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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  • CajunArson - Friday, March 11, 2016 - link

    Keep in mind that the older i7 NUC is a 28 watt TDP part with a 3.1GHz *base* clock (turbo to 3.4GHz) while this is a 15 watt part with only a 2.9GHz *turbo* maximum clock. It seems to beat the older i5 Broadwell at CPU benchmarks too. Reply
  • MattMe - Friday, March 11, 2016 - link

    I've been buying NUCs for desktop replacements at work now for the last year. We have around 40 Broadwell units and so far around 20 Skylake units.
    I've never experienced any of the issues mentioned in this article, so it's a shame to have what I see as excellent SFF PCs receive a poor review based on that. Understandable, of course.

    The only issues we have experienced is the power supplies which are universal, interchangeable plug units. We have had 5 or 6 that have started buzzing and crackling due to arcing on the contact points. A little persuasion with a screwdriver fixes it, but they really let the whole thing down in my opinion.

    Otherwise the performance, price, low power and near-silent operation make them perfect office PCs for all except power users and devs. Mounted on the supplied VESA bracket behind the monitor saves a lot of space too. You can set the BIOS to allow power on USB so the users simply press a keyboard key or move the mouse to switch it on in the morning. Perfect.
    Reply
  • Zingam - Sunday, March 13, 2016 - link

    What type of work is your business? Text editing? Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Monday, March 14, 2016 - link

    Text editors, powerpoints, excel spreadsheets, web apps, all sorts of stuff business does runs wonderfully on NUCs.

    We've started using them to drive our POS systems, and our AV systems that broadcast to TVs in our buildings. They work quite well.
    Reply
  • 8steve8 - Friday, March 11, 2016 - link

    No idea why they keep pushing NUCs with 15W cpus, excessively low power for a non-mobile system.

    the 45W CPU skull canyon is exciting, when should we expect this to launch?
    Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Friday, March 11, 2016 - link

    ...because people buy them? People want them?

    (I'm sitting in front of one now)
    Reply
  • Valantar - Friday, March 11, 2016 - link

    If what you want is the tiny NUC form factor, then 15W seems to be spot on. Anything higer would require a very noticeable size increase to help with cooling - unless you're willing to increase noise dramatically, which ... no.

    Is >30W in a NUC-ish form factor doable, and with low enough noise? Absolutely. Skull Canyon will be intriguing. But it will also undoubtedly be quite a bit larger than the standard NUCs.
    Reply
  • 8steve8 - Friday, March 11, 2016 - link

    yes it would have to be noticeably larger, but still tiny. 45W is a better sweetspot IMO for this kind of SFF PC... and please for skull canyon... please use a regular CPU cooler, and not a noisy blower like gigabyte tried with their brixxx. Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Monday, March 14, 2016 - link

    It will most likely still be a blower, since the case will most likely be too small for a typical cooler, which needs more space and a different design than what the NUCs use.

    That being said, intel does a much better job with their blower coolers then gigabyte does.
    Reply
  • 8steve8 - Monday, March 14, 2016 - link

    the intel retail HSF that comes with 65W CPUs is pretty small, yes taller than the NUC blowers, but only by like an inch... no bigger in other dims.

    Intel may do better than gigabyte with blowers, but gigabyte tried to cool a 65W cpu with a blower, intel is only trying on 5,15 or 28w CPUs... it's easy to be quiet when you are dealing with 15W vs 65W
    Reply

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