same chip, and we’ll see how this performs soon in the gaming benchmarks. It’s got 4 cores with 8 threads, a base clock speed of 3.1GHz, a single core turbo boost speed of 4.2GHz, and an all core turbo boost speed of 3.9GHz.
The Vega graphics has a 1063MHz base clock and 1190MHz boost speed, along with 4GB of HBM2 memory. Both the CPU and GPU are unlocked too so they can be overclocked, and I was able to overclock the CPU to 4.2GHz on all cores, and 1,300MHz on the GPU along with 900MHz on the memory, and again we’ll see how this performed soon. When you buy the NUC it’s barebones, so you’ll need to provide your own memory and storage. It’s easy to get into, you open up the top by unscrewing the six hex screws.
Inside you’ll see the lighting panel for the skull, and underneath this is where the memory and ssd’s are installed. In my unit there’s a single 8GB stick of DDR4 memory at 2,400MHz, however the 2 SODIMM slots can take up to 32gb in dual channel. There’s dual M.2 slots with 4 PCIe 3 lanes, the left one supports cards up to 2242 while the right takes up to 2280, and you have the option of running these in RAID 0 or RAID 1. There’s some heat pads on the underside of the metal panel which come in contact with the M.2 drives to keep them cool, and nearby there’s also some internal USB 2.0 and 3.0 headers as well as a SATA power connector.
For the network connectivity we’ve got 2 gigabit ethernet ports, Intel 8625 WiFi in a third M.2 slot along and Bluetooth 4.2 support. Overall the NUC looks pretty sleek, it’s got a matte black finish and the body is made out of a hard plastic which is fairly solid, it doesn’t flex even when applying pressure. There’s a skull logo found on top which by default lights up red and blue, however you can customize the lighting of these two separate zones with Intel’s LED manager software.
There’s some basic effects including solid, breathing, strobing, and pulsing. You can also change the LEDs on the front including the disk and ethernet activity lights and power button. You can turn the lighting off if you’re not a fan though, and you can’t see the skull at all this way. Considering the specs it’s packing the NUC is fairly small, coming in at approximately 22cm in width, 14cm in depth and just 4cm in height. The total weight of the Intel Hades Canyon NUC will vary depending on the hardware you’ve got installed, but mine weighs just under 1.3kg and when you include the power brick and cable which isn’t much smaller than the NUC itself this increases to just under 2.1kg Something impressive about the NUC is the crazy amount of I/O options.
Starting with the front we’ve got the power button, infrared receiver, SDXC card slot, USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-A port, USB 3.0 Type-A port which supports charging identified in yellow, HDMI 2.0a port, USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C port, and a 3.5mm audio combo jack. The four holes along the top on the front are a quad array microphone, and this is what it sounds like sitting about a meter away. There’s even more on the back, with a 3.5mm audio jack with TOSLINK optical support, the power input, two Type-C Thunderbolt 3 ports, two Mini DisplayPort 1.2 outputs, two gigabit ethernet ports, 4 USB 3.0 Type-A ports, and a second HDMI 2.0a port, while down the bottom we can see the air exhaust vent.
The Intel Hades Canyon NUC can run up to six 4K displays at the same time thanks to all these output options, unfortunately I don’t quite own that many monitors so I wasn’t able to test this myself. On the left there’s just a honeycomb grill to help with airflow as well as a Kensington lock, while the right is just more of the same styled vents. Underneath there’s some rubber feet which do a good job at preventing the NUC being easily moved around on a flat surface, and also raise it up a little to help let air in through these vents. The two screw holes can also be used with the included VESA mount if you want to attach the NUC to the back of a monitor, a nice option for keeping a clean desk.
During normal use with an ambient room temperature of 20 degrees celsius, the CPU sat in the mid 40’s while the GPU was just below 40, and here’s how the externals were looking, sitting in the low 30’s. I’ve tested gaming by playing PUBG at high settings for half an hour and the temps for that are shown in green, no throttling was observed in this test.
