Intel NUC 12 Pro review

Intel used to be the king of mini PCs, but is it still?

Intel NUC 12 Pro on desk next to monitor
(Image: © Intel)

Tom's Guide Verdict

Intel kicked off the mini PC game, but the NUC 12 Pro shows that it has lost a lot of its lead. It’s still an incredibly good machine with tons of 12th Gen power and an excellent port selection, but it’s just a bit pricey compared to other options.


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    Packs a ton of horsepower

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    Stays quiet under most conditions

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    Great port selection

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    Upgradeable RAM and storage


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    Subpar value vs. the competition

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Intel NUC 12: Specs

Price: Starts at $449
CPU: i3-1220P, i5-1240P, i7-1260P
Storage: Up to 2TB PCIe Gen 4
Ports: 3 x USB-A 3.2, 2 x USB-C Thunderbolt 4, 1 x USB-A 2.0, 2.5Gb Ethernet
Size: 4.6 x 4.4 x 1.3 inches (117 x 112 x 33 mm)

The NUC 12 Pro proves that times change. Intel once held the crown for putting out some of the best mini Windows PCs. Of course, Apple has long had the Mac Mini line to keep things moving, but Intel helped popularize the concept for Windows (and Linux) machines.

Don’t get me wrong, the NUC 12 Pro is an excellent machine with plenty of power for most office and home settings. The 12th-generation Intel CPU surpassed my expectations and I’ve had a blast using this mini PC.

However, as good as the NUC 12 Pro is, I can’t recommend it simply because there are better value options out there. As you’ll see in this NUC 12 Pro review, Intel has lost its lead, at least when it comes to the best mini PCs for anything but gaming.

Intel NUC 12 Pro review: Price and availability

The NUC 12 Pro comes in three CPU options: i3-1220P, i5-1240P, and i7-1260P. You can get it barebones without storage or RAM, or find it with 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB of RAM. Storage options go from 512GB to 1TB and 2TB.

The unit I received comes with the i7-1260P, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage, which costs $969 on Amazon

As for competition, the NUC 12 Pro faces a steep hill to climb. The new Mac Mini M2 is a monster for $699, easily beating Intel as you’ll see below. For Windows machines, I haven’t tested any other 12th Gen units, but the Geekom Mini IT11 sports some great performance for the money.

Intel NUC 12 Pro review: Design

I can describe the NUC 12 Pro in a single word: spartan. A simple black cuboid, this mini PC sports no branding or special flair. It’s a professional-looking machine not meant to draw any attention. Only the power button on the front lights up.

Intel NUC 12 Pro outside on table

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Looking head on at the NUC 12 Pro, nothing stands out. Two vents line either side, where the NUC exhausts most of its heat. It’s on the back where things get pretty busy with a large selection of ports. Four rubber feet on the bottom prop it up off your desk. You can also VESA mount it to a monitor.

Intel NUC 12 Pro outside on table

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

One of my favorite features is the matte black top. Glossy lids attract fingerprints and dust, but the NUC 12 Pro goes for a stealthier look.

Intel NUC 12 Pro review: Ports and upgradeability

The NUC 12 Pro comes stacked with ports, including two Thunderbolt 4 jacks. The front houses dual USB-A 3.2 ports and the combo audio jack. Along the back are the two Thunderbolt 4, dual HDMI, 2.5 gigabit Ethernet, another USB-A 3.2, and a USB-A 2.0.

Intel NUC 12 Pro outside on table

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Intel offers a barebones variant of the NUC 12 Pro, where you provide your own storage and RAM. This PC can support up to 64GB of SODIMM DDR4 memory and a 2TB Gen 4 NVMe SSD. Intel also mentioned a version that supports a 2.5-inch drive.

So you can save some money on a barebones model and likely get storage and RAM cheaper than what Intel offers for the upgrade. The NUC 12 Pro is far from unique in this regard, but I am glad to see Intel offer people the option to adjust the RAM and storage to their needs.

Intel NUC 12 Pro review: Performance

Intel’s 12th Gen processors really knock it out of the park for performance, and the NUC 12 Pro enjoys all of the benefits of that. I received the i7-1260P variant, which is currently the most powerful option available.

That’s a 12-core, 16-thread chip with eight efficiency cores and four performance cores. This helps the CPU be more efficient with its resources, only ramping up the performance cores when the system needs it.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Row 0 - Cell 0 NUC 12 ProMac Mini M2
Geekbench 5 (single-core / multicore)1,739 / 9,7041,957 / 15,038
25GB file copy718.4 MBpsN/A
Handbrake (Mins:Secs)6:314:26
3DMark NIght Raid16,751N/A
3DMark Fire Strike4,540N/A
3DMark Time Spy1,830N/A
Civilization VI (FPS)24 (1080p) / 12 (4K)50 (1080p) / 44 (4K)

The NUC 12 Pro has some impressive performance, but not nearly on the level of the Mac Mini M2. For reference, that costs $599 to start, quite a bit less than the $969 configuration I have here. 

In Geekbench 5, for example, the Mac Mini enjoys a substantial lead in multicore performance. Gaming performance in Civilization VI is also significantly better with double the framerate at 1080p — and even more at 4K. We’ve written about the rapidly improving gaming capabilities of macOS already, with my colleague Roland Moore-Colyer coming away impressed with how his MacBook Air M2 handled games.

For Windows PCs, the NUC 12 Pro does pretty well, but Ryzen 6000 machines have already hit the market — and Ryzen 7000 mini PCs have already started appearing. The NUC 12 Pro just doesn’t have a good price-to-performance ratio.

Intel NUC 12 Pro review: Software

The NUC 12 Pro ships with Windows 11 Pro and it’s a pretty standard affair. There’s the typical Windows 11 bloatware, but you can remove most of the Microsoft garbage easily enough with a script. I did that on one of my machines and I don’t regret it.

With 12th Gen power Windows 11 flies on the NUC 12 Pro. But as good as the performance is on the Microsoft side, the Linux side is another story altogether. I tried a few distributions and found each to be a great experience on this mini PC, especially Fedora and Manjaro. 

Intel NUC 12 Pro outside on table

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Windows or Linux, the NUC 12 Pro has the performance chops to equal a great user experience. This would also make a great little server if you wanted to dabble in homelab stuff. I think turning it into an HTPC would be a waste, especially since it doesn’t have a lot of gaming potential.

Intel NUC 12 Pro review: Verdict

I have trouble finding anything truly wrong with the NUC 12 Pro, other than the value proposition. The NUC 12 Pro isn’t cheap, unlike offerings from competitors like Geekom and Beelink. Even Apple has a better value with the base model Mac Mini (let alone the Mac Mini M2 Pro). 

Despite its excellence as a mini PC, I can’t recommend the NUC 12 Pro in light of its competition. In a vacuum, this would be an easy recommendation, but not when there are so many better options out there for the same, or less, money.

Jordan Palmer
Phones Editor

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He's written about phones for over six years and plans to continue for a long while to come. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. Jordan likes finding new things to dive into, from books and games to new mechanical keyboard switches and fun keycap sets. Outside of work, you can find him poring over open-source software and his studies.