Miscellaneous Aspects and Concluding Remarks

One of the more impressive aspects of the Skull Canyon NUC6i7KYK is the reappearance of Thunderbolt in a mini-PC. We have already covered Thunderbolt 3 in good detail. From the perspective of a Skull Canyon evaluation, the Thunderbolt 3 port does deserve a bit of attention. It must be noted that this USB Type-C port can also act as a USB 3.1 Gen 2 host port. Our evaluation of this feature is in two parts - we first hooked up a SanDisk Extreme 900 1.92TB USB 3.1 Gen 2 SSD and ran a quick speed test. We were able to see results similar to our review numbers, indicating that the USB 3.1 Gen 2 mode was indeed active. For the Thunderbolt part, we decided to check out Thunderbolt networking with our direct-attached storage testbed.

A Thunderbolt cable between two PCs is enough to create a Thunderbolt network

Connecting the Thunderbolt ports on the two machines and allowing the PCs to talk to each other automatically creates a 10Gbps network adapter. For a setup with just two machines, it is enough to just set static IPs on the interfaces of both machines in the same subnet, and setting the network location to private so that the machines can talk to each other. We configured a RAM drive on the testbed and mapped it as a network drive on the NUC6i7KYK, Running CrystalDiskMark on the mapped drive showed read speeds of 700 MBps and write speeds of 620 MBps, indicative of a 10Gbps link. The gallery below presents some screenshots of the benchmarks as well as the Thunderbolt networking setup steps.

Moving on to the business end of the review, let us get the complaints out of the way - While the size and form-factor of Skull Canyon are impressive, the acoustic profile is not that great. We would gladly trade a modest increase in the footprint of the system for lower fan noise. That said, the fan noise is in no way comparable to the BRIX Gaming lineup. It is just that it is not as silent as the traditional NUCs.

On the board layout front, we are unable to fathom why the CPU's PCIe lanes are not used at all. It would have been great to have a dual-port Alpine Ridge controller hang directly off the CPU's PCIe lanes. Finally, the ports on the chassis could have done with better spread. The two pairs of USB ports are such that one occupied port ends up making it difficult to utilize the other one in the pair. A port on one of the sides, or, on the lid (without relying on third-party designs), would be very welcome.

But with the above caveats in mind, Skull Canyon is definitely a great product. Simply put, it packs the most punch among systems with similar footprints. It is excellent for casual gamers, but, unfortunately, stops short of being a replacement for systems like the Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 or the ASRock VisionX 471D - two small form-factor PCs that integrate discrete GPUs at the cost of a larger footprint compared to Skull Canyon. The Thunderbolt 3 port, with an external GPU dock, can somewhat make up for the lack of a discrete GPU for gamers. However, the cost factor becomes a major issue. The 4C/8T configuration of the Core i7-6770HQ is also attractive to consumers looking for a small form-factor system with a powerful CPU, but, they must remember that some price premium is being paid for the Iris Pro graphics.

I am actually looking forward to what vendors like Zotac and ASRock can do with a similar design. If they could take a Skylake-H processor without Iris Pro (say, Core i7-6820HQ), and use the PCIe lanes off the CPU to hook up a mobile discrete GPU, it could deliver the best of both worlds - all the 45W TDP of the CPU can be used to provide raw processing power for CPU-intensive workloads, while a dGPU can handle graphics duties with a separate power budget.

To summarize, Intel has indeed managed to change the game with the NUC6i7KYK. A look at the increase in the gaming capabilities over the previous generation 'gaming' NUCs make the Skull Canyon updates to appear evolutionary in nature. However, the overall platform capabilities (including a much more powerful -H series CPU instead of a -U series CPU, as well as the integration of Thunderbolt 3 and dual M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 SSD slots) are enough to justify the price premium ($650 for the barebones configuration).

Power Consumption and Thermal Performance
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  • fanofanand - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    You rebutted your own statement. Casual gamers don't buy $1k mini-PC's. Testing this at super low resolutions can only serve one purpose, which is to provide the appearance of acceptable performance. Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    The point with mini-PC reviews with a gaming focus is that they are spread far apart - we may be lucky to have 3 or 4 in a year.

    So, it boils down to what we think is more relevant to the reader - a set of benchmark numbers that have to be presented standalone, or a set of benchmark numbers which can be compared apples to apples against some similar previous-generation systems (because, that is what we have the numbers for). We think the latter makes more sense, and that is the reason we are having these 'legacy resolutions' in the gaming benchmarks.
    Reply
  • fanofanand - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    I completely understand why you need to present the information, I just don't think this really meets the "Skulltrail brand" expectations. Skulltrail was always an enthusiast platform designed by enthusiasts. This product looks like it fell victim to marketing requiring a certain thickness of chassis. This product waters down the skulltrail branding, though I guess skulltrail really isn't even relevant anymore. I just don't understand who this is designed for I guess. Reply
  • FMinus - Sunday, August 7, 2016 - link

    this really isn't a low budget part, they can get similar or better performance in an ATX form factor for around ~$100 to 200 less. Reply
  • zepi - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    I'd love to see a ~90W TDP version of this with CPU cores getting about 30W and GPU having 60 or so allocated for it. Even 65W TDP part would be a definite improvement for gaming as CPU / GPU clocks could stay considerably higher during loading of both parts of the chip.

    With proper cooling it could actually compete decently with low-end discrete graphic laptops. Now it is clear that TDP is limiting it badly.

    The question is: How is the perf/w compared to for example A9x GPU parts or Maxwells? Somehow I'm not terribly impressed by Intel's GPU's. Especially considering that they've had their hugely superior manufacturing technology which should help...
    Reply
  • Osamede - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    Power consumption measured with a 1080p display. Is this the real use case? Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    Why not? Not everyone has migrated to 4K yet. I am a first-world tech reviewer, and the max. res monitor that I have is only 2560x1440 :) Reply
  • jhoff80 - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    Out of curiosity, will there also be an Anandtech review of the new Core M Compute Sticks as well? Reply
  • jaydee - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    Isn't is kinda a no-brainer to make this thing a little big bigger (with a little better cooling), to avoid throttling? Wouldn't just an inch taller help immensely? Reply
  • ShieTar - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    Sure, but at ~55mm height it is beginning to look similar in size to a 70 mm high Mini-ITX case, which you can use to build yourself a system with similar compute power, for less than half the system cost.

    So it really needs to be very flat and very compact to qualify as a niche-product. Asking twice the price for just a 20% difference in some aspect is usually very hard to sell.
    Reply

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