The CPU gets a little warm while the GPU remains fairly cool in comparison. Full CPU and GPU load was tested with both Aida64 and the Heaven benchmark running at the same time. With the default balanced fan profile in use the CPU temperature goes up a bit more to just under 90 degrees and there’s still no thermal throttling present, while the GPU temperature doesn’t change much. The NUC8i7HVK was still fairly cool to the touch, around 31 degrees toward the back, while the air being exhausted out the back seems a bit warmer at around 40 degrees.
By manually maxing out the fans in the BIOS, the temperatures drop back a fair bit with the same stress test running, but you’ll hear how loud this gets soon. This also appears to drop the temperature of the exterior a little too, to around 27 degrees while the exhausted air is now in the low 30’s. With the fans still maxed out and with the overclock applied the main difference is the increase in CPU temperature, shown in purple, and while all CPU cores were sitting at the overclocked 4.2GHz for most of the time, this did drop back a little occasionally due to some very minor thermal throttling, but keep in mind this is a stress test.
As for the fan noise produced by the NUC8i7HVK, I’ll let you have a listen to each of these tests. While idle it’s essentially silent, I can’t hear the fan at all. Even while gaming with stock fan speeds the NUC stays fairly silent, much quieter than a typical gaming laptop which would be in the mid 50 decibel range. Maxing out the fans increases the noise level significantly though and things get quite loud, but you’ll only really need to consider this if you plan on overclocking the NUC, and we’ll see how the overclock affected performance shortly.
I also didn’t notice any coil whine during my testing, but this will vary between units. I’ve also measured the total power draw in watts, at idle it’s hardly using much at all, and this then steps up as more load is put onto the NUC, maxing out at about 205 watts while overclocked with the stress tests going.
Finally let’s take a look at some gaming benchmarks, we’ll first cover some actual games followed by tests with various benchmarking tools. All tests were run at 1080p with all Windows and Intel updates to date installed, and these results are at stock speeds, no overclocking just yet.
Fortnite ran quite well with high or lower settings for me, even at high we’re averaging above 60 FPS with the 1% lows not too far below, however the frame rate can be improved significantly by dropping the settings down further, however take these results with a grain of salt as they will depend on what’s going on in game at the time.
PUBG was tested with the replay feature, and again the results will vary based on what the other players are doing in the game. Low settings or below were needed to average 60 FPS, and the 1% lows dip down a bit in this one, but definitely still very playable with lower settings. Overwatch runs well on basically anything, and we’re seeing some nice results here, even the 1% lows at maximum settings were above 60 FPS, with lower settings getting some fairly high averages.
Far Cry 5 scored alright results using the built in benchmark, the 1% lows aren’t too far below the averages here and the averages are scattered around the 60 FPS sweet spot. CSGO also scored fairly high average frame rates, in the benchmark I’m using the smokes really kill the 1% lows, however even at minimum settings even the 1% lows are still above 60 FPS at 1080p.
Rainbow Six Siege also got really high frame rates with the built in benchmark, averaging well above 100 FPS regardless of setting level, with fairly high 1% lows, so it should run quite well. Dota 2 was tested with a fairly intensive replay, so realistically you’ll get better results than these, so as a worst case we’re getting pretty good numbers, well above 60 FPS averages even at ultra settings.
Battlefield 1 is another game that varies a bit based on what’s happening in game, in my testing in the first mission even at ultra settings it felt nice and smooth, I was seeing fairly high average frame rates and even the 1% lows were around the 60 FPS mark. DOOM was tested with Vulkan, and once again even at ultra settings to me it felt nice and smooth, no problems at all while playing this one.
Ghost Recon was tested using the built in benchmark, and we’re seeing alright results for the most part, however things really drop down at ultra settings, but that’s a pretty common theme on almost all hardware I’ve tested this game on, you’ll be able to play it well enough, just stick to the lower settings. Shadow of War was also tested with the built in benchmark, and again we’re seeing alright results at around medium and lower. Rise of the Tomb Raider was once again tested using the built in benchmark, with high settings or below required for us to average above the 60 FPS mark.
Watchdogs 2 is a fairly resource intensive game, but not one that I think needs a good frame rate to enjoy, with that said I wouldn’t recommend playing on ultra, very high was passable, however I found high settings or lower to work well.
