Intel NUC 12 Enthusiast review: a book-sized gaming PC

intel nuc 12 enthusiast review 1

Intel NUC 12 Enthusiast

MSRP $1,180.00

“The NUC 12 Enthusiast offers desktop-level performance in a tiny form factor.”


  • Excellent 1080p gaming performance

  • Laptop processor matches desktop performance

  • Small and relatively quiet

  • Fantastic connectivity

The inconvenients

  • Dear

  • Big clumsy power brick

Intel’s NUC, or Next Unit of Computing, machines don’t usually make it into the pantheon of best desktop PCs, but the NUC 12 Enthusiast makes me take another look. It’s a DIY kit where you have to bring your own memory and storage, but the power Intel has been able to pack into this machine considering its size is nothing short of remarkable.

A big asterisk is unsurprisingly in order. It’s a tiny and very powerful PC, but it’s joined by an almost equally large PSU. Additionally, the NUC 12 Enthusiast shows an impressive debut for Intel’s Arc Alchemist mobile graphics, which excels in recent titles but falls behind in older games.

Even with a few caveats, the NUC 12 Enthusiast has far more pros than cons. On the gaming front, it can put the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X to shame at a fraction of the size. For creators, it rivals desktops that are more than 10 times larger and with only laptop hardware.

Meet the Intel NUC 12 Enthusiast

Processor Intel Core i7-12700H
Graphic card Intel Arc A770M 16GB
RAM 16 GB DDR4-3200
Storage 1TB NVMe PCIe 4.0 SSD
Wireless Intel WiFi 6E AX 1690i, Bluetooth 5.2
Thunderbolt 2x Thunderbolt 4 / USB4 Type-C ports
Show Connections 1x HDMI 2.1, 2x DisplayPort 2.0
USB sockets 6 USB 3.2 Gen2 ports
Audio jacks 1x stereo 3.5mm front, 1x stereo 3.5mm rear
Power source 330W external power supply
Dimensions (LxWxH) 7.1 x 2.4 x 9.1 inches
List of prices $1,180

Intel sent the NUC 12 Enthusiast preconfigured, but if you’re not used to the NUC line, let me catch you up. It’s a barebones PC, so a basic kit comes with everything inside minus the storage and RAM. You will have to add them yourself.

The NUC 12 Enthusiast comes with three M.2 NVMe SSD slots (two PCIe 4.0 and one PCIe 3.0), along with two slots for up to 64GB of DDR4 laptop memory (SODIMM). Although the Core i7-12700H inside the machine supports faster DDR5 memory, unfortunately you’re stuck on DDR4.

My setup came with Windows 11 pre-installed, which is what I used for testing. The barebones kit does not have an operating system, so you are free to install Windows or one of the various Linux distributions supported by the NUC 12 Enthusiast.

smaller than a book

Intel NUC 12 Enthusiast next to an Xbox Series S.

The amount of power Intel was able to cram into the NUC 12 Enthusiast is insane considering its size. It’s barely 2.5 liters in volume. For reference, even the smallest DIY PCs weigh around 11 liters, while machines like the Corsair One sits around 8 litres.

In dimensions, the NUC 12 Enthusiast measures just 7.1 inches long, 2.4 inches wide, and 9.1 inches high. For context, the Xbox Series S is 5.9 inches long, 2.6 inches wide, and 11 inches tall, and a Stephen King reprint THIS I had stretched about 5.5 inches long, 2.8 inches wide and 8.7 inches high. THIS is a big book, sure, but it doesn’t have Thunderbolt 4 ports and a 14-core processor.

Worthless comparisons aside, it’s clear that the NUC 12 Enthusiast is tiny. Despite that, it packs the latest tech under the hood: Thunderbolt 4, Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2, and even DisplayPort 2.0; the whole gang is there. The only caveats are a chunky 330W external power supply for the machine and a fairly large vertical stand. There are feet, however, for setting up the NUC 12 Enthusiast horizontally, which makes for a much neater look.

You’ll need to open the NUC 12 Enthusiast and install some RAM and at least one SSD, and it’s pretty straightforward. Intel has the RAM and SSD slots located on the back of the board, so you don’t have to dig around more sensitive components to install what you need. My only complaint is that Intel uses an Allen key for the exterior screws and a Philips head for the internal screws, so you can’t just grab a screwdriver and get to work. On the plus side, all of these screws are captive, so you don’t have to worry about losing them.

RAM and SSD slots inside the Intel NUC 12 Enthusiast.

You’re free to dig deeper into the machine if you want, although there’s really no point in doing so. The graphics card and processor are soldered to the board, but it’s still nice to have access under the main cavity for troubleshooting if something goes wrong.

Before accessing the SSD and RAM slots, Intel has an LED panel where you can insert custom decals. The panel is just a big RGB light that you can control with software, so you’re free to insert anything that can block the light for a unique design. It’s a gimmick, but it’s still a cool piece of rocketry.

