GMKtec NucBox K3 Pro: 30-second review
To the casual observer, the GMK K3 Pro looks identical to the AMD K2 that was recently launched, as it uses the same neat enclosure.
All the changes here are internal, with the K3 Pro using a 12th-generation Alder Lake mobile CPU using Intel 7 fabrication. This processor first appeared in early 2021 and has since been superseded by better 13th-generation parts.
It offers a reasonably power-efficient ten-core CPU with six performance and four efficiency cores with a baseline power consumption of 45W, boosting to 115W in Turbo mode.
Therefore, considering the tiny NUC enclosure that it lives in, this is a reasonably powerful platform that, including DDR5 memory and NVMe storage, delivers a system that’s more powerful than a typical office desktop PC.
Even being so small, the K3 Pro still finds room for five USB ports, one of which is USB 4.0 specification, 2.5GbE LAN, dual HDMI, and a 3.5mm audio jack.
Physical connectivity is augmented further with WiFi6 and Bluetooth 5.2, but it doesn’t offer WiFi6E, unfortunately.
While memory is limited to the 24GB pre-installed, storage can be uprated, and GMKtec sells the K3 Pro as a barebones solution without an SSD for those wanting to source that part themselves. However, that model doesn’t come with a Windows license.
A more significant issue here is that at around $680 for the 1TB NVMe model, this machine is $100 more than the K2 equivalent, and that’s a more powerful machine than the K3 Pro.
GMKtec NucBox K3 Pro: Price and availability
How much does it cost? Starting from $640
When is it out? Available now
The GMKtec K3 Pro is slightly unusual because it comes with 24GB of pre-installed memory, even on its barebones option. The cheapest SKU is $640 directly from GMKtec, and that comes with zero storage and no Windows license accordingly.
Another $40 gets you that license and 1TB of NVMe storage, and the third option is 2TB of storage for a total price of $720.
But the 1TB option can be found on Amazon.com for $600.
That makes the ones with storage pre-installed better value, but that you can’t install memory is less compelling.
Compared with what other mini PC makers offer, this might seem expensive. Geekom has the Mini IT12, which uses the same processor but only DDR4 memory, and asks only $550 for the model with 32GB of RAM and 1TB of storage.
Alternatively, Beelink has the SER6 MAX that includes the Ryzen 9 6900HX processor, 32GB of RAM and 1TB of PCIe 4.0 NVMe storage for only $640.
In short, those looking for a powerful NUC will find AMD-powered machines offer more power for less money than this, even from GMK.
Value: 3 / 5
GMKtec NucBox K3 Pro: Specifications
GMKtec NucBox K3 Pro: Design
Hello K2 enclosure again
Externally, this is the same enclosure as the K2. It’s a well-considered design that has a cool-to-the-touch metal skin on the sides and plastic end caps on the top and bottom.
The lid is easily removable with a plastic spudger, and inside is access to the M.2 slot. There is only one slot, disappointingly. Therefore, any upgrades to the installation will require a USB to M.2 caddy to achieve.
Memory isn’t accessible, and we assume it is directly mounted to the board rather than socketed. The 24GB of LPDDR5 4800 MT/s is a slightly odd amount, but even if you can’t add more, that’s enough for most uses. Compared to the K2, the enclosure leaves the space occupied by the memory slots empty, which looks odd.
This enclosure has a layout where air is pulled from the sides and then vented at the rear below the I/O area. This layout is the reverse of what is normal, resulting in the ejected warm air warming the connected cables, but not to the degree that it might become an issue.
Overall, the K3 Pro is of the high engineering quality we’ve come to expect from GMKtec and substantially better than some of the cheaper plastic NUC designs we’ve seen from other brands.
Design: 4 / 5
GMKtec NucBox K3 Pro: Features
12h Gen Core i7
The problem with Intel 12th generation mobile parts is that the 13th that came later are noticeably better, which is interesting because these Alder Lake chips were a genuinely new product and not a refresh.
The processor in the K3 Pro is the i7-12650H, a CPU with a list price of $502 if you believe anything on the Intel website. This is a middle-order CPU from this generation and the first rung on the Core-i7 models, with the 12800H and 12700H above it. Both of its big brothers come with eight efficiency cores, but the 12650H only gets half of those. It’s also cut down in the number of Execution units the Iris Xe has, with only 64 of the typical 96 or 80.
What’s even more head-scratching is that the chip below this, the Core-i5 12500H, might only have four performance cores, two less than the 12650H, but it has all eight efficiency cores and 80 Execution Units on the GPU. In many tasks, this might make it faster, especially considering it also has faster base and turbo clock speeds.
The only prominent feature this chip has going for it is a 24MB Smart Cache that it shares with the high-end options, but in most respects, it has the distinct outline of a sheep in wolf’s clothing.
Where the processor gets a little help is that GMKtec did at least choose DDR5 memory. The additional bandwidth helps in processing tasks and enhances the GPU that shares the main memory.
It’s only 4800 MT/s DDR5, whereas AMD uses 5300 MT/s modules, and Apple has moved up to LPDDR-6400 on their M1 platform. Using DDR5 does provide a boost over 12th-gen silicon wired to DDR4, but it’s not enough to overcome some of the other deficiencies we’ve previously mentioned.
Installed in our review machine was a 1TB NVMe drive branded as a Vaseky V900. GMKtec states on its website that the K3 Pro comes with a PCIe 4.0 M.2 module, but the V900 is patently a PCIe 3.0 drive based on its label, and our benchmarks prove that.
The other notable aspect of this hardware is that it has a single USB 4.0 port that’s rated to support 40Gbps data transfers. There seems to be some confusion about whether USB 4.0 constitutes Thunderbolt 4.0, and the answer to that is probably ‘no’. But in our tests, it did work in the 40Gbps mode with some hybrid TB4/USB 4.0 devices, so depending on your situation, that might not matter.
Features: 4 / 5
GMKtec NucBox K3 Pro: Performance
Beaten by K2
Poor NVMe drive
Normally we’d present a machine in isolation, and if we did that then the K3 Pro looks like a decent system. However, in this context, we placed it against an alternative NUC from the same brand that uses the same enclosure.
In short, the K3 Pro managed to squeeze a few minor victories against its K2 brother but ultimately lost this war.
It is decidedly lacklustre in overall GPU performance since the 64 Execution Units aren’t a match for the Radeon 680M in the K2, or even close.
But the worst performance result is the Veseky V900, with a write speed of only 727MB/s, easily one of the slowest PCIe 3.0 NVMe drives we’ve ever tested.
If you buy one of these and it comes with one, clone it to a PCIe 4.0 part and bin the V900 pronto.
Given that the K2 is $100 cheaper, there isn’t any good reason why you would pick the K3 Pro over it unless you absolutely must have Intel hardware for some idiosyncratic reason.
Performance: 5 / 5
GMKtec NucBox K3 Pro: Verdict
The highlights of this design are that it is well-made and runs cleanly, and GMKtec didn’t get tempted by including much bloatware on its Windows 11 installation.
What is much less compelling is the relatively high cost for a machine that fails to better either the NucBox K2 model or the NucBox M2. These are cheaper machines, and the latter uses an Intel 11th Gen CPU and DDR4.
Looking deeper at the specifications, Intel did a particular number on the Core-i7 12650H when they limited its clock speed and kneecapped its Iris Xe GPU.
In short, there is no good argument for this machine over the K2 unless you’re obsessed with having Intel inside.
Should you buy a GMKtec NucBox K3 Pro?
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