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
POST A COMMENT

133 Comments

View All Comments

  • utferris - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    This can be better with ECC memory support. I just can not use any machine without ECC for work. Reply
  • ShieTar - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    But a low-frequency consumer quad-core is fine? What exactly do you do at work? Reply
  • Gigaplex - Tuesday, May 24, 2016 - link

    Sometimes reliability is more important than performance. Reply
  • close - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    Guess ECC is not high on the list for potential NUC buyers, even if it's a Skull Canyon NUC. I think most people would rather go for better graphics than ECC. Reply
  • kgardas - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    Indeed, the picture shows SO-DIMM ECC, but I highly doubt this is even supported since otherwise it's not Xeon nor Cxxx chipset... Reply
  • close - Tuesday, May 24, 2016 - link

    http://ark.intel.com/search/advanced?ECCMemory=tru... Reply
  • tipoo - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    What work do you want to do on a 45W mobile quad with (albeit high end) integrated graphics, that needs ECC?

    I wonder how that would work with the eDRAM anyways, the main memory being ECC, but not the eDRAM.
    Reply
  • Samus - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    All of the cache in Intel CPU's is ECC anyway. Chances of errors not being corrected by bad information pulled from system RAM is rare (16e^64) in consumer applications.

    ECC was more important when there was a small amount of system RAM, but these days with the amount of RAM available, ECC is not only less effective but less necessary.

    I'm all for ECC memory in the server/mainframe space but for this application it is certainly an odd request. This is, for the most part, a laptop without a screen.
    Reply
  • TeXWiller - Tuesday, May 24, 2016 - link

    >ECC was more important when there was a small amount of system RAM,
    The larger the array the larger target it is for the radiation to hit. Laptops are often being used in high altitude environments with generally less shielding than the typical desktop or even a server so from that perspective ECC would seem beneficial basic feature. Then there are the supercomputers, a fun read: http://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/hardware/how-to...
    Reply
  • BurntMyBacon - Tuesday, May 24, 2016 - link

    @TeXWiller: "The larger the array the larger target it is for the radiation to hit."

    While this is true, transistor density has improved to the point that, despite having magnitudes more capacity, the physical array size is actually smaller. Of course the transistors are also more susceptible given the radiant energy is, relatively speaking, much greater compared to the energy in the transistor than it was when transistors were larger. There is also the consideration that as transistor density increases, it becomes less likely that radiation will strike the silicon (or other substrate), but miss the transistor. So we've marginally decreased the chance that radiation will hit the substrate, but significantly increased the change that any hit that does occur will be meaningful.
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now