Intel has enjoyed great success with its NUC line of ultra-compact and small form-factor (UCFF & SFF) PCs. While the UCFF form-factor managed to provide enough horsepower for office tasks and other similar use-cases, the gaming market was not addressed. With the emergence of PC gaming as a growth driver, Intel took steps to expand the capabilities of the NUC lineup by creating the NUC6i7KYK (Skull Canyon) with a slightly larger form factor. It came with a high-end integrated GPU (Intel Iris Pro Graphics 580 with 128MB eDRAM) that provided consumers with a bit more gaming leeway compared to other NUCs. Back at the 2018 CES, Intel launched its successors - the NUC8i7HVK and the NUC8i7HNK (Hades Canyon). They are the first desktop PCs to make use of Kaby Lake-G with a Radeon GPU and HBM2 memory in the same package as the processor. Intel provided us with a sample of the high-end Hades Canyon NUC to put through our rigorous benchmarking and evaluation routines.

Introduction and Platform Analysis

Gaming systems and small form-factor (SFF) PCs have turned out to be growth segments in a desktop PC market that has been subject to severe challenges recently. Many vendors have tried to combine the two, but space constraints and power concerns have ended up as performance-limiting factors as soon as a discrete GPU is brought into the equation. We have seen interesting solutions using desktop GPUs in the recent past - namely, the Zotac E-series SFF PCs using high-end 175W TDP GPUs and coupling them with 65W desktop CPUs and liquid cooling. However, they still do not fit into the portability paradigm pioneered by the NUCs (both traditional and the Skull Canyon form factor).

Kaby Lake-G (KBL-G) ties together the processor die, discrete GPU die, and its associated HBM2 memory in one package with a single package TDP. This enables a common thermal solution and intelligent power sharing between the discrete GPU and the processor. These aspects of KBL-G are important to understand the performance of the 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 the Core i7-6700HQ, Intel is launching Hades Canyon in two versions - the NUC8i7HVK and the NUC8i7HNK. The NUC we are evaluating today is the more powerful of the two: the $999 VR-ready NUC8i7HVK sporting the 100W TDP unlocked Core i7-8809G. The footprint of the Hades Canyon NUCs (221mm x 142mm x 39mm / 1.2L) is slightly bigger than the Skull Canyon NUC (216mm x 116mm x 23mm / 0.69L). It is not surprising, given the additional cooling requirements for the higher TDP processor. Customizable RGB lighting for the lid is an attractive feature in the gaming market. Additional items in the product kit include a VESA mount and screws for the same and a geo-specific power cord to go with the 230W (19.5V @ 11.8A) adapter. A quick-start manual provides directions on how to add memory and SSDs to the unit.

Intel provided us a sample of the NUC8i7HVK with DDR4 SODIMMs and a couple of M.2 SSDs pre-installed. The specifications of our review unit are summarized in the table below.

Intel NUC8i7HVK (Hades Canyon) Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-8809G
Kaby Lake, 4C/8T, 3.1GHz (up to 4.2GHz), 14nm+, 8MB L2, 100W Package TDP
Memory Kingston HyperX Impact HX432S20IB2K2/16 DDR4
20-22-22-42 @ 3200 MHz
2x8 GB
Graphics Radeon RX Vega M GH
24 CUs, 64 PPC
1063-1190MHz GPU, 800MHz Memory
4GB / 1024-bit HBM2
On-Package
Disk Drive(s) Intel Optane SSD 800p SSDPEK1W120GA
(118 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x2 NVMe; Optane)
Intel SSD 545s SSDSCKKW512G8
(512 GB; M.2 Type 2280 SATA III; Intel 64L 3D TLC)
Networking Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265
(2x2 802.11ac - 866 Mbps)
1x Intel I219-LM Gigabit LAN
1x Intel I210 Gigabit LAN
Audio 3.5mm Combo-audio Jack
Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Miscellaneous I/O Ports 2x Thunderbolt 3 (rear)
4x USB 3.0 Type-A (rear)
1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C (front)
1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A (front)
1x USB 3.0 Type-A Charging Port (front)
1x SDXC UHS-I Slot (front)
CIR (front)
2x USB 3.0 / 2x USB 2.0 internal headers
Operating System Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 10 Enterprise x64 Build 16299.334
Pricing (As configured) $999 (barebones) / $1617 (as configured)
Full Specifications Intel NUC8i7HVK Specifications

The retail NUC8i7HVK kit doesn't come with a pre-installed OS. Our evaluation was done with Windows 10 Enterprise x64 Build 16299.334 and all the latest patches installed. The launch BIOS of the Hades Canyon NUCs is already protected against Meltdown and Spectre, and hence, our evaluation was done on a fully patched system. The gallery below shows the various features of the chassis as well as the disassembly pictures for the installation of the memory and the SSD.

An important aspect to note in the above pictures include the USB headers visible in the opening beneath the top lid (perfect for third-party lids to take advantage). The presence of dual M.2 slots and dual Thunderbolt 3 ports is quite interesting, and that brings us to the platform configuration.

