Intel NUC 13 Extreme Kit (‘Raptor Canyon’) Review

For years, Intel’s Next Unit of Computing (NUC) line was synonymous with small, featuring diminutive designs that helped establish the mini PC category. But as the NUC family grew to include gaming desktops, models have grown first to the size of a paperback novel, then a toaster. The latest, the Intel NUC 13 Extreme (starts at $1,179; $1,549 for the Core i9 model tested) sets aside the tiny chassis entirely, with a small-form-factor tower that’s just under 14 liters in volume, accommodating the latest 12-inch, triple-slot graphics cards. Codenamed “Raptor Canyon” before release, this NUC pushes Intel’s gaming prowess to the limit, with every piece designed for max performance.

Sold as a bare-bones kit, the NUC 13 Extreme isn’t cheap, but it’s competitively priced with larger gaming PC builds. You’ll need to bring your own GPU, memory, and solid-state storage. But with sockets for Intel’s newest desktop processors and support for uber-powerful components, the NUC 13 Extreme is a fierce rig that racks up another Editors’ Choice award, this time as our favorite compact gaming desktop for first-time builders.

Intel NUC 13 Extreme: Kits and Configurations

Like many other members of the NUC family, the 13 Extreme is sold as a do-it-yourself kit. The small enclosure comes with Intel’s Compute Element—a sort of prepackaged motherboard with the necessary processor, cooling hardware, front and back I/O panels, and networking. Smaller than even a Mini-ITX motherboard, the platform is optimized for thermal management and ease of installation. 

Intel NUC 13 Extreme front view

(Credit: Brian Westover)

You can buy a bare-bones kit including a compact PC case or a standalone Compute Element. The combo package sells in three varieties: Our $1,549 review unit is the flagship, outfitted with a Core i9-13900K CPU. You can also opt for a 13th Generation Core i7 or Core i5 processor. A bare-bones Core i5-13600K kit sells for $1,179. For upgrades or custom jobs, the NUC 13 Extreme Compute Element alone ranges from $760 to $1,100.

Our test system came from Intel with all the extras already installed, including 32GB of Kingston DDR5-4800 Fury memory, a 1TB Kingston Fury Gen4 NVMe solid-state drive, and a rip-roaring Asus TUF GeForce RTX 3080 Ti graphics card. We rarely call out individual components by brand, but want to be specific here because these extra components add up to $1,321.60 without deals or discounts. If you don’t want to source your own parts, you can buy a similar prebuilt unit from a specialty retailer like in a new window) (which offers comparable specs for $3,518).

From SFF to Extremely Large

While the Intel NUC name conjures up associations with palm-size mini PCs and book-size gaming boxes, the NUC 13 Extreme, as mentioned, is a fairly large small-form-factor desktop measuring 13.3 by 5.1 by 12.5 inches (HWD). That’s significantly larger than past systems such as the NUC 12 Extreme “Dragon Canyon” Kit, which measured 7.4 by 4.7 by 14 inches and was just under 8 liters in volume. In fact, the new NUC is slightly bigger than leading compact gaming rigs like the Falcon Northwest Tiki and the Corsair One i300, each around 12 liters. Compare it to the NUC 12 Pro in the photo below.

Intel NUC 13 Extreme next to Intel NUC 12 Pro

(Credit: Brian Westover)

The design itself is simple: Everything’s mesh. Well, almost everything—the sides, top, and bottom are all metal lattice with metal mesh for optimal ventilation, while the front panel is plain black. If you were looking for a glowing skull like those of previous NUC Extremes, you’ll be disappointed. In fact, you must open the side panel to even find the familiar logo. RGB lighting is a supported option, but as with most of the main components, you’ll need to provide your own.

Intel NUC 13 Extreme rear angle

(Credit: Brian Westover)

With many SFF gaming PCs, compact size dictates compromise in terms of what you can fit into the cramped case and what thermal management options are available. The NUC 13 Extreme may have its roots in much smaller systems, but its relatively large size seems less like a limitation and more like a welcome expansion, accommodating the latest GPUs, multiple storage drives, and up to 64GB of memory.

No-Compromise Ports

On the top of the compact tower, you’ll find a glowing power button, two USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports, one USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Type-C port, and a 3.5mm audio jack.

