Alder Lake and Arc merge in NUC12 Enthusiast


Intel officially unveiled the latest member of its Alder Lake-based NUC12 family earlier this week. The NUC12 Enthusiast (like the previous three Enthusiast NUCs) is aimed at the gaming/creator market looking for a small form factor machine with a discrete GPU.

As a reminder, Intel created the NUC Enthusiast category in 2016 with the introduction of the Skull Canyon NUC (NUC6i7KYK). With a 4″ x 5″ motherboard, it had a slightly larger footprint than traditional NUCs. However, the increased size allowed the incorporation of a 45 W TDP processor with increased graphics flexibility. The second generation of Hades Canyon moved to a slightly larger board (5.5″ x 8″), while retaining the industrial design of the Skull Canyon NUC. It used the Kaby Lake-G CPUs with a Kaby Lake CPU and an AMD GPU packaged together (with a total TDP budget between 65W and 100W). The NUC11 Enthusiast (Phantom Canyon) opted for a more traditional gaming laptop-like architecture with a Tiger Lake-U Core i7-1165G7 and an NVIDIA RTX 2060 laptop GPU.

The NUC12 Enthusiast retains a similar architecture. The main difference is that this is the first NUC to use Intel’s Arc discrete GPU. The GPU specs are much more powerful than the NVIDIA RTX2060, resulting in an overhaul of the cooling solution as well as the chassis dimensions compared to the NUC11 Enthusiast.

Similar to the Phantom Canyon family, Serpent Canyon will also come in two varieties – a barebones version and another with a 1TB SSD / 16GB DDR4-3200 RAM / Windows 11 Home pre-installed. The SKUs use the Intel Core i7-12700H laptop processor and Intel Arc A770M discrete GPU with 16GB of VRAM.

The NUC12 Enthusiast sports a rich set of I/Os. There are two Thunderbolt 4 ports (one on the front and one on the back) which also carry the display output of the Intel Iris Xe graphics into the Core i7 -12700H. Two USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports and one SDXC UHS-II slot, along with an audio jack and an array of four microphones complete the front panel. On the back we have an audio-out jack (supporting TOSLINK), a single 2.5 Gbps LAN port, four USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports (with a hub chip behind it), and the outputs of display (1x HDMI 2.1 4Kp60 and 2x Display Port 2.0 (1.4 certified)) of the Intel Arc A770M.

The table below compares the specifications of the flagships of the last three generations of NUC Enthusiast.

Intel Enthusiast NUCs
Model snake canyon
Ghost Canyon
Hades Canyon
CPU Intel Core i7-12700H

Alder Lake6P+8E/20T
4.7GHz (P) / 3.5GHz (E)
TDP 45W (up to 115W)
Intel Core i7-1165G7

Tiger Lake-U4C/8T
2.8 – 4.7GHz
Intel Core i7-8809G

Kaby Lake4C/8T
3.1 – 4.2GHz
100W TDP package
GPUs Intel® Intel Arc A770M 16 GB GDDR6 @ 1.65 GHz (discrete) NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6 GB GDDR6 (N18E-G1-B class 115W laptop) @ 1.285 GHz (discrete)
1.3GHz Intel® Iris® Xe (96EU) Graphics (integrated/on-die)
Radeon RX Vega M GH 4 GB HBM2 @ 1.19 GHz (discrete/on package)
1.1GHz Intel® HD Graphics 630 (integrated/on-die)
Memory 2x DDR4-3200 SODIMM
1.2V, 64 GB max.
2x DDR4-2400+ SODIMMs
1.2V, 32GB max.
Motherboard 7″ x 8″ (custom) 5.5″ x 8″ (customized)
Storage 2x M.2 22×80 (key M) PCIe 4.0 x4 NVMe SSD (attached to CPU)
1x M.2 22×80 SSD (Key M) SATA3 or PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe (via PCH)
1 time M.2 22×80/110 (Key M) PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe/AHCI SSD
1x M.2 2280 (Key M) SATA3 or PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe/AHCI SSD
2x M.2 22×42/80 (key M) SATA3 or PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe/AHCI SSD
I/O Ports 2x Thunderbolt 4 Quick charge (front + back)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A Fast-Charging (front)
4x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (rear)
1x SDXC UHS-II card slot (front)
CIR (before)
1x SATA III Power + Internal Data Header
2 internal USB 2.0 connectors
2x Thunderbolt 3 (rear)
4x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (rear)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A Fast-Charging (front)
1x SDXC UHS-I card slot (front)
CIR (before)
1x SATA III Power + Internal Data Header
2 internal USB 2.0 connectors
Networking Intel Killer Wi-Fi 6E AX1690i
(Wi-Fi 2×2 802.11ax with 6 GHz + Bluetooth 5.2 module)