Platform Configuration and BIOS Features

The NUC8i7HVK uses the Kaby Lake-H Sunrise Point HM175 chipset. It provides a wide variety of I/O options. Of particular interest to us is the availability of 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes configurable as a mix of x1, x2, and x4 connections. The CPU itself has 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes. The lanes are utilized as follows:

  • CPU:
    • 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)
  • PCH:
    • 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, the M.2 SSD slots' PCIe lanes are multiplexed with the SATA lanes. This allows consumers to place either PCIe SSDs or SATA SSDs in the M.2 slot. In fact, our review configuration uses the PCIe 3.0 x2 800p SSD in one slot and the SATA III 545s SSD in the other. The use of the HM175 chipset enables the I219-LM NIC in the system, and the second NIC is made possible via the I210 controller hanging off the PCH's PCIe lanes. We also have a new ASMedia USB 3.1 controller - the ASM2142 that is also present in the newer Zotac ZBOX units such as the EK71080 reviewed yesterday. Interestingly, it is connected directly to the CPU - a privilege we would rather have given to the Alpine Ridge controller. The WiFi adapter is a Wireless-AC 8265 M.2 2230 module with 2x2 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.2. We would have preferred the newer Wireless-AC 9260 with Bluetooth 5, but, fortunately, end-users can replace this M.2 module without voiding the warranty.

The various options available in the BIOS are covered in the gallery below:

The interesting screens are in the 'Performance' tab - allowing for overclocking of the processor and memory. It is also possible to enable or disable the Intel GPU in the 'Graphics' sub-section. It is enabled by default.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the Intel NUC8i7HVK (Hades Canyon) against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. The relevant configuration details of the machines are provided so that readers have an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are skewed for or against the Intel NUC8i7HVK (Hades Canyon) when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Intel NUC8i7HVK (Hades Canyon)
CPU Intel Core i7-8809G Intel Core i7-8809G
GPU Radeon RX Vega M GH Graphics (4 GB HBM2)
Intel HD Graphics 630
Radeon RX Vega M GH Graphics (4 GB HBM2)
Intel HD Graphics 630
RAM Kingston HyperX Impact HX432S20IB2K2/16 DDR4
20-22-22-42 @ 3200 MHz
2x8 GB
Kingston HyperX Impact HX432S20IB2K2/16 DDR4
20-22-22-42 @ 3200 MHz
2x8 GB
Storage Intel Optane SSD 800p SSDPEK1W120GA
(118 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x2 NVMe; Optane)
Intel SSD 545s SSDSCKKW512G8
(512 GB; M.2 Type 2280 SATA III; Intel 64L 3D TLC)
Intel Optane SSD 800p SSDPEK1W120GA
(118 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x2 NVMe; Optane)
Intel SSD 545s SSDSCKKW512G8
(512 GB; M.2 Type 2280 SATA III; Intel 64L 3D TLC)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265
(2x2 802.11ac - 866 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265
(2x2 802.11ac - 866 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $999 (Barebones)
$1617 (with SSD, and RAM, as configured / No OS)
$999 (Barebones)
$1617 (with SSD, and RAM, as configured / No OS)
Performance Metrics - I
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  • Samus - Saturday, March 31, 2018 - link

    Seriously, this is essentially an iGPU. 4K? Be reasonable. It’s actually quite amazing how powerful this is to be able to match a GTX 970 at 1080p and surpass a 980 at lower resolutions.

    Can’t wait to see these in light gaming notebooks. No reason you couldn’t power the system with a 130w PSU, meaning USB-C powered.
    Reply
  • nathanddrews - Monday, April 2, 2018 - link

    I had to re-re-read the graphs to comprehend that this IGP is faster than my 3570K/GTX 970 setup. You pay for it, though... Reply
  • WinterCharm - Monday, April 2, 2018 - link

    To be fair, this is not a traditional IGP. This is a Radeon Vega chip with 24 CUs, 1536 shader units, and 64 ROP's connected to 4GB of HBM2. It's attached to the Intel CPU via 8 PCIE lanes over an interposer, and is two chips + HBM assembled into one unit. Reply
  • Fallen Kell - Friday, April 6, 2018 - link

    Except you are simply much better off just getting an Xbox One X or PS4 Pro at half the price... Reply
  • iter - Thursday, March 29, 2018 - link

    Hey, at least it unlocks performance with a locked CPU ;) Reply
  • Crazyeyeskillah - Thursday, March 29, 2018 - link

    This is barely passable at 1080p. For older titles in early dx11 and lower it will be fine, but this isn't a modern gaming box by any stretch of the imagination. I bet it would be close to on par with an original ps4 performance. Reply
  • Drumsticks - Thursday, March 29, 2018 - link

    That's pretty objectively false. In most benchmarks, it is, as the review mentions, slotting between a GTX 960 and GTX 980. Realistically, it's somewhere in the realm of a GTX 970 or a bit less which puts it, again, in the realm of the GTX 1050 Ti to RX 470. Both of those would be significantly more powerful than the PS4 Original.

    Even from a mathematical perspective, 24CUs at up to 1190 MHz vs 18 CUs at 800MHz is pretty self explanatory.
    Reply
  • Cooe - Friday, March 30, 2018 - link

    Are you kidding? This obliterates a base model PS4. It falls behind a GTX 1060 Max Q. Reply
  • Samus - Saturday, March 31, 2018 - link

    Last I checked the PS4 non-Pro has a GPU on par with a 750Ti. This thing is on par with a GTX970. That’s twice as powerful as a 750Ti. Reply
  • HStewart - Friday, March 30, 2018 - link

    Keep in mind - in truth the Kaby Lake G is actually intended for a mobile CPU - in that arena - it very good. Especially that it also intended to be in ultra portable market. Reply

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