System Overview

Will Kaby Lake-G prove to be a contender for serious gaming?

Announced at Intel's Developer Forum in 2012, and launched later that year, the Next Unit of Computing (NUC) project was initially a bit confusing to the enthusiast PC press. In a market that appeared to be discarding traditional desktops in favor of notebooks, it seemed a bit odd to launch a product that still depended on a monitor, mouse, and keyboard, yet didn't provide any more computing power.

Despite this criticism, the NUC lineup has rapidly expanded over the years, seeing success in areas such as digital signage and enterprise environments. However, the enthusiast PC market has mostly eluded the lure of the NUC.

Intel's Skylake-based Skull Canyon NUC was the company's first attempt to cater to the enthusiast market, with a slight stray from the traditional 4-in x 4-in form factor and the adoption of their best-ever integrated graphics solution in the Iris Pro. Additionally, the ability to connect external GPUs via Thunderbolt 3 meant Skull Canyon offered more of a focus on high-end PC graphics. 

However, Skull Canyon mostly fell on deaf ears among hardcore PC users, and it seemed that Intel lacked the proper solution to make a "gaming-focused" NUC device—until now.

Announced at CES 2018, the lengthily named 8th Gen Intel® Core™ processors With Radeon™ RX Vega M Graphics (henceforth referred to as the code name, Kaby Lake-G) marks a new direction for Intel. By partnering with one of the leaders in high-end PC graphics, AMD, Intel can now pair their processors with graphics capable of playing modern games at high resolutions and frame rates.

The first product to launch using the new Kaby Lake-G family of processors is Intel's own NUC, the NUC8i7HVK (Hades Canyon). Will the marriage of Intel and AMD finally provide a NUC capable of at least moderate gaming? Let's dig a bit deeper and find out.

Intel Hades Canyon NUC 
MSRP $799 $999
Model Name NUC8i7HNK NUC8i7HVK
CPU Intel Core i7-8705G Intel Core i7-8809G
GPU Radeon Vega M GL Graphics Radeon Vega M GH Graphics
RAM Dual DDR4 SODIMM Slots (DDR4-2400+)
Storage 2 Available M.2 Slots (SATA or PCIe)
Network Intel 8265 802.11ac MIMO (2.4 GHz, 5.0 GHz)
Bluetooth 4.2
Dual Gigabit Ethernet (Intel i219-LM and i210-AT)
Display Output

2 x Thunderbolt 3
2 x Mini DisplayPort 1.3
2 X HDMI 2.0b (Front and Rear)

Connectivity 2 x Thunderbolt 3
5 x USB 3.0 (Type-A)
2 x USB 3.1 Gen 2 (Type-A and Type-C)
1 x SDXC UHS-1 Card Reader
Analog and Digital (TOSLINK) Audio
Consumer IR reciever
Dimensions 0.83-in x 5.59-in x 1.53-in
(21mm x 142mm x 39mm)

The unit that Intel sent out for review is the NUC8i7HVK powered by the Core i7-8809G, the highest-end offering which will retail for $999 (for the barebones kit). While we aren't going to get into the exact differences between the different Kaby Lake-G processors here (see this article for more in-depth detail), note that the i7-8809G is a fully unlocked part (CPU, GPU, and HBM), rated at a TDP of 100W. While HP and Dell have already announced notebooks featuring Kaby Lake-G CPUs, keep in mind that none of these will feature the i7-8809G, and will instead feature the lower power 65W variants such as the i7-8706G.

In order to go along with the barebones NUC kit, Intel also provided 16GB of Kingston HyperX DDR4-3200 memory, as well as two SSDs— a 118GB Intel Optane 800P boot drive, and a 500GB Intel SSD 545s for mass storage. These are the components which we used in our review, including running the memory at a frequency of 3200MHz.

Taking a look at the exterior design of the Hades Canyon NUC shows a somewhat subdued gaming aesthetic. While the hexagonal holes and power button on the front of the device reference the design language of "gamer" products, the overall design is stealthy enough to not be too out of place on any desk or in an AV cabinet.

However, this subtlety disappears when you first turn on the unit and are greeted by the illuminated Skull logo emanating from the top of the enclosure.

While you can disable or change the color of any of the LEDs on the NUC in the BIOS, I think this was a nice touch and shows that Intel isn't afraid to go out of their comfort zone.

This Skull logo has long been the symbol used by Intel for enthusiast-focused products, starting with the dual CPU socket Skulltrail platform and being used on various product over the years (including the previous Skull Canyon NUC). Beyond the skull logo, the other major thing to notice on the exterior of the Hades Canyon NUC is the sheer number of ports available. 

On the front of the device alone, we have a full-size SDXC card reader, a USB 3.0 port capable of fast charging, two USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports (one Type-C and one Type-A), a full-size HDMI 2.0b port, and a combination analog audio connector.

Looking around back, we find even more connectivity options including two Thunderbolt 3 ports, two Mini DisplayPort connectors, four USB 3.0 ports, optical audio, and another full-size HDMI 2.0b port. 

In total, the Hades Canyon NUC is capable of driving six 4K displays (including up to five at 60Hz) at the same time, which is impressive for this small of a computer.

As all NUCs do, the NUC8i7HVK features an external power supply to save internal space. The laptop-style 19V power supply is capable of delivering 230W to the system. 

Review Terms and Disclosure
All Information as of the Date of Publication
How product was obtained: The product is on loan from Intel for the purpose of this review.
What happens to product after review: The product remains the property of Intel but is on extended loan for future testing and product comparisons.
Company involvement: Intel had no control over the content of the review and was not consulted prior to publication.
PC Perspective Compensation: Neither PC Perspective nor any of its staff were paid or compensated in any way by Intel for this review.
Advertising Disclosure: Intel has purchased advertising at PC Perspective during the past twelve months.
Affiliate links: This article contains affiliate links to online retailers. PC Perspective may receive compensation for purchases through those links.
Consulting Disclosure: Intel is a current client of Shrout Research for products or services related to this review. 
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