Final Words

The Intel NUC6i5SYK has been in the market since late last year, and we were really excited to finally receive a review sample last month. The NUCs have become one of the most promising desktop PC segments for Intel, and Skylake definitely has the necessary features to drive up the performance per watt metric. With full PCIe 3.0 x4 capability for the M.2 SSD and cutting-edge DDR4 support, the Skylake NUC has piqued the interest of the enthusiasts too. Getting more of the good things out of the way - the Skylake-U platform (Sunrise Point-LP chipset) also brings support for SDXC 3.0, enabling a dedicated UHS-I SDXC card reader slot in the Skylake NUC. The full-sized HDMI port addresses one of the major complaints we have had about the NUCs up to now. We are quite happy with the evolutionary updates made in the Skylake NUC.

The thermal design continues to be good, and the default BIOS configuration ensures that the Core i5-6260U can sustain higher operational power levels than what is suggested by its TDP of 15W. This is particularly interesting, since the processor doesn't officially have a configurable higher TDP. The Skylake GPU has also shown tremendous improvement compared to Broadwell and previous generations, and this is evident in the 3D benchmarks. The NUC6i5SYK also sports an Iris GPU with 64MB of eDRAM that helps improve performance for various workloads.

The pricing ($386 on Amazon for the barebones version) is also very reasonable for the performance numbers. With DDR4 SODIMM prices on the way down, and a Samsung 950 Pro 256 GB costing around $180, it is possible to complete the build for less than $650.

Unfortunately, at the business end of the review, we have to say that the Skylake NUC6i5SYK is not ready for prime time yet. In our evaluation process, we encountered two showstopper issues, one of which ended up in our first review sample getting bricked. In Intel's defense, they were already aware of the issues prior to our report.

  • Compatibility issues with SODIMMs using Hynix memory modules that might make installing Windows impossible and even BIOS flashing fraught with risk
  • OS lockup under certain GPU loading scenarios

BIOS version 0036 has a fix for the first problem problem, but the default settings in that BIOS are still incompatible with SODIMMs using Hynix memory modules. The latest GPU driver downloaded from Intel's site resolves the second issue. However, the nagging problem with the AC8260 WLAN adapter (occassionally missing 5 GHz SSIDs) still remains.

Other minor drawbacks (applicable to Skylake as a whole) include the absence of full hardware acceleration for HEVC Main10 decode as well as the absence of HDMI 2.0a / HDCP 2.2 support. Even though the hardware is quite powerful, these two aspects prevent us from recommending it as a primary HTPC. Broadwell NUCs are more mature and can provide very similar HTPC functionality at a lower price point.

Overall, our experience with the NUC6i5SYK was not what we have come to expect from a typical Intel product. Unless one wants to be an adventurous beta tester, we would suggest waiting for Intel to resolve all pending issues with the Skylake NUC before contemplating a purchase. Hopefully, the Iris Pro-equipped Skull Canyon NUC (with Thunderbolt 3 integrated) will fare better when it comes to the market.

Update (May 17, 2016): Intel has been releasing BIOS updates regularly since this review was posted. From the review changelog and follow-up testing, it appears that BIOS v0044 has resolved almost all of the issues that we have complained about in this review.

 

Power Consumption and Thermal Performance
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  • Spunjji - Saturday, March 12, 2016 - link

    I vote you leave the conversation Reply
  • dsumanik - Saturday, March 12, 2016 - link

    vote denied. Reply
  • patrickjp93 - Friday, March 11, 2016 - link

    Nope, with Skylake Iris = 64MB of eDRAM. Iris Pro = 128MB of eDRAM. You're thinking of Broadwell. Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Friday, March 11, 2016 - link

    I have the NUC615SYH model in front of me now with the following:
    -HyperX Impact 16 GB 2400 MHz
    -Samsung 250GB 850 EVO M.2
    -Samsung 850 500GB evo 2.5"

    All okay, updated to the latest firmward, installed Win10 fine BUT, as is often the case, the auto-driver facility from Intel fails to install a few drivers. You have to manually download and install.