Intel NUC 13 Extreme top ports

(Credit: Brian Westover)

The rear I/O panel offers a ton of connectivity, with dual Thunderbolt 4 ports, six Type=A USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports, an HDMI 2.1 video output (separate from any on the GPU), and a trio of 3.5mm audio connectors (mic-in, line-in, and speaker-out).

Intel NUC 13 Extreme rear I/O

(Credit: Brian Westover)

The NUC 13 Extreme also has your networking needs covered, with Intel Killer AX1690i Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2, plus ports for both 2.5Gbps and 10Gbps Ethernet connections. A pair of gold-plated connectors let you attach antennas for wireless connectivity.

Unique Internal Design

The NUC 13 Extreme chassis is made for accessibility. The top, front, and side panels are all held in place by simple clips, making it a cinch to open the compact tower. The top panel is the only one that’s secured with screws—or rather, a single thumbscrew. Once you pop the top, the front and side panels are easy to remove and clip back on without any tools.

Intel NUC 13 Extreme top panel removal

(Credit: Brian Westover)

The difficulty comes inside, where the interior is indeed small and the internals aren’t all industry-standard. Installing your own GPU, RAM, and SSD is unavoidable with a bare-bones kit, but that entails some complex disassembly. Intel has gone to great lengths to make the NUC user-serviceable, but even if you’ve built a small-form-factor desktop before, the specifics will be a little unfamiliar. Thankfully, Intel makes the job a bit easier with pre-routed cables and a thoughtful design.

Intel NUC 13 Extreme side panel removal

(Credit: Brian Westover)

Instead of the expected Mini-ITX motherboard, Intel uses its proprietary Compute Element, which occupies the top half of the NUC 13 Extreme’s chassis. The platform includes an LGA1700 socket for the company’s latest “Raptor Lake” desktop processors, along with mobile DDR5 SO-DIMM slots (yes, you read that right, the system pairs a desktop CPU with laptop memory); two SATA ports; headers for USB and RGB lighting; and three M.2 slots for solid-state drives. Connectivity is built into the Compute Element, so there’s no need to buy a networking card.

Intel NUC 13 Extreme open chassis

(Credit: Brian Westover)

The Compute Element also incorporates a cooling fan and heatsink, while the tower case is built for airflow with mesh on the top, sides, and bottom. The whole thing is powered by a 750-watt 80+ Gold SFX 12VO power supply, which should handle a 450-watt GPU with ease.

To remove the Compute Element, you start by removing two M3 Philips screws on top and a third on the rear I/O panel. After unplugging the USB-C-style power supply connector, you can unlatch a small lever inside that lets you pull out the baseboard.

Intel NUC 13 Extreme Compute Element and CPU

(Credit: Intel)

The three M.2 PCIe Gen 4 slots let you load up the system with storage, but they’re hidden on the back side of the Compute Element. The real treat is down below, where the case and Compute Element can handle a foot-long, three-slot GPU like Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3080 Ti—so long as it’s mounted upside down. The flipped orientation is a quirk of the system board layout, but Intel includes some brackets to hold the card securely in position, so there should be no issues after the rig is assembled.

Testing the Intel NUC 13 Extreme

As mentioned, our Intel NUC 13 Extreme came prebuilt with top-notch components, so our performance tests likely won’t match what you get using different hardware. They do, however, do a great job of showcasing the powerful Core i9-13900K desktop CPU as well as the system’s potential when loaded with powerful graphics and ample memory and storage.

Since the NUC 13 Extreme pushes the NUC concept fully into SFF territory, we had no trouble finding compact gaming systems to compare it to. The Corsair One i300 has a similar loadout with a 12th Gen Core i9-12900K. The 2022 Falcon Northwest Tiki brings comparable power with AMD hardware. The Maingear Turbo downsizes a cost-no-object gaming desktop with liquid cooling and extensive customization. To see how far the NUC platform has come, we gave the last slot to the smaller “Dragon Canyon” Intel NUC 12 Extreme Kit reviewed earlier this year.

Productivity Tests 

Seeing as our NUC 13 Extreme is armed with the mighty Intel Core i9-13900K desktop CPU, we expected it to offer great performance, and pitted against some of today’s most powerful compact gaming desktops, it impressed us plenty.

The main benchmark of UL’s PCMark 10 simulates a variety of real-world productivity and content-creation workflows to measure overall performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, web browsing, and videoconferencing. We also run PCMark 10’s Full System Drive test to assess the load time and throughput of a system’s boot drive.

