As part of its CES 2021 announcements, Intel officially unveiled a number of NUCs based on their Tiger Lake SoCs. The NUC11 Performance lineup was covered earlier. This piece looks at another exciting NUC11 offering in the enthusiast category. As a refresher, Intel created the NUC Enthusiast category back in 2016 with the introduction of the Skull Canyon NUC (NUC6i7KYK). With a 4" x 5" motherboard, it had a slightly larger footprint compared to the traditional NUCs. However, the increased size allowed the incorporation of a 45W TDP processor with increased graphics flex. The second generation 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 processors with a Kaby Lake processor and an AMD GPU packaged together (with a total TDP budget between 65W and 100W). For the 3rd generation, Intel has adopted the same board form-factor, but gone in with the traditional way of adding a discrete GPU to a SFF system. The NUC11 Enthusiast (codenamed Phantom Canyon) takes the Tiger Lake-U Core i7-1165G7 and adds a NVIDIA RTX 2060 (based on the Turing architecture) to create a compact system suitable for gaming, streaming, and content creation.

The Phantom Canyon NUC has only two SKUs - the NUC11PHKi7C is the barebones version, while the NUC11PHKi7CAA comes with 2x 8GB DDR4-3200 SODIMMs and an Intel Optane Memory H10 (32GB + 512GB) NVMe drive. The latter also comes with Windows 10 Home pre-installed.

The NUC11 Enthusiast sports a rich set of I/Os. There are two Thunderbolt 4 ports (one in the front and one in the rear) that also carry the display output from the Intel Iris Xe Graphics G7 in the TGL-U processor. Two USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports and a SDXC UHS-II slot, along with an audio jack and a quad-microphone array round out the front panel. On the rear, we have an audio output jack (supporting TOSLINK), a single 2.5 Gbps LAN port, four USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports, and the display outputs (HDMI 2.0b and mini-DP 1.4a) from the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060.

The table below compares the specifications of the flagships in the three generations of enthusiast NUCs. Note that the Skull Canyon and Phantom Canyon NUCs have only one barebones version. Only the Hades Canyon had two different versions - one with the 65W TDP Core i7-8705G, and another with the 100W TDP Core i7-8809G. Another aspect that is not mentioned here is that the Phantom Canyon NUC come with support for vertical orientation (unlike the Hades Canyon NUCs) as shown in the lead image

Intel Enthusiast NUCs
Model Phantom Canyon
Hades Canyon
Skull Canyon
CPU Intel Core i7-1165G7
Tiger Lake-U, 4C/8T
2.8 - 4.7 GHz
Intel Core i7-8809G
Kaby Lake, 4C/8T
3.1 - 4.2 GHz
100W Package TDP
Intel Core i7-6770HQ
Skylake, 4C/8T
2.6 - 3.5 GHz
GPU NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6GB GDDR6 (N18E-G1-B Notebook Class 115W) @ 1.285 GHz (Discrete)
Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics (96EU) @ 1.3 GHz (Integrated / On-Die)
Radeon RX Vega M GH 4GB HBM2 @ 1.19 GHz (Discrete / On-Package)
Intel® HD Graphics 630 @ 1.1 GHz (Integrated / On-Die)
Intel® Iris Pro Graphics 580 @ 1.05 GHz (Integrated / On-Die)
Memory 2x DDR4-3200 SODIMMs
1.2V, 64GB max.
2x DDR4-2400+ SODIMMs
1.2V, 32GB max.
2x DDR4-2133 SODIMMs
1.2V, 32GB max.
Motherboard 5.5" x 8" UCFF 4" x 5" UCFF
Storage 1x M.2 22x80/110 (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 22x42/80 (key M) SATA3 or PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe/AHCI SSD
I/O Ports 2x Thunderbolt 4 Fast-Charging (front + rear)
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 (front)
1x SATA III Power + Data Internal Header
2x USB 2.0 Internal Header
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 (front)
1x SATA III Power + Data Internal Header
2x USB 2.0 Internal Header
1x Thunderbolt 3 (rear)
2x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (rear)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A Fast-Charging (front)
1x SDXC UHS-I Card Slot (front)
CIR (front)
1x SATA III Power + Data Internal Header
2x USB 2.0 Internal Header
Networking Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201
(2x2 802.11ax Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 5.1 module)
1 × 2.5 GbE port (Intel I225-LM)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265
(2x2 802.11ac Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 4.2 module)
2 × GbE ports (Intel I219-LM + Intel I210-AT)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260
(2x2 802.11ac Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 4.2 module)
1 × GbE ports (Intel I219-LM)
Display Outputs 2x DP 1.4a (via Thunderbolt 4 Type-C ports, iGPU Display Pipe)
1x mini-DP 1.4a (rear, dGPU, up to 8Kp60, MST)
1x HDMI 2.0b (rear, dGPU, up to 4Kp60)
1x HDMI 2.0a (front, dGPU)
1x HDMI 2.0a (rear, dGPU)
2x mini-DP 1.3 (rear, dGPU)
2x DP 1.3 (via Thunderbolt 3 Type-C ports, dGPU)
1x mini-DP 1.2 (rear, iGPU)
1x HDMI 2.0a (rear, iGPU)
1x DP 1.3 (via Thunderbolt 3 Type-C ports, iGPU)
Audio 7.1 digital (over HDMI and DisplayPort)
L+R+mic (front)
L+R+TOSLINK (rear)
Audio Codec Realtek ALC700 Realtek ALC233
Enclosure Metal and plastic
Kensington lock with base security
Power Supply 230W (19V @ 12.1A) Adapter 120W (19V @ 6.32A) Adapter
Dimensions 221mm x 142mm x 42mm / 1.3L 221mm x 142mm x 39mm / 1.2L 216mm x 116mm x 23mm / 0.69L
Miscellaneous Features Replaceable lid with customizable RGB LED illumination
Status LEDs in front panel
Quad beam-forming microphone array
VESA mounting plate
3-year warranty
Replaceable lid
Status LEDs in front panel
VESA mounting plate
3-year warranty

The block diagram below (sourced from Intel's technical product specifications [PDF]) gives some insights into the design of the system in relation to the I/O capabilities.

