ASUS ROG NUC 970 review

After a decade of producing mini PCs under the NUC label (short for Next Unit of Computing… catchy!), Intel officially shut down the entire project in 2023. Shortly after, Intel announced a partnership with Asus, who would continue to produce NUC PCs under license, and the ROG NUC is the company’s first gaming-focused offering.

It’s a clean, compact, matte black package, and comes in two flavors: the ROG NUC 760 (Core Ultra 7 155H, RTX 4060 mobile, 16GB DDR5-5600, 512GB M.2 drive) and the ROG NUC 970 (Intel Core Ultra 9 185H, RTX 4070 mobile, 32GB DDR5-5600, 1TB M.2 drive). Both specs are also available as barebones units, the NUC Extreme, which comes without RAM, M.2 storage, and a Windows 11 install, in a plain black version of the chassis.

It’s the fully pre-installed 970 model we’re talking about today, and it’s no slouch, featuring Intel’s flagship Core Ultra 9 185H paired with Nvidia’s RTX 4070 mobile GPU and a very ample 32GB SODIMM-style 5600MHz DDR5 (user-upgradable to 64GB). It’s a well-tuned component set, one that you’d rightly expect to see more than enough power for gaming at 1440P.

These guts, however, were built for mobile. Compared to their desktop counterparts, they offer higher efficiency, lower power consumption, enjoy tight-quarter combat, but are inherently less performant. The RTX 4070 Mobile, for example, is a different beast than even the base non-super, non-Ti desktop RTX 4070. With a 128-bit memory bus up from 192-bit, 8GB of VRAM instead of the desktop card’s 12GB, and lower-clocked cores and memory, you’re getting about a third less performance, give or take.

NUC 970 Specifications

Asus ROG NUC 970 Mini Gaming PC

Asus ROG NUC 970 Mini Gaming PC

CPU: Intel Core 9 Ultra 185H
GPU: Nvidia RTX 4070 Mobile
Memory: 32GB DDR5 5600
Storage: 1TB PCI-E Gen4 M.2 SSD
Wireless: Intel Killer WiFi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3
IO: 1x USB-C Thunderbolt4, 4x USB 2.3, 2x USB 2.0, SD card reader, 3.5mm audio, 4x USB 2.3, 2.5G LAN, 1x HDMI 2.1, 2x DP 1.4a
Price: £2,000 | $2,199 (£1,450 | $1,629 base amount)

Likewise, the Core Ultra 9 185H is aimed at high-end laptops as opposed to the true desktop powerhouses of the latest 14th-gen Core i7 and i9 desktop chips, and that shows in its power consumption. The CPU in our test unit drank a peak of 115W to reach its maximum 5.1GHz turbo speed under full load; compare that to the volcanic 253W of an i7-14700K at full 5.6GHz ramp. In short, both the CPU and GPU are excellent choices for a super-compact system, allowing the ROG NUC to take up a mere 2.5-liter volume.

You can upgrade the RAM and storage, but the CPU and GPU are for life, not just for Christmas. So while the NUC 970 can comfortably deliver the solid framerates of a mid-range desktop PC on today’s games – provided you don’t push it past 1440P – it’s also the material equivalent of a gaming laptop, complete with an external power brick. That’s true of its cooling, too; the noise from its small-diameter, high-speed fan under load is on par with that of a gaming laptop. However, the ROG NUC can be set to silent mode in Asus’s pre-installed Armoury Crate app, which reduces the noise to an entirely acceptable level and barely affects the framerate.

From Turbo mode (noisy) to Silent mode (well, quieter mode), we only noticed a 2 fps drop in Cyberpunk, which is simply undetectable in practice. Our advice? Put it on silent and fugeddaboudit.

It’s not exactly future-proof, but for the target audience of this machine I suppose that’s just fine. There’s something appealing about a compact gaming PC that doesn’t offer or encourage invasive surgery and simply gets on with its job as a PC, which the ROG NUC 970 does. Few manufacturers offer such a seamless, plug-and-play PC gaming experience that can do the desktop-level business at 1440p.

The ROG NUC 970 takes design inspiration from 2018’s Intel Hades Canyon NUC, albeit larger. It has a similar angular shape and an RGB panel on top, for which you can have your own acetate masks printed to mount internally, changing up the RGB translucent image. It also adheres to the ROG brand’s style guide – angular design language, ‘bold’ typeface – so your experience with the styling accents may vary. It also comes with an exceptionally sturdy steel stand for mounting the device vertically, which is a welcome addition that helps minimize its footprint. Overall, the ROG NUC 970 has an appealing feel to it thicknessThere’s no doubt that the power-to-volume ratio of this machine is appealing.