    Issues? Yes... The ethernet connection states that there's no internet connection despite being able to get onto the net. No other driver to try at this point in time so I'm using a USB nic.

    All in all not bad.
    Reply
  • blahsaysblah - Friday, March 11, 2016 - link

    NUC5i7RYH
    - G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 16GB (2 x 8G) 204-Pin DDR3 SO-DIMM DDR3 1866 (PC3 14900)
    - Micron M510 M.2 128GB SATA III Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)
    - Intel X25M G2 80GB :)

    Except for updating BIOS, do NOT install any drivers from Intel. You will get random crashes and issues. Only use what Windows Update gives. Has been rock solid once i did a clean install. Intel's Update tool was broken several months back too. Very surprising that it could not install drivers on a NUC.

    From reading the benchmarks, the new 6i5 is a just because release. Unless you really want card reader, but you need a HUB to attack K,M, printer,.. anyway...

    I wish they'd gone another direction.

    It would be nicer if there was a plain office/developer and non HTPC version. Strip out all the radios, SDXC, HDMI,...
    Just
    - TPM,
    - Lan(dual for VMs would be great),
    - DP(1.3 chaining is fine, soon enough real 39"-44" 4k monitors will allow one monitor setups),
    - USB (2 USB 2.0: KB,M; 4 USB 3.0: Webcam, printer, UPS, spare; 2 USB 3.0 front: spare, dedicated cellphone charger)
    - combined headphone/mic
    - 2x M.2 slots. Boot and data. Able to do backups internally. Also for VMs. Running Hyper-V VMs on mine is super smooth.
    - the 2.5" drive option is really out of place/ancient. Without it, the bottom plate could be vented instead of sides.
    - The removal of radios would allow the cooling solution to be almost doubled in size. I personally have the plastic top removed to allow better cooling.

    A non HTPC, office/developer oriented NUC.
    Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Friday, March 11, 2016 - link

    2.5" isnt out of place until M.2 can actually catch up. M.2 is still limited to 512GB drives, and a 512GB m.2 cost more than a 1TB 2.5" SSD. And M.2 runs much hotter than 2.5" Reply
  • blahsaysblah - Friday, March 11, 2016 - link

    Having the 5i7 in hand and using it for about 4 months now, the 2.5" is out of place in it. It interferes with cooling of everything on underside. It adds almost 3/4" height to the NUC where it was only 4.53" x 4.37" x 1.26" to begin with.

    Besides a vented bottom plate allowing the RAM, M.2(air flow is all they need) and other chips much better cooling its really the size issue.

    I am running VMs on it with no issue. Taking a tiny NUC with you is much better than a laptop. For all the non-email jobs that require larger display and real keyboard. Again, saying a second non-HTPC line, the HTPC version can be used by folks just doing email.

    The 5i7 was only offered in the larger format. I would not have gotten it given a choice. Hibernate, put in pocket. That 3/4" makes huge difference in usability.

    Just a different point of view. For developers, engineers you need two internal drives and two M.2 drives are just fine.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Sunday, March 13, 2016 - link

    As someone who uses a lot of VMs, I don't see how this is better than a laptop. Needing power, keyboard, mouse, and a monitor any time you need to use it doesn't sound convenient. I'm the opposite extreme, using a 17" laptop and 1.2TB of SSD space - but it's great for running software development VMs anywhere I need it, and I dock it to a 24" monitor in the office. Reply
  • bsly1314 - Monday, March 14, 2016 - link

    +1. Furthermore, there seems no enough space to include power-loss protection in M.2 SSD. PLP is important for NUC which, unlike laptops, has no battery to act as backup. I live in third world where the electricity fails about once in a month... Reply
  • watzupken - Friday, March 11, 2016 - link

    The real star of the Skylake is the GPU. CPU wise, its not much faster than Broadwell. And quite disappointed in areas where performance actually regress. Reply

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