Three further benchmarks focus on the CPU, using all available cores and threads, to rate a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads. Maxon’s Cinebench R23 uses that company’s Cinema 4D engine to render a complex scene, while Primate Labs’ Geekbench 5.4 Pro simulates popular apps ranging from PDF rendering and speech recognition to machine learning. Finally, we use the open-source video transcoder HandBrake 1.4 to convert a 12-minute video clip from 4K to 1080p resolution (lower times are better). 

Our final productivity test is workstation maker Puget Systems’ PugetBench for Photoshop, which uses the Creative Cloud version 22 of Adobe’s famous image editor to rate a PC’s performance for content creation and multimedia applications. It’s an automated extension that executes a variety of general and GPU-accelerated Photoshop tasks ranging from opening, rotating, resizing, and saving an image to applying masks, gradient fills, and filters.

The new NUC was right at the front of the pack in our productivity tests, sometimes by a large margin. In Geekbench especially, the 13 Extreme led the next closest system by several thousand points and more than doubled the score of the Tiki. Its lead was even more dramatic in the Cinebench GPU test. In content creation benchmarks such as Handbrake and Photoshop, its slight edge solidified, even against the very powerful Corsair.

Graphics and Gaming Tests 

While graphics performance will depend on the individual GPU in your own build, the 12GB Asus TUF GeForce RTX 3080 Ti card in our test unit showed what the NUC 13 Extreme can do when properly equipped.

We test Windows PCs’ graphics with two DirectX 12 gaming simulations from UL’s 3DMark: Night Raid (more modest, suitable for laptops with integrated graphics), and Time Spy (more demanding, suitable for gaming rigs with discrete GPUs). We also run two tests from the cross-platform GPU benchmark GFXBench 5, which stresses both low-level routines like texturing and high-level, game-like image rendering. The 1440p Aztec Ruins and 1080p Car Chase tests, rendered offscreen to accommodate different display resolutions, exercise graphics and compute shaders using the OpenGL programming interface and hardware tessellation respectively.

We also run the built-in benchmarks of the real-world titles F1 2021 and Rainbow Six Siege, representing simulation and competitive or esports shooter games respectively. On desktops, we run them at their highest quality presets (Ultra High for F1, Ultra for Siege) at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K resolutions, and run F1 with and without Nvidia’s performance-boosting DLSS anti-aliasing.

The NUC 13 Extreme, Corsair One i300, and Falcon Northwest Tiki went toe-to-toe in these benchmarks, scoring within a handful of points or frames per second from one another. The new NUC easily matched our favorite gaming desktops for sheer performance. Results at 4K were a bit more varied, but the 13 Extreme landed in the upper echelons in every instance—way beyond merely playable, with smooth gaming despite demanding detail and graphics settings.

Without a doubt, the Core i9-13900K is the most powerful consumer CPU we’ve seen yet from Intel, but it’s equally essential to have plenty of DDR5 memory and a muscle-bound GPU to go with it. That will change the math on pricing if you want to build a similarly capable NUC 13 Extreme kit.

Verdict: Intel Wins Big by Sizing Up the NUC

With the move to a larger but still compact NUC design, Intel has unleashed some serious gaming firepower. The NUC 13 Extreme pairs the elegance of the Intel Compute Element with amazing gaming potential and superb upgradability, yielding a machine that can handle any game you throw at it.

Intel NUC 13 Extreme and NUC 12 Pro

(Credit: Brian Westover)

There are plenty of great gaming desktops on the market, some even more compact than the 14-liter NUC 13 Extreme. But if you want to play with Intel’s latest and greatest desktop CPU, dip your toes into PC building without quite as much work as starting from zero, or just crave a console-beating gaming rig little larger than a PS5 or Xbox Series X, then Intel has something special for you. We love mini PCs as much as anyone, but it’s hard to imagine anything smaller delivering this kind of power.

Intel NUC 13 Extreme Kit (‘Raptor Canyon’)


  • New small-form-factor design

  • Room for a full-length, three-slot graphics card

  • Intel 13th Gen desktop CPU delivers impressive performance


  • Sold as a bare-bones kit

  • External Wi-Fi antennas

  • Uses mobile DDR5 memory

The Bottom Line

The NUC 13 Extreme Kit brings Intel’s most powerful silicon to a small-form-factor desktop design. Supporting today’s beefiest GPUs and plenty of options for storage and upgrades, this kit can deliver amazing gaming performance if built accordingly.

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