Review: What it's like using Intel's NUC 11 Extreme 'Beast Canyon' as a game console alternative

NUC 11 Extreme (Beast Canyon) reviewed by Daniel Rutledge for Newshub.
The Intel NUC11 i7-11700B. Photo credit: Newshub.

Although the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X both still feel rather new, much more powerful PC gaming machines are widely available and some of them come with a similar level of convenience as a console.

Intel's NUC line of mini PCs are designed to take up a small amount of space and, if you want, they can sit by a TV and be used mostly with a controller, as you would a gaming console.

They can also be used with a traditional mouse, keyboard and monitor like other desktop PCs - and they're not skimping on the power of a bigger tower - but I've been increasingly interested in replacing a console with a small-ish PC and this is the sort of one to do it with.

Recently I was loaned a NUC 11 Extreme 'Beast Canyon' to give that a go and here are my thoughts.

This little machine indeed far outstrips the PS5 and XSX in terms of power, but the size and shape of it is very comparable to those consoles - it takes up hardly any space and is only as long as it is to fit in a full-length desktop graphics card.

Its rectangular, 8L form factor is actually more convenient than the PS5 to fit into a lounge area and it would be more subtle and stylish, if it wasn't for the SCREAMING RED SKULL glowing on the front of it.

So long as gamers keep rewarding these companies for putting garish lighting on their products, I guess we're going to keep seeing it. Thankfully you can easily turn the lights off and back on again easily, if you want.

Gaudy lights aside, the Beast Canyon was very easy to plug in, set up and get cranking in my lounge.

With an HDMI 2.1 cable into a big, modern Samsung TV this mini PC made playing games a real pleasure. But it also worked better as a media server than consoles do for playing movies and TV shows, plus with a wireless mouse and keyboard I could do loads of other computer stuff with it you can't with a console.

But together with a connected XSX controller, it's definitely comparable as a gaming console and an exceedingly great one.

The day I first got it all set up, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre had just been added to Xbox Game Pass and it was an ideal way to break the ice with the NUC.

I played it with a Logitech headset that really helped with the immersion, making it a super intense experience. Running at 4K and 120 frames-per-second added to the intensity, for sure - that game is amazing for how thrilling it is trying to evade the vicious killers, and it doesn't hold back with the gore when you fail to do so.

Next I fired up Microsoft Flight Simulator and sure enough, with the graphics settings all on either 'ultra' or 'high', it was incredible. Flying into mid-winter Queenstown was stunningly beautiful, with no jittering or stuttering of the very demanding game.

I've also played some Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II - the one that came out last year, not the 2009 one of the same name - on the NUC and while it looked and felt fantastic, playing with a controller rather than a mouse and keyboard made me feel especially silly on a PC. I still did it though.

I'd love to get into Starfield on this thing, I bet it would be an ideal way to experience that. I dabbled in a few other titles during my time with the Beast Canyon and, in short, it plays games extremely well and takes up about the same space as a current-gen console.

So how comparable is the cost?

The specific unit I reviewed - the NUC11 i7-11700B - is hard to find on New Zealand retailers currently, but it appears to be asking for between $1500 and $1800.

As a bare bones unit, you then have to fit it out with components. At the moment, the good news is that speedy RAM and great solid state hard drives are going cheap - the models of those in the review unit I used would set you back less than $200 all up.

The graphics card is a bit steeper, however - the RTX 3070 Ti in the review unit would be about another $1000. And then there's the cost of the operating system.

There's no getting around that all adding up to a lot more than what you'd pay for a console. You could get a PS5 and an XSX with change leftover for that total sum.

Intel NUC11 i7-11700B Mini PC.
The mini PC features a wide connectivity array. Photo credit: Newshub.

But if you make the investment, once it's all up and running, this mini PC provides an undeniably great experience. You can even turn it off and on with the button like you do consoles, if you'd rather that than selecting shutdown in the normal Windows way.

Of course, once you've bought the basics of a PC it's then possible to upgrade each bit of it when newer, more powerful ones are available. If you get a TV and graphics card that can support it, 4K at 144 frames-per-second would be mind-blowing and totally possible with the NUC 11 Extreme, but impossible for any current console.

It's also been designed to ensure swapping components in and out is as easy to do as possible, even for PC noobs.

The additional functionality compared to a gaming console also extends to what you can plug into the unit. It has two Thunderbolt ports and eight USB 3.2 ports as well as the hardware slots for more connectivity than I reckon I'll ever need.

It also supports Wi-Fi 6E, which the gaming consoles don't, and that can mean less cables messing the place up but still gifting you a super fast connection.

So that all adds up to some nice advantages over a console, but obviously you're paying a premium for those advantages. I'd also urge factoring in that while Xbox games are playable on a PC, PlayStation exclusives are not, and some of those are the best games around.

But all in all, for an old-school console gamer such as myself, using the NUC 11 Extreme as an alternative was more convenient and painless than I imagined it would be. 

The taste of the extra power and capabilities it offered were hugely exciting.

Newshub was supplied a NUC11 i7-11700B for this review.