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Feature Articles

The NUC 9 Pro Kit is a reminder that Intel does have some clever ideas up its sleeves

By Aaron Yip - 3 Nov 2020

Small Fish, Big Fish

The next-gen of NUCs?

I’ve always had a soft spot for Intel’s Next Unit of Computing (NUC) systems. These small-form mini-computers allow PC enthusiasts to do things like installing specialised software and use them for everything from home theatre systems, edge devices, to even ultra-compact gaming systems. Heck, they were one of the first mass-market solutions to downsizing your bulky desktop systems way back in 2013. The same size, however, also meant that they don’t allow for upgrading flexibilities. If you’d wanted more RAM, a more powerful CPU or wanted to add a PCIe add-on card, well, tough luck. Luckily, Intel has listened and with its latest generation of NUCs like the NUC Kit that I’m talking about today, these are designed with modularity in mind and can cater to a variety of use cases.

 

Small in size, Big in power

Immediately off the bat, you can see that this is no longer the typical NUC "cube" form factor. This is a design revolution. Intel has completely redesigned the system from the inside and out. The company is selling the NUC Kit in various different specifications but generally divided into two different categories – Extreme and Pro. “Extreme” is made for gamers while “Pro”, like the NUC 9 Pro that Intel sent over is positioned as a high-end system for professional users with demanding workloads such as content creation, CAD/CAM, and other enterprise-level computing.

More than enough I\O ports for standard use.

The NUC 9 Pro Kit in our hands is extremely user-friendly.

I would be very remiss if I did not talk more about the NUC 9 Pro’s casing, which is pretty much the key highlight of this review. Firstly, I cannot emphasis enough on the system’s incredibly small form factor. I mean, just take a look at it – it packs a discrete NVIDIA Quadro graphics card in a size that’s smaller than my PlayStation 4. I could even pack it in my backpack as a portable PC, if I should choose to despite its hefty weight.

Only two screws are needed to be removed to expose the system's internals.

A magnetic connector hooks the fans (at the top panel) to the power source.

Here's a better look at the exhaust fans.

Unlike many other small-form-factor (SFF) casings, Intel has incorporated clever design bits to the NUC 9 Pro’s frame. The mesh sides help keep the powerful components cool without the use of a liquid cooling system. Opening the case begins by removing just two screws at the back of the top panel, which also houses two small 80mm fans. Interestingly, there are no wires connecting those fans. Instead, the same panel has metal contacts on the end of it that meet with contacts in the case frame to provide power to them. In short, assembly and disassembly of the NUC 9 Pro is extremely simple and straightforward, and any PC DIY beginner with little experience building PCs should have no difficulty with it.

Oh, and there are no RGB or other gaudy gaming tropes even for the NUC Extreme kit. Whether that counts as a positive or negative is totally a personal taste.