Our first experience with Intel's NUC8i7HVK leaves us impressed. The company crams an amazing amount of functionality into a very compact form factor. As we've come to expect from fast PCs in small cases, you'll have to pay a premium for such an uncommon combination. And even after spending $1000 on the barebones platform, memory, storage, and an OS still need to be added.
Given the lack of affordable graphics cards right now, we set out to determine whether this system is a suitable substitute for building a gaming box at marked-up prices. For comparison, we paired a number of inexpensive CPUs with Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1060 6GB (currently starting around $350). In some games, entry-level processors hold the GeForce back. And in those situations, Intel's NUC shows that it can compete. Other titles are inherently more graphics-bound, allowing Nvidia's card to walk away from the Vega GPU. Your experience will depend on what you're playing.
To show what all of that looks like in chart form, check out the geometric mean of 99th percentile frame times (representing smoothness) converted into a frames-per-second measurement.
Intel aims its NUC8i7HVK at enthusiasts with unlocked CPU, GPU, and HBM2 ratio multipliers. We observed solid stock performance from the svelte little system, and even managed to overclock effectively. But thermal constraints kept us from truly tapping into the maximum potential of every component. For gaming, the best results came from tuning the GPU and HBM2, while productivity-oriented apps responded best to higher CPU frequencies.
It's fair to say that the NUC8i7HVK is fast enough to deliver smooth frame rates at 1080p using high-quality settings in most games. If you want to run at a higher resolution or know your favorite games are more demanding than the ones we tested, then you may have to hold out for a return to normalcy with graphics card pricing. Otherwise, The NUC 8 VR's AMD Vega-based GPU comes close to an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 in some of the platform-bound situations we discovered (and after overclocking).
Support may prove to be an interesting challenge for Intel, and we'll have to keep an eye on how the company handles driver updates. We're told that day-zero game drivers will become a thing, but they'll naturally need to originate from AMD. Whether Intel spends time validating that software before pushing it live remains to be seen. Enthusiasts will expect nothing less than timely optimizations for new titles, along with stability on par with Radeon RX Vega add-in cards.
Intel and AMD's competition with Nvidia in their respective fields may have been the impetus for a truly surprising cooperative effort. But the end result is an incredibly powerful solution packed into a very small form factor. While we wouldn't suggest that enthusiasts try replacing their gaming rigs altogether with Intel's NUC8i7HV, this compact platform makes for an interesting alternative to mainstream machines with mid-range GPUs currently selling at inflated prices.
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