Intel has enjoyed great success with its NUC line of ultra-compact and small form-factor (UCFF & SFF) PCs. While the UCFF form factor manages to provide enough horsepower for office tasks and other similar use cases, the gaming market is not addressed. With the advent of PC games as growth drivers, Intel is taking steps to expand the NUC's ranks by creating NUC6i7KYK (Skull Canyon) with a slightly larger form factor. It comes with a high-end integrated GPU (Intel Iris Pro Graphics 580 with 128MB eDRAM) that provides consumers with fewer game consoles than any other NUC. Back in 2018 CES, Intel launched its successor - NUC8i7HVK and NUC8i7HNK (Hades Canyon). They are the first desktop PC to use Kaby Lake-G with Radeon GPU and HBM2 memory in the same package as the processor. Intel gave us an example of an upscale Hades Canyon NUC to get through our rigorous benchmarking and evaluation routines.
Introduction and Analysis Platform
The game system and small-form factor PC (SFF) has turned into a growth segment in the desktop PC market that has been experiencing severe challenges recently. Many vendors have tried to combine both, but space constraints and power problems have ended up as performance limiting factors as soon as discrete GPUs are incorporated into the equation. We have seen interesting solutions using GPU desktop in the past - that is, Zotac E-series SFF PCs use high-end 175W TDP GPU and combine it with 65W desktop CPU and liquid cooler. However, they still do not match the portability paradigm pioneered by NUCs (both traditional and Skull Canyon form factors).
Kaby Lake-G (KBL-G) connects dead processor, disconnected GPU off, and HBM2 related memory in one packet with one TDP packet. This enables general thermal solutions and intelligent power sharing between discrete GPUs and processors. These aspects of KBL-G are important to understand the performance of Hades Canyon NUC. We will not discuss all the features of KBL-G in this article - readers unfamiliar with the product line can peruse our launch coverage.
Unlike Skull Canyon, which has only one SKU (NUC6i7KYK) with Core i7-6700HQ, Intel launches Hades Canyon in two versions - NUC8i7HVK and NUC8i7HNK. The NUC we are evaluating today is the stronger of the two: NUC8i7HVK VR ready $ 999, featuring 100W TDP, opening Core i7-8809G. The trail of Hades Canyon NUCs (221mm x 142mm x 39mm / 1.2L) is slightly larger than Skull Canyon NUC (216mm x 116mm x 23mm / 0.69L). Not surprisingly, given the additional cooling requirements for higher TDP processors. Customizable RGB lighting for covers is an exciting feature in the gaming market. Additional items in the product kit include a VESA stand and screws for the same and geo-specific power cord to use the 230W adapter (19.5V @ 11.8A). Quick start guide provides instructions on how to add memory and SSDs to the unit.
Intel gave us an example of NUC8i7HVK with DDR4 SODIMM and some previously installed M.2 SSDs. Our review unit specifications are summarized in the table below.
Intel NUC8i7HVK (Hades Canyon) Specifications
Retail NUC8i7HVK devices are not equipped with preinstalled OS. Our evaluation was done with Windows 10 Enterprise x64 Build 16299.334 and all the latest patches installed. The BIOS launch of Hades Canyon NUCs is already protected from Meltdown and Specter, and as such, our evaluation is performed on a fully patched system. The gallery below shows various chassis features as well as demolition drawings for memory and SSD installations.
An important aspect to note in the picture above is the USB header that is visible at the opening below the top lid (perfect for third party caps to take advantage). The presence of dual M2 slot and Thunderbolt 3 dual port is quite interesting, and that brings us to the platform configuration.
Platform Configuration and BIOS Features
NUC8i7HVK uses the Kably Lake-H Sunrise Point HM175 chipset. It provides various I / O options. What is interesting for us is the availability of 16 PCIe 3.0 lines that can be configured as a mix of x1, x2, and x4 connections. The CPU itself has 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes.
- PCI-E 3.0 x8 port #2 In Use @ x8 (Radeon RX Vega M GH Graphics)
- PCI-E 3.0 x4 port #3 In Use @ x2 (ASMedia ASM2142 USB 3.1 xHCI Controller)
- PCI-E 3.0 x4 port #4 In Use @ x1 (O2Micro Integrated MMC/SD Controller)
- PCI-E 3.0 x1 port #2 In Use @ x1 (Intel I210 Gigabit Network Connection)
- PCI-E 3.0 x1 port #3 In Use @ x1 (Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265 WiFi Adapter)
- PCI-E 3.0 x4 port #5 In Use @ x4 (Intel Dual-Port Alpine Ridge JHL6540 Thunderbolt 3 Controller)
- PCI-E 3.0 x4 port #9 In Use @ x4 (M.2 PCIe SSD) (Review Config In Use @ x2 (Intel NVMe SSD Controller))
- PCI-E 3.0 x4 port #13 In Use @ x4 (M.2 PCIe SSD) (Review Config Empty)
Similar to the Skull Canyon platform, PCIe M.2 SS2 slot line multiplexed with SATA path. This allows consumers to place SSD PCIe or SSD SATA in slot M.2. In fact, our review configuration uses PCIe 3.0 x2 800p SSD in one slot and SSD SATA III 545 on the other. The use of the HM175 chipset allows the I219-LM NIC in the system, and the second NIC is made possible through the I210 controller that hangs in the PCIe PCH path. We also have ASMedia USB 3.1 - ASM2142 controllers that also exist in the newer Zotac ZBOX units as reviewed by EK71080 yesterday. Interestingly, it's connected directly to the CPU - a privilege that we'd rather give to Alpine Ridge controllers. The WiFi adapter is a Wireless-AC module 8265 M.2 2230 with 2x2 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.2. We prefer the new Wireless-AC 9260 with Bluetooth 5, but, fortunately, the end user can replace this M.2 module without voiding the warranty.
The various options available in the BIOS are included in the gallery below:
The attractive screen is on the 'Performance' tab - allowing for processor and memory overclocking. It is also possible to enable or disable the Intel GPU in the 'Graph' sub-section. This is enabled by default.
In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems we compare with Intel NUC8i7HVK (Hades Canyon). Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. The relevant configuration details of the machine are provided so that the reader has an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are tilted for or against Intel's NUC8i7HVK (Hades Canyon) when we get to that section.
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