The Witcher 3 was fairly similar, I don’t think it needs a high frame rate to play, however at ultra settings it did feel a little choppy, I didn’t have any noticeable issues in my testing with high settings or lower though. I’ve also tested using some benchmark tools, including Heaven, Valley, and Superposition benchmark from Unigine, as well as Firestrike, Timespy and VRMark from 3DMark, just pause the video if you want to look at these results in more detail.
Overall I thought these results were pretty fair, the NUC8i7HVK is definitely capable of playing modern games with decent settings as we’ve just seen, but how does this compare to other hardware? Due to the small form factor of the NUC I thought it would be best to compare it against some laptops to try and get an idea of where it fits in. In Overwatch at lower settings we can see that it’s not too far behind the 7700HQ and 1060, the specs of a typical gaming laptop.
This changes at the higher setting levels where it’s just a bit ahead of the 1050Ti. In rise of the tomb raider with the built in benchmark the NUC is again between the 1050Ti and 1060, but a bit closer to the 1060 than 1050Ti this time around. In Watchdogs 2 at the higher settings the NUC and 1050Ti are performing very closely, however at the lower settings the the NUC moves a bit closer to the 1060, so it’s a bit of a mixed bag but in general the NUC seems to sit somewhere between a gaming laptop with Nvidia 1050Ti and 1060 graphics, so definitely capable of playing many games.
In terms of overclocking I was able to get a little improvement, with all 4 CPU cores up to 4.2GHz, the HBM2 memory up to 900MHz, and the GPU core clock up to 1300MHz, however as previously discussed the temperatures go up quite significantly, which in turn results in more fan noise. I’ve just retested PUBG with the overclock applied, and in this game we’re seeing just over an 11% performance increase, a fair boost, so improved performance is within reach at the expense of increased system noise. As for raw CPU power I’ve just tested using Cinebench, and we can see that the NUC is a nice amount ahead of a 7700HQ laptop even before applying the overclock. The SDXC slot on the front supports UHS-I, and these are the results I got testing with my UHS2 card.
The BIOS is accessed by simply selecting setup during boot, and there’s a fair bit of customization options available, including overclocking and customizing fan speeds. As for the price here in Australia it starts at just under $1400 AUD, while in the US you’re looking at about $1000 USD, however there’s also the HNK version which is about $150 AUD cheaper and seems to have 100MHz lower turbo boost speed and lower graphics. It’s not cheap, especially when you need to factor in adding your own drive and memory, however small and lightweight with decent power is always going to come at a cost.
Once you add in a cheap M.2 drive and just a single 8gb stick of memory like I’ve got here you’re looking at another $150 AUD or so, bringing the total up to $1550. In Australia, for that price you can get a laptop with a 7700HQ CPU and 1050Ti, and although as we’ve seen the NUC does perform a better than this in games, it’s also a full package with a keyboard, touchpad, screen and battery, so you’ll need to decide if a laptop does the job or perhaps the unique form factor of the NUC would be better suited to your task. I could see the NUC making a great home theatre PC, or easily being mounted behind monitors in an office environment and kept out of the way, and there’s not really many laptops that could run 6 displays at once. So what did you guys think of Intel’s new Hades Canyon NUC?
Overall I thought it was a well built and powerful mini PC. The specs are decent and it’s capable of playing modern games with medium to high settings, and we can boost this even further by overclocking. By default the system fan noise was fairly quite, at least when compared to a similarly specced gaming laptop, however it can get quite loud if you do get into overclocking, although for the most part temperatures were acceptable with no thermal throttling until overclocking, and even then it was minor.
There’s a bit of upgradeability as you can change the RAM and M.2 drives, and as a barebones unit you’ll need to provide those, while the CPU and GPU package on the other hand is part of the board and cannot be upgraded. It was also very interesting seeing Intel and AMD come together to develop the CPU/GPU hybrid solution that’s inside the NUC8i7HVK , I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing this available in more devices such as laptops in the future as it performs quite well. Let me know your thoughts down in the comments!