1x 2.5GbE (Intel I225-LM)
Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201
(2×2 802.11ax Wi-Fi module + Bluetooth 5.1)

1x 2.5GbE (Intel I225-LM)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265
(2×2 802.11ac Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 4.2 module)

2 GbE ports (Intel I219-LM + Intel I210-AT)
Show outputs 2x DP 2.0 (1.4 certified) (via Thunderbolt 4 Type-C, iGPU)
1 time HDMI 2.1 (up to 4Kp60) (rear, dGPU)
2x DP 2.0 (certified 1.4, dGPU)
2x DP 1.4a (via Thunderbolt 4 Type-C ports, iGPU Display Pipe)
1 time mini DP 1.4a (rear, dGPU, up to 8Kp60, MST)
1x HDMI 2.0b (rear, dGPU, up to 4Kp60)
1 time HDMI 2.0a (front, dGPU)
1 time HDMI 2.0a (rear, dGPU)
2x mini DP 1.3 (rear, dGPU)
2x DP 1.3 (via Thunderbolt 3 Type-C, dGPU ports)
audio 7.1 digital (over HDMI and DisplayPort)
L+R+mic (front)
L+R+TOSLINK (rear)
An audio codec Realtek ALC274 Realtek ALC700
Pregnant Metal and plastic
Kensington lock with basic security
Power source 330W (19V @ 16.9A) Adapter 230W (19V @ 12.1A) Adapter
Dimensions 230mm x 180mm x 60mm / 2.5L 221mm x 142mm x 42mm / 1.3L 221mm x 142mm x 39mm / 1.2L
Miscellaneous Features Vertical support included Vertical stand and VESA mount included VESA mount included
Cover with customizable RGB LED lighting behind the user-replaceable mask
CEC support for HDMI ports
Front panel CIR support for IR remotes
Status LEDs on the front panel
Beamforming Microphone Array
3 year warranty

The block diagram below provides an overview of the system design in relation to I/O capabilities.

Although the Arc A770M supports a PCIe 4.0 x16 link to the host processor, the Serpent Canyon configuration maintains the connection at x8. The two PCIe 4.0 M.2 2280 slots are connected to the processor. The SD card slot is connected via a PCIe lane instead of USB – this should allow for the maximum performance possible for different SD cards. While the official specs state the slot is UHS-II, the product’s technical specifications document also states support for SD Express. It depends on the exact SD controller used in the card, and we’ve contacted Intel for clarification. Three of the four Type-A ports on the back are powered by a 1:4 Gen 2 hub, which isn’t ideal in terms of bandwidth sharing. However, the availability of additional ports is always welcome. On the front of the display, the front Thunderbolt 4 port can support approximately 17 Gbps of display bandwidth, while the rear port can support up to 35 Gbps. With multi-streaming support on the Type-C port, the system can drive a total of six different displays – five at 4Kp144 (DP/Alt-DP) and one at 4Kp60 (HDMI). Two 8Kp60 displays can also be driven using a multi-cable/port solution.

Intel also provided a full teardown image with the press release. The combined cooling solution for the CPU and dGPU with the thermal shroud and heat pipes is clearly visible. If this solution facilitates/enables performance tuning via the Intel Deep Link Dynamic Power Sharing characteristic remains to be seen in practical evaluation.

Overall, the Serpent Canyon NUC is a huge step up for Intel. Moving to an all-in-house solution for the CPU and dGPU in a portable, small form-factor machine will allow the company to gain a greater share of the total addressable gaming/creative systems/eSports market. Based on the paper specs, the level of integration and gaming prowess in the NUC12 Enthusiast should be far beyond what has traditionally been possible in this form factor. Pricing-wise, the Mini-PC version with pre-installed OS will cost $1350, while the barebones version can be had for $1180 later this month. These numbers roughly track the launch price of the previous generation NUC Enthusiasts.

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