Laptop processor, desktop performance

The Core i7-12700H is a laptop processor, so it’s not as powerful as the Core i7-12700K or Core i9-12900K that you can find in a full desktop. Although it is a laptop processor, it outperforms the same chip in most laptops with better cooling and higher boost potential.

You can see it when the chip is stacked against the Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 3, which also has a Core i7-12700H. In Cinebench R23, the NUC 12 Enthusiast is about 5% ahead in single-core performance and 38% in multi-core performance, and that’s with the ThinkBook Plus Gen 3 in Performance mode. A tuned laptop can take a victory over the NUC, however, as evidenced by the Core i7-12800H inside the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 5.

While the processor is impressive for a mobile chip, it’s still behind a full fat desktop processor. Even with access to fewer cores, the Core i5-12600K desktop delivers better single and multi-core performance. Still, the NUC 12 Enthusiast is closer to desktop performance than laptop performance, despite what its specs suggest.

Handbrake, the free video encoding app, is proof of that. Encoding times were only a few seconds longer on the Core i7-12700H compared to the Ryzen 5 7600X and Core i5-12600K desktop. On top of that, more powerful laptop processors like the Core i9-12900H inside the HP Envy 16 lag far behind, despite having more cores and higher clock speeds.

The NUC 12 Enthusiast has unique advantages for creative applications thanks to its Intel processor and graphics card. In Premiere Pro, the NUC 12 Enthusiast even comes close to an AMD Ryzen 9 7950X desktop, which is a CPU that consumes 230 watts with 16 full cores. It’s insane, and a huge testament to Intel’s optimizations in creative apps like Premiere Pro.

Arc mobile came to the game

Gaming benchmarks for Intel NUC 12 Enthusiast.

No, the NUC 12 Enthusiast isn’t going to put a full gaming desktop to shame with an RTX 4080, but it’s still a powerful mini gaming PC considering its size. This one stands out because it includes Intel’s Arc A770M mobile graphics cards, which are based on the Arc A770 and A750 desktop GPUs.

It exceeds 60 frames per second (fps) in most games at 1080p, and with upscaling features like Intel’s Xe Super Sampling (XeSS) you can even push higher resolutions like 1440p and 4K. Intel’s Arc graphics cards perform better at higher resolutions, which is why you see relatively small gaps between 1080p, 1440p, and 4K in most games.

Although you get the Arc A770M, it’s the mobile version of Intel’s flagship desktop GPU. It has the same name, but you will get lower performance in games like Horizon Zero Dawn. It comes close in some titles, though, especially Cyberpunk 2077.

Small form factor gaming PCs like the Falcon Northwest Tiki and even Intel’s NUC 11 Extreme will always deliver better performance thanks to the larger graphics cards inside. The NUC 12 Enthusiast is still impressive given its small size, going on par with machines like the HP Z2 Mini G9 in gaming despite costing much less.

Try to manage the heat

The Intel NUC 12 Enthusiast sitting next to its power supply.

Heat and noise are the main enemies of small form factor builds, but Intel handles heat well in the NUC 12 Enthusiast. At idle, the processor was around 45 degrees Celsius, which is ideal for this small PC. Temperatures quickly soared to 95 degrees in Cinebench R23, which resulted in CPU throttling at around 3.1GHz.

CPU throttling is important in a machine like this, but it only matters if the CPU is underperforming. And as you can see from my tests above, that’s not the case. The two internal fans and the ventilation around the machine are able to remove heat efficiently, so although the processor is reaching its thermal limit, it is still able to perform at a higher level than what we see with the same processor in laptop computers.

Noise isn’t bad either, never exceeding a slight hum even when the machine was pushed to the limit in Cinebench. The game is another story. With the CPU and GPU stressed, the NUC 12 Enthusiast can get noisy, but still not as loud as monstrous gaming laptops like the MSI GT77 Titan.

Should you buy the Intel NUC 12 Enthusiast?

Intel NUC 12 enthusiast sitting on a desk.

The NUC 12 Enthusiast punches above its weight in terms of performance, features, and design. It’s a clear example of what’s possible in a small form factor with dedicated design and hardware (much like the M1 Mac Mini). Creator performance is fantastic for the size, especially considering the amount of storage supported by the NUC 12 Enthusiast, and you get a fantastic 1080p gaming experience.

Price is the main limiting factor given that you’ll have to add your own RAM and storage to an already pricey barebones kit. While the NUC 12 Enthusiast outperforms laptops that cost the same or more, it also takes a back seat to larger desktops like the Dell XPS Desktop 8950 that cost less. Still, the premium demanded by Intel is not unreasonable. The NUC 12 Enthusiast handles heat well and performs much better than its size would suggest.

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