Under the hood, which you can access easily by removing the top of the case, you've got easy access to all of the internal ports. That includes space for two M.2 SSDs, two DDR4 RAM slots (supporting up to 32GB), and two SATA connections. Like all of Intel's NUCs, it's a barebones box, so you'll have to buy your own RAM, storage and OS to get going. That's at least another $500 on top of the machine's $999 price tag, but it's within the price range of similar mini-desktops.
Another thing worth mentioning: the NUC's power adapter is comically large. It's almost as heavy as the device itself. That makes sense, given how much power is going through this little box, but it hinders portability significantly.
The Hades Canyon NUC didn't feel significantly different than the last model when it came to basic productivity tasks. But the difference was night and day once I loaded up some games. Doom 3 ran between 50 and 60 frames per second with High graphics settings in 1080p. Bumping the quality higher dipped the score to around 40FPS, but that was still impressive. It also had no trouble keeping up with a fast-paced game like Overwatch, where I saw between 60 and 90FPS in 1080p with Ultra settings. In comparison, I had to run the last NUC at 720p with low-quality graphics to make Overwatch playable.
I was also blown away by how well it handled Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, a cinematic indie game that really taxes the GPU. Even with very high settings, it ran between 30 and 40 FPS, which is still playable. Knocking that down to high-quality graphics boosted performance to a smoother 50 to 60 FPS. Overall, the Hades Canyon NUC proved to be a capable 1080p gaming machine.
And just as Intel claimed, it's a solid VR rig. I had no trouble hooking up the Oculus Rift's sensors and headset, thanks to its many ports. And games like Superhot, Duck Season, and Serious Sam VR ran flawlessly. There wasn't any noticeable lag or slowdown, which I sometimes see with low-end VR machines.
The Hades Canyon NUC is three times faster than the Skull Canyon NUC in the 3DMark Skydiver benchmark, and I saw similar results in the older 3DMark 11 tests. It was only slightly faster when it came to productivity tests in PCMark 7 and 8, which shows the leap between Intel's 6th and 8th generation CPUs isn't nearly as huge as the graphical jump.
On top of being a beast at gaming, the Hades Canyon NUC manages to keep everything cool as well. The CPU and GPU hovered at a safe 55c as I was gaming, reaching up to 70c during demanding sequences. That's mostly due to the new closed-loop liquid cooler, which also helps to keep fan noise down. It makes the NUC a great option for a home theater/PC gaming machine, but be aware that it doesn't support YouTube HDR or 4K Blu-ray playback. As Anandtech reports, the AMD GPU doesn't support YouTube's VP9 codec, and it doesn't meet the standards required for playing 4K Blu-ray securely.
Pricing and the competition