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Intel NUC 8 VR (NUC8i7HVK) Review: Core i7, AMD Vega Meet in Hades Canyon

Connectivity & Teardown

Intel sent over a NUC VR outfitted with its 118GB Optane SSD 800P, a 512GB 545s SSD, and 2 x 8GB Kingston HyperX DDR4-3200 SO-DIMMs. There's a bundled VESA mount for hanging the NUC off the back of a monitor, too, but we think that's a waste of Intel's attractive design. The NUC8i7HVK comes with a 230W external power supply, stepping up big time from its predecessor's 120W PSU. Our understanding is that the power supply is so much larger in order to facilitate overclocking. The power supply is one of the NUC's three protective layers, so it has an integrated breaker that shuts everything down if you exceed the 230W limit.

As far as connectivity goes, you get three USB 3.1 (Gen2) Type-C ports (one front, two rear), two of which support Thunderbolt 3. The rear panel also sports two mini-DisplayPort 1.2 outputs. AMD's Vega GPU can drive up to six independent 4K displays (five of them at 60 Hz) simultaneously. Naturally, FreeSync is supported, along with driver-based features like Radeon Chill and WattMan.

The NUC also supports PlayReady 3.0 and will play back Ultra HD Blu-rays with HDR. A front-facing HDMI 2.0a port may come in handy for connecting a VR headset, while a second HDMI port on the back is better suited for HTPC duties. Along those lines, 7.1-channel audio is supported over the optical, HDMI, and DisplayPort interfaces. In a first for Intel's NUC family, the flagship comes with two LAN ports (powered by an Intel i219-LM and i210-AT NIC), too. As if that wasn't enough I/O, you also get a USB 3.1 Gen2 connector up front and four USB 3.0 ports on the back. Intel integrates a quad-microphone array and an infrared sensor for remote control. Plus, the design includes an SDXC slot that supports UHS-I.

Internally, the NUC has three M.2 slots. One is dedicated to an Intel Wireless-AC 8265 card that supports 802.11ax 2x2 and Bluetooth v4.2, while the other two accommodate SSDs (one 2280 and one 2242) in either SATA or NVMe flavors. We also spot two USB 2.0 headers.

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The Hades Canyon NUC has a nice smooth plastic exterior and a satisfying heft to it. Underneath, there's a metal shroud secured with a single fastener. Removing the shroud reveals the 100-series motherboard and two angled SO-DIMMs. We also spot the two SSDs, plus the motherboard's poorly-placed BIOS reset jumper. You'll have to disassemble Intel's platform to reset its BIOS if you somehow end up stuck.

Next, we removed four screws in the corners and slid off the plastic outer ring. Then we removed four screws on the cooling retention bracket in the motherboard's center. After extricating a few more fasteners, we popped the motherboard free of the thermal solution. Intel's board utilizes a five-phase power subsystem that flanks the MCM. An HM175 platform controller hub is visible over to the right side in our pictures; it isn't cooled by a heat sink.

Kaby Lake-G package is soldered down, so there's no way to drop this MCM into a socketed motherboard. The exposed dies make direct contact with a large, copper sink connected to a T-shaped fin stack. Unfortunately, the thermal paste that Intel uses isn't particularly good; we'd recommend replacing it with a higher-quality compound. Two fans pull air in from under the NUC, blow it through the fin stack, and exhaust it out the chassis.

Power Management

The small Kaby Lake-G package is perfect for thin and light form factors. However, it still presents thermal challenges, given a 100W rating. Intel measures power between the CPU and GPU during normal workloads, claiming one subsystem or the other is rarely loaded down exclusively. The company describes this measurement as its System Design Point. Consequently, peak TDP could be higher than 100W, even at stock settings.

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Reducing the amount of power a device consumes helps mitigate heat output. Intel's previous-gen processors featured two power rails, one dedicated to the CPU and another for the GPU. But Kaby Lake-G uses a single rail for both components to enable power sharing. This allows the SoC to dedicate more current to heavily-utilized resources, boosting instantaneous performance and saving power over time.

The HBM2 also falls under the same power management policies. A unique set of software drivers and interfaces process telemetry data from the three units (CPU, GPU, HBM2) so the processor can manage heat, power delivery, and performance in real time.

Intel says its new dynamic tuning system delivers the same performance (measured as frames per watt) while consuming 18% less power.

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Paul Alcorn

Paul Alcorn is the Deputy Managing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage and enterprise hardware.