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Intel Skull Canyon NUC NUC6i7KYK Mini PC Review

By: Steven Bassiri | SFF PCs in Computer Systems | Posted: Jun 8, 2016 1:15 pm
TweakTown Rating: 93%Manufacturer: Intel

Here are key points about the NUC6i7KYK.

 

What's Hot

 

This is the fastest NUC: The NUC6i7KYK is the fastest NUC form factor PC I have ever tested, and I have tested many. Nothing I have tested in the sub 1-liter category has even come close in terms of raw CPU horsepower or even integrated graphics power, and that is because they all use dual-core processors with lower TDPs.

 

 

Iris Pro 580 with eDRAM and dedicated 4K Units: With the 128MB eDRAM not used as L4 cache, but rather part of system memory, overall GPU memory bandwidth has been increased. Intel's Skylake processors also support RAW 4K through fixed function 4K units in the iGPU. The new iGPU is designed to support real-time 4K applications. New codec support includes HEVC decode with MFX (4K60P at 240Mbps), HEVC 10-bit decode, HEVC encode (4K30P and 60P), and VP8 and JPEG encode support. All of this means that with the Iris Pro 580 the 6770HQ can handle 4K video, and it can support up to three 4K displays through the HDMI 2.0 port, DP 1.2 Port, and the Thunderbolt 3 (to DisplayPort) port simultaneously.

 

Underlying Workstation/Business Features: The NUC6i7KYK forgoes the typical i219v found on many Z170 motherboards for the i129LM, which is a workstation class PHY. For proper magnetic coupling of the RJ-45 Ethernet jack a magnetics module is used and provides IEEE 802.3ab compliance, allowing the unit to connect to a wider variety of networks. When a Kensington lock is attached to the unit, you cannot easily access the BIOS security jumper. The BIOS security jumper, when put into the non-default position, will not only lock out access to the BIOS, but it will also lock users out from accessing the power button menu (which is the only external way to reset system settings). Apart from the obvious extra non-skull lid, it's obvious Intel did have more than just home users in mind when designing the unit.

 

Damn Quiet: Intel stated that they worked hard to improve the noise levels of this NUC. I have personally experienced the howls of all types of PCs when I play games, render 4K video, or even in some cases play 4K video, but the NUC6i7KYK doesn't howl nor does it roar. The noise the unit makes is very low compared to its size and horsepower, and this is due to the way Intel took their 0.7L requirement and designed a device to optimize cooling rather than stick to a cube form factor. Of course, the exhaust gets very hot, and if you apply crazy amounts of load, the SoC will throttle, but even the units that roar will throttle under the same scenarios (IBT + Furmark at the same time). You can change the fan operation and make the unit roar, but it won't out of the box.

 

You Can Scratch That Itch: Let's say I am traveling or at work and I really have to play some GTA:V, and I don't care about maintaining the ultra-high graphics levels my SLI GTX 980 rig provides, then the NUC6i7KYK might work out. I would say that in most cases this is possible, at least with older titles that are more heavily CPU bound. I was able to play GTA:V with enough FPS that it was playable. I even let others try it out, and they were impressed by the playability of such a tiny device.

 

Dual M.2 and DDR4 SO-DIMMs: I would have never expected to find an NUC with dual M.2 slots each supporting 32Gb/s with RAID capabilities, but the NUC6i7KYK provides it along with a proper design that allows your drives to run cool. There are many Z170 motherboards without this capability. While DDR4 latencies are usually higher than DDR3, there are power savings benefits along with higher density kits in the DDR4 arena. A quick search of Newegg will result in many affordable two-stick 32GB DDR4 SO-DIMM kits, but there are only a few two-stick 32GB DDR3 SO-DIMM kits, and they cost almost double that of their DDR4 counterparts.

 

What's Not

 

It's definitely not a Gaming PC Replacement: Let's be honest, if you were expecting the NUC6i7KYK to outperform a real gaming rig (I am talking GTX 960 and above) then I really don't know what to tell you, I mean, the PCB in this thing is smaller than that of most small dedicated GPUs. The integrated graphics in the 6770HQ are state of the art, but integrated graphics have yet to get to the level of a mid-ranged dedicated GPU, but progress is being made.

 

It Isn't Cheap: Any device that carries Intel's top-tier Iris Pro graphics (in this case the Gen9 Iris Pro 580 GT4/e), and Thunderbolt 3 will cost you a pretty penny, and the NUC6i7KYK is no exception. What makes the unit, and other NUCs, expensive is the fact that you still need to source RAM, storage, and an OS.

 

The Power Brick is Big: The AC/DC PSU on this device, and most NUCs is external. If you are going to carry the device around you will also need to consider the size and weight of the power brick.

 

 

Final Thoughts

 

The NUC6i7KYK is a niche device. It's designed to not only be a decent desktop replacement for those who might need extra horsepower in an elegant form factor in a constrained space, but also those who might need to take advantage of its portability. I can toss it into my bag and hook it up to one of the many monitors and TVs in the world we live in. With its wireless display technology, you can even stream to a TV when a long enough cable isn't available. The only real competitor to this NUC regarding gaming or raw CPU horsepower was the ASRock VisionX 471D, which is not only more expensive than a fully configured NUC6i7KYK, but also almost four times its volume and still uses a comparable external AC/DC adapter.

 

intel-skull-canyon-nuc-nuc6i7kyk-mini-pc-review_76

 

The NUC6i7KYK's ability to handle 4K video is impressive; not only is the CPU/iGPU combo able to handle it, but the storage system of the device is perfect for quick work. When I go to play back video I just recorded on a PC older than two years, the video not only stutters causing me to believe the shot I captured was bad, but the PC usually roars as if I am torturing it. That isn't the case with the NUC6i7KYK; playback was smooth, and it could render video without crashing.

 

Gaming was possible, but obviously not preferable to a real gaming PC. What we forget as a community is that the worldwide PC gaming community is not only about AAA titles and dedicated video cards, in fact, many people play their games on their CPU's integrated graphics. For those people, this could be an upgrade, but for the rest of us, it's just the basics (which also has its place in the ecosystem). When I was working with the NUC6i7KYK, I would often freak out when I glanced over and realized I was working on an NUC and not a full-fledged desktop.

 

The NUC6i7KYK really does change the game for the NUC; it brings cutting edge desktop-class features to the NUC, adding a new genre to the NUC library.

Product Summary Breakdown

TweakTown award
Performance93%
Quality including Design and Build95%
General Features98%
Bundle and Packaging90%
Value for Money87%
Overall TweakTown Rating93%

The Bottom Line: Not only is the NUC6i7KYK the fastest NUC Intel has to offer, it's also loaded with a myriad of features such as Thunderbolt 3, 4K capabilities, and the ability to RAID the fastest M.2 SSDs.

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