The dGPU is surprisingly connected to the Gen4 x4 PCIe lanes (usually meant for M.2 NVMe storage). Intel indicated that this greatly reduces CPU-GPU communication latency, making it independent of other devices in the system. Other than that, we see the Realtek RTS5249S PCIe to SDXC bridge chip backing up the SDXC UHS-II slot, amd a couple of VIA Technologies VL822 USB 3.2 Gen 2 hub chips enabling the set of USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports in the system.

Overall, the Phantom Canyon NUC seems like a good step up from Hades Canyon despite the loss of the second wired LAN port. Most importantly, this should just be like a regular gaming notebook from a drivers support perspective. One of the problems with the Hades Canyon NUC was the drivers situation, with Intel and AMD attempting to pass the buck to each other while customers were left with GPU drivers that became flaky after Windows updates. The Phantom Canyon NUC should hopefully always work with the NVIDIA WHQL drivers for Turing GPUs.

SimplyNUC has a 128GB NVMe SSD + 16GB DDR4 SODIMM version priced at $1349. Pre-orders are being accepted for shipment in March. Another re-seller listing has the barebones version for $1130. The latter pricing seems more in line with what one should expect to pay for the internals of a gaming notebook in a SFF PC form-factor. Intel has not provided official pricing or availability information yet.

Source: Intel

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  • mukiex - Thursday, January 21, 2021 - link

    Actually it's probably just a 4.0 connection to a 3.0 chip and it's basically doing nothing with half the bandwidth.
  • dromoxen - Friday, January 22, 2021 - link

    Yeah surely connect Pci-3 device to Pci-4 , its compat , but runs at PCI-3 ? no questions?
    I think AMD powered NUCs are better CPU, lower gfx and much lower price. So intel get the industrial customers, AMD (powered) mops up the rest.
    Sticking a 30 series in this would have upped the price beyond sanity, if available even.
  • bill44 - Wednesday, January 20, 2021 - link

    Who will be out first with an SFF/NUC that sports HDMI 2.1?
    Also, what happened to 4x TB4 support on TL?
    Still waiting for a NUC that has 10Gbe, HDMI 2.1, 4x TB4/USB4, DP 2.0 and WiFi 6E.
    2023 maybe?
  • KimGitz - Wednesday, January 20, 2021 - link

    In 2023 I hope for 4x Thunderbolt X with support for PCIe 6.0. PCIe 6.0 will be huge step from PCIe 3.0 Implemented on Thunderbolt 4, with PAM4 and FEC.

    Going with a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 on this would have allowed them to take advantage of Resizable BAR.
  • hubick - Wednesday, January 20, 2021 - link

    I had Skull Canyon, where 45w TDP was decent, and then I got two Hades Canyon (home+office), cuz the 100w TDP was awesome for a package that size.

    I have a 4K 40" screen and HP Reverb VR headset, and I was thinking it could be nice to hook those up to an eGPU box with an RTX 3080 or 6800XT which I can use with either my laptop or NUC.

    I was looking forward to these as an upgrade for that, because having Thunderbolt 4 on the CPU is super awesome for driving an eGPU, but the 28w TDP is really disappointing, and I wonder if it's enough oomph to drive the eGPU. I mean, my Razer Book 13 is already 28w, so on paper this isn't nearly as exciting/useful as if it was 100w TDP again like Hades Canyon was.
  • timecop1818 - Wednesday, January 20, 2021 - link

    hades canyon was 100w because of 75W AMD GPU on-die.
  • hubick - Wednesday, January 20, 2021 - link

    Hades Canyon CPU is configured for 65W TDP, and you can certainly exercise that if disabling the AMD iGPU for an eGPU.

    "This is simply a test of CPU performance. As expected, the Core i7-8809G with its 65W processor TDP slots closer to the Core i7-6700 and the Core i7-7700." -

    "The cores manage to consistently stay above the rated clock (3.1 GHz) under all loading conditions. Given the higher power level (65W) that the CPU is configured for, we find that it stays close to 3.9 GHz till the CPU die starts to approach the 100C junction temperature." -

    The Hades Canyon thermal solution is rated for a 100W TDP in total though, and assuming Phantom has a similar setup, it would be nice if disabling the RTX dGPU for an eGPU got you more gains than a 28w TDP envelope. I can get that from a 1cm thick Ultrabook - this thing should be able to do better.
  • Spunjji - Thursday, January 21, 2021 - link

    Releasing this right after Nvidia announced the mobile 3060 is a bit disappointing. As the article notes, the pricing puts it into direct contention with gaming notebooks which offer more functionality. I'm not convinced.
  • nils_ - Friday, January 22, 2021 - link

    The block diagram is a bit surprising, I thought Tiger Lake only has 4 PCIe 4 lanes total, how do they manage 4 to the GPU as well as 4 to the m.2?
  • ava1ar - Friday, January 22, 2021 - link

    m.2 is connected to PCIe3 - it is clearly mentioned in table.

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