Intel’s Next Unit of Computing (NUC) mini desktop computers have been around for a while, since 2013 to be precise, when Sandy Bridge Celeron processors were the in-thing. Over time, we’ve seen them grow into bigger systems in terms of performance, connectivity, and even size of the latest NUCs. The latest release in that line is the Intel NUC Kit NUC6i7KYK Mini PC, that only shares two aspects with its dual-core, square-brick siblings: a definite naming structure and ultra-compact design for a PC that can do some serious work.
Otherwise, it cuts a different path for itself with a beefy quad-core processor paired with top-of-the line integrated graphics stuffed into a tiny PC. It dethrones the Intel NUC5i7RYH, making it a powerful home theater box that can even play most AAA games for consumers and an ideal digital signage solution for businesses.
Design and Features
For starters, the NUC6i7KYK veers off the path taken by the rest of Intel’s signature line of miniature computers. The previous models were square-brick shaped, but this one is very different. It is flat and long, clad in a shaded black and gray chassis, with a huge skull emblazoned on the lid. Wondering why it uses the codename “Skull Canyon?”–take a long look at the lid. It measures 1.4 by 4.6 by 8.3 inches and weighs in at around 3.3 pounds. The new form factor looks sleek and is resilient enough to withstand destruction–better than its square-brick siblings.
On the tiny PC, you get three standard USB 3.0, one charging USB 3.0, a SDXC slot, gigabit Ethernet, a 3.5mm headset jack a combo rear speaker/TOSLINK jack, a Kensington lock slot, mini DisplayPort 1.2, and HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2 support, which resonates with the ability to play copy-protected 4K content on supported displays. On the front on the system is an infrared receiver, which adds up to the connectivity features on this system.
To that, add a USB-C port that supports Thunderbolt 3 and 100Gbps USB 3.1, as well as DisplayPort 1.2 alongside Intel’s dual-band Wireless-AC 8260 (IEEE 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2 and Wireless Display 6.0 support). Having Thunderbolt 3 support is a rarity in these region, and its inclusion gives Intel the right to bill the NUC6i7KYK as a gaming machine.
Assembly and Performance
As with the previous NUCs, there isn’t much to assemble with the NUC6i7KYK. Once the base is removed, you can easily install the memory modules and PCIe cards. Also, you can install the half-height Wi-Fi card then connect the antenna leads to the card as they are held in place by a screw.
For this bare-bones, you get a 2.6GHz Core i7-6770HQ quad-core Skylake processor that can clock 3.5GHz, Iris Pro Graphics 580 with 128MB of eDRAM, alongside an exciting package of top-notch hardware. Two M.2 slots support SATA 6Gbps and x4 PCIe Gen 3 (AHCI or NVMe) drives in either a 42mm or 80mm length, with the option to run two drives in RAID 0 or RAID 1.
Its two SO-DIMM sockets can take up to 32GB of DDR4/2133MHz RAM, and sometimes you can do with overclocked DDR4 RAM. headers are accessible underneath the user-replaceable lid for NFC, two USB 2.0 ports, and two USB 3.0 ports. Just like the other NUCs, you can use plans provided by Intel to design a custom lid and simply make use of the available connectors.
The Core i7-6770HQ quad-core Skylake processor, ample system memory and 256 SSD storage deliver solid performance on most tasks, may it be media encoding, day-to-day computing, 4K entertainment and some gaming. Intel has billed this machine as a mini-PC designed for gamers, but I’m a bit hesitant to classify it as such.
It is the first NUC the company has touted this way, while approaching it on two fronts: superior integrated graphics on one hand, and a middling promise of using an external video card over Thunderbolt 3 on the other. Position it on the premise of mini-PC gaming is a curious gamble. Take for instance, gamers with full-fledged gamers will not come close to abandoning their rigs for a system whose size greatly compromises performance. Even folks who are curious on upgrading from humble-featured gaming desktops will be giving up a lot.
Simply put, if you’re in the market for a system with a dedicated graphics card (be it an Nvidia GTX 750 Ti or an AMD Radeon Fury X), the Skull Canyon NUC might not be any close to your short list. If you’re in that group, it means that you aren’t the right person for this mini-PC, and it is just sad that Intel didn’t narrow the focus to avoid the confusion. Intel might be looking at better performance after buying a Thunderbolt 3 cabinet, installing a discrete graphics card, then pairing the complete unit into your Skull Canyon NUC. If you do that, you’ll be able to play the latest titles at 1080/60fps on Ultra settings. The caveat here is that Thunderbolt 3 cabinets are slowly trickling, I’m eager to see how the NUC would perform with an external card.
In the meantime, the NUC6i7KYK makes sense as a gaming PC for folks who don’t bother about mind-blowing frame rates or looks. Instead, all they want is a portable workstation or a high-end, compact PC that can occasionally run fairly recent AAA titles at 1080p. In this context, I mean “run” in the premise of 30fps and above, which in any case is playable though not all that fast. For most enthusiast-level gamers, this should be just OK. For instance, if you don’t mind framerates like 35,.13fps in Shadow of Mordor or 50.79 in GTA 5, this is a machine of choice for you.
Otherwise, away from gaming this mini-PC is impressively powerful. The only area that most people don’t understand about gaming in such a small PC is that you can never build a gaming rig this small. Been building my own gaming desktops for as a while, but I can’t argue that you can build a full desktop or buy a laptop that includes a display, keyboard, and trackpad for the same budget. And, you can tuck a full desktop into the front pouch of your college backpack, and for the ones I have built previously, the can’t weigh anything close to 1 pound, 5.8 ounces.
That said, this machine brisks through office tasks like spreadsheet entry, word processing, and video chatting without stutters. Yes, these tasks aren’t very challenging, systems with less powerful CPUs can manage decent performance, but the NUC adds some power when you get into multitasking and intensive tasks like video editing. This tiny computer can be realistically used for content creation as well. On the downside, though, power consumption and how loud the NUC can get are things you need to look out for, but they aren’t even that bad afterall.
If the Intel NUC Kit NUC6i7KYK is a signal –by any chance– of where Intel intends to push the miniature form factor, then mini-PC enthusiasts are in for some very bright days ahead. Even though I personally have reservations of categorizing this machine as a gaming PC, its performance is nothing short of excellent across the board. I’m even impressed by the thoughts of what the next Core i7 NUC would do, and if the same pace is maintained, it would be a nice time to buy a mini-PC. Although Intel haven’t hinted at producing a successor, maybe the sales from this unit will guide that decision.
As it stands, we’re likely to see the competition push them into designing a successor, especially if rivals like Gigabyte decide to update its NUC-like Brix Pro with Kaby Lake processors. Even with such, it will be a trade-off rather than an upgrade in performance, as it will be hard to match the Iris Pro Graphics in this Skull Canyon NUC.
This Skylake Core i7 NUC, on the other hand, comes with very few compromises and trade-offs. Deciding to pay top-dollar for a fantastic computer is always an easy decision, and that’s exactly the situation here.
Intel NUC Kit NUC6i7KYK
The Intel NUC Kit NUC6i7KYK is completely revamped and rivals might have a hard time chasing it for a very long time. It raises the bar in the mini-PC category with Intel Core i7 processor and Iris Pro Graphics, completely changing the things a tiny PC can do including content creation and 1080p gaming.
- Can seamless perform content-creation without hurdles
- Iris Pro Graphics 580 suffice for 1080p on most recent games
- Sports a bunch of high-end hardware and features
- The plastic design feels less sturdy than older NUCs that had aluminum