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Asus ROG NUC 970 Mini Gaming PCAsus ROG NUC 970 Mini Gaming PC

Asus ROG NUC 970 Mini Gaming PC

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Asus ROG NUC 970 Mini Gaming PC

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Asus ROG NUC 970 Mini Gaming PC

Even with its mobile components, the ROG NUC 970 offers good to excellent frame rates at 1440p.

Elsewhere on the spec sheet, things are similarly tidy. Intel Killer WiFi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3, a trio of M.2 2280 slots running at PCIe 4.0, and 2.5G Intel LAN. I/O options are largely good. Around the back you get 2x USB 3.2 ports, 2x USB 2.0 slots, a 2.5G RJ45, 2x DisplayPort 1.4a ports, a single HDMI 2.1 port, and a lone Thunderbolt 4 port which doubles as DP 2.1 for the CPU’s Intel Arc iGPU, which you’ll absolutely never use in lieu of the RTX 4070.

Up front, you get two more USB 3.2 slots, a combo audio jack, and an SD card reader. Where the IO is sorely lacking is in the USB-C ports, especially up front. A single Type-C Thunderbolt 4 on the back doesn’t really cut it for such a premium product. I don’t know about you, but the majority of the cludge I plug into my PC these days (phone, headset dongle, mechanical keyboard, Xbox Elite gaming pad) works over USB-C. If I’m buying this for its compact minimalism, I don’t want to ruin it with an external USB-C hub flopping around.

Let’s talk performance. The gist of it is clear: even with the mobile parts, the ROG NUC 970 offers good to great frame rates at 1440p and excellent at 1080p.

76 FPS in Cyberpunk 2077 at 1440p with the Ray Tracing Ultra preset, DLSS set to auto, and frame-gen on is as smooth and beautiful as you need it to be. Total War: Warhammer 3 on Ultra settings just manages to top out at 60 FPS. Forza Mortorsport clips in at 68 FPS with Ultra settings, full quality DLSS, and Ray Tracing at 1440p. And if 1080p is your playground, you’ll see frame rates skyrocketing past the 100 FPS barrier in pretty much everything you throw at it – bar Homeworld 3, with its surprisingly stiff built-in benchmark

We also gave the ROG NUC 970 a run with a few titles outside of our benchmark suite. We don’t have these findings included in our official list of numbers since these games don’t have built-in benchmark tools, but we think it’s still useful to get a framerate range and general vibe for how it runs things at 1440p.

The Dead Space Remake performs admirably at a balanced 1440p/Ultra/DLSS resolution, with the final boss battle seeing between 75 and 107 fps. Even with that range of variation, the action remained buttery smooth. It’s a similar story in Helldivers 2, where regardless of the scene, the ROG NUC 970 managed an unyielding 70-73 fps at 1440p Ultra with textures set to high. A Plague Tale: Requiem’s ‘Hives’ level saw 74-94 fps at 1440p ultra with DLSS set to quality and Frame Gen enabled. In short, all three titles play smoothly and stutter-free.

Asus ROG NUC 970 Mini Gaming PCAsus ROG NUC 970 Mini Gaming PC

Asus ROG NUC 970 Mini Gaming PC

Buy as…

Money is not an issue: If you’re looking for a powerful mini gaming PC that can deliver 1440p resolutions and you don’t care what it costs, Asus is the way to go.

You don’t like playing with the innards of a PC: Not everyone wants to mess around with their PC case themselves. If you just want a plug and play PC, this is your choice.

Do not buy if…

You value an upgrade path: This is not a machine with potential for future CPU or GPU upgrades.

It’s compact and does its job at 1440, no doubt about it. So let’s address the elephant in the room: the price tag. Because at $2,199 (£1,999) fully loaded with RAM and storage, the ROG NUC 970 is eye-wateringly expensive for what it does.

How much of that price is due to the R&D costs that go into the ROG NUC 970’s unique design, how much is due to ASUS adding its ROG branding, and how much is due to the particular component choice is impossible to guess, but the fact is that it’s a very expensive way to game at 1440p. It certainly won’t convince seasoned system builders; for the same outlay as the full-fledged ROG NUC 970, you could build a machine around a desktop RTX 4080 Super and enjoy vastly improved frame rates at 1440p, or comfortably make the leap to 4K, though you would be trading the ROG NUC’s USP – compactness – for that performance.

But that’s not what this machine is aimed at. It’s for the PC gamer who wants fuss-free fun at 1440p, in the tiniest package possible, and doesn’t care about a future upgrade path beyond memory and storage. If that’s you, and you’re willing to spend that kind of money, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Better yet, if you’re willing to shop around for DDR5, storage, and a Windows key, go for the Barebones version and install them yourself. You’ll literally save yourself hundreds.

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