HTPC Credentials

The higher TDP of the processor in Skull Canyon, combined with the new chassis design, makes the unit end up with a bit more noise compared to the traditional NUCs. It would be tempting to say that the extra EUs in the Iris Pro Graphics 580, combined with the eDRAM, would make GPU-intensive renderers such as madVR operate more effectively. That could be a bit true in part (though, madVR now has a DXVA2 option for certain scaling operations), but, the GPU still doesn't have full HEVC 10b decoding, or stable drivers for HEVC decoding on WIndows 10. In any case, it is still worthwhile to evaluate basic HTPC capabilities of the Skull Canyon NUC6i7KYK.

Refresh Rate Accurancy

Starting with Haswell, Intel, AMD and NVIDIA have been on par with respect to display refresh rate accuracy. The most important refresh rate for videophiles is obviously 23.976 Hz (the 23 Hz setting). As expected, the Intel NUC6i7KYK (Skull Canyon) has no trouble with refreshing the display appropriately in this setting.

The gallery below presents some of the other refresh rates that we tested out. The first statistic in madVR's OSD indicates the display refresh rate.

Network Streaming Efficiency

Evaluation of OTT playback efficiency was done by playing back our standard YouTube test stream and five minutes from our standard Netflix test title. Using HTML5, the YouTube stream plays back a 1080p H.264 encoding. Since YouTube now defaults to HTML5 for video playback, we have stopped evaluating Adobe Flash acceleration. Note that only NVIDIA exposes GPU and VPU loads separately. Both Intel and AMD bundle the decoder load along with the GPU load. The following two graphs show the power consumption at the wall for playback of the HTML5 stream in Mozilla Firefox (v 46.0.1).

YouTube Streaming - HTML5: Power Consumption

GPU load was around 13.71% for the YouTube HTML5 stream and 0.02% for the steady state 6 Mbps Netflix streaming case. The power consumption of the GPU block was reported to be 0.71W for the YouTube HTML5 stream and 0.13W for Netflix.

Netflix streaming evaluation was done using the Windows 10 Netflix app. Manual stream selection is available (Ctrl-Alt-Shift-S) and debug information / statistics can also be viewed (Ctrl-Alt-Shift-D). Statistics collected for the YouTube streaming experiment were also collected here.

Netflix Streaming - Windows 8.1 Metro App: Power Consumption

Decoding and Rendering Benchmarks

In order to evaluate local file playback, we concentrate on EVR-CP, madVR and Kodi. We already know that EVR works quite well even with the Intel IGP for our test streams. Under madVR, we used the DXVA2 scaling logic (as Intel's fixed-function scaling logic triggered via DXVA2 APIs is known to be quite effective). We used MPC-HC 1.7.10 x86 with LAV Filters 0.68.1 set as preferred in the options. In the second part, we used madVR 0.90.19.

In our earlier reviews, we focused on presenting the GPU loading and power consumption at the wall in a table (with problematic streams in bold). Starting with the Broadwell NUC review, we decided to represent the GPU load and power consumption in a graph with dual Y-axes. Nine different test streams of 90 seconds each were played back with a gap of 30 seconds between each of them. The characteristics of each stream are annotated at the bottom of the graph. Note that the GPU usage is graphed in red and needs to be considered against the left axis, while the at-wall power consumption is graphed in green and needs to be considered against the right axis.

Frame drops are evident whenever the GPU load consistently stays above the 85 - 90% mark. We did not hit that case with any of our test streams. Note that we have not moved to 4K officially for our HTPC evaluation. We did check out that HEVC 8b decoding works well (even 4Kp60 had no issues), but HEVC 10b hybrid decoding was a bit of a mess - some clips worked OK with heavy CPU usage, while other clips tended to result in a black screen (those clips didn't have any issues with playback using a GTX 1080).

Moving on to the codec support, the Intel Iris Pro Graphics 580 is a known quantity with respect to the scope of supported hardware accelerated codecs. DXVA Checker serves as a confirmation for the features available in driver version 15.40.23.4444.

It must be remembered that the HEVC_VLD_Main10 DXVA profile noted above utilizes hybrid decoding with both CPU and GPU resources getting taxed.

On a generic note, while playing back 4K videos on a 1080p display, I noted that madVR with DXVA2 scaling was more power-efficient compared to using the EVR-CP renderer that MPC-HC uses by default.

Networking and Storage Performance Power Consumption and Thermal Performance
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  • Ratman6161 - Tuesday, May 24, 2016 - link

    True, but for the uses this machine would be well suited for, the i7 CPU is way overkill. Grandma and Grandpa would be well served by an i3 Reply
  • jwcalla - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    "What is the expected market for this?"

    There is none. Especially at that price.
    Reply
  • JoeyJoJo123 - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    I'd agree that it is overpriced by a fair margin, particularly compared to other mini-PCs on the market. Yeah, it does have the best CPU package amongst them, but you'd expect that to be mated with a good GPU solution as well. Given that the GPU solution is awful once it's fully configured (at a retail price of ~$1000 all together), there isn't much of a value.

    If it had two LAN ports, it'd have the niche of being a great PfSense or router box.
    Reply
  • jecs - Tuesday, May 24, 2016 - link

    I think this machine is great, not perfect or ideal, for light to medium graphic design work including web graphics. It is fast enough, small, look nice, once configured most designers won't open the machine ever, it can be used with an entry level profesional monitor, plug an external hard drive and add a great keyboard and mouse. It is not for me anyway, but I appreciate this initiative as in the future it may become powerful enough for more demanding work. If I can dream I wish it could have dual mobile high-end graphics and at least 32 gigs of memory, even if it gets bigger. With faster thunderbolt may be a hit. I will keep an eye on this form factor. Reply
  • FMinus - Sunday, August 07, 2016 - link

    I've actually visited a cartoon animation studio the other year, of which 80% was running on Intel NUCs, think it was i5, and everyone had hooked a Wacom Cintiq to it and they worked like little bees, without much issues. They had more powerful machines for more demanding tasks and a render farm in the back, but most work was done on these little boxes.

    The reality is, if you're not playing video games, you really don't need a dedicated GPU for the majority tasks you do on a PC. That being said, this skull canyon part is interesting, yet overpriced in my opinion to really pick up.
    Reply
  • oasisfeng - Tuesday, May 24, 2016 - link

    I am buying this as a portable computer for software development, which can be put into pocket to be carried between office and home. I don't like laptop for software development due to constrained keyboard and display. Reply
  • BurntMyBacon - Tuesday, May 24, 2016 - link

    Is there a reason you can't use the same display/keyboard you are using for the NUC on a laptop and at least get the benefit of a built in UPS? You'd also have a display and keyboard and the ability to run off the wall should you ever have an emergency, but I do understand your desire for a better keyboard/display. I feel its a bit too expensive for me, but I can still see some viable uses and you seem to have one. In any case, if you decide to get it, let us know how it works out for you. Reply
  • Gadgety - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    Looks impressive for such a small integrated GPU package. Perhaps it's too early though as the GPU still doesn't have full HEVC 10b decoding for HTPC. Doesn't AMD's Carrizo, and upcoming Bristol Ridge sport this? Reply
  • monstercameron - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    Carrizo only supports 8bit hevc, stoneyridge allegedly supports 10bit. Reply
  • Texag2010 - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    Can you please add the Intel D54250WYKH nuc as an option to the comparative PC configuration? For people who are upgrading from the best nuc available back in the day... Reply

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