Skylake NUC Review (NUC6i3SYH): HTPC Usage & Conclusions (3/3)

Skylake NUC as HTPC

In this last part of our Skylake NUC Review we check out how well the NUC is suited for HTPC use. After all, the small size, quiet fan, low power consumption and the understated looks of the box all are characteristics often desired from a home theater PC.

HDMI 2.0 and HEVC Decoding

There are two things that people will keep pointing that this thing lacks: HDMI 2.0 output for 4k at 60 fps and hardware accelerated decoding of 10-bit HEVC video. And let’s be frank, those people would be correct. I would also have liked to see both features in this NUC.

Why these two are important? The current generation HDMI 1.4 interface found from most PCs, this NUC included, does not have enough bandwidth to transport 4k image at 60 frames per second. 60 fps is not typically used in movies, but there is small amount of high frame rate 4k content out there – I’d expect more in the area of sports in the future. HDMI 2.0 has the bandwidth and modern 4k televisions do include a HDMI 2.0 connector, but you would need HDMI 2.0 interface in the NUC as well. What about the DisplayPort then? DisplayPort 1.2, included also in the NUC, is capable of transporting 4k at 60 fps. However, there are very few televisions with DisplayPort connectors (though there are many 4k computer monitors with DisplayPort in case you’re planning to use the NUC with one). Panasonic has a few highend televisions with DisplayPort. DisplayPort to HDMI 2.0 converters haven’t yet appeared in the market widely. One interesting candidate is the Club 3D Active MiniDP 1.2 to HDMI 2.0 adapter.

10-bit HEVC decoding is another story. If your content is encoded in 10-bit HEVC format there’s no hardware accelerated decoder for that in the NUC. The CPU of the NUC is not fast enough to do the decoding for 4k video. Most of the content today is 8-bit only, so it’s not that big of thing really. However, the new 4k Bluray format specifies 10-bit format to be used. This might increase the popularity of the 10-bit content in the future…

Ok, now that we’ve got that one out of way, let’s see how the Skylake NUC works as a HTPC.

Kodi in Windows 10

To test the HTPC performance in Windows, I installed Kodi 16 Beta 4. It’s important to use the new Kodi 16 version, as that supports the hardware HEVC decoding capabilities of the Skylake. Otherwise you’ll end up using the CPU for all your decoding and that won’t do any good if you’re trying to watch any 4k material.

Kodi runs on the NUC as well as on any modern machine. There’s no lag, no skipping video. Full HD, 4k, all seems to work just as I want. I was especially happy to see that 4k@60fps 8-bit HEVC material was running smoothly on the NUC, with very low CPU usage. Playback of 10-bit HEVC material at 4k resolutions was not a success, as the NUC does not support hardware accelerated decoding of 10-bit HEVC. Thus CPU is used for the decoding and there isn’t enough power in the i3 processor to handle that.

Skylake NUC plays 4k HEVC material at 60 fps

OpenELEC

OpenELEC is a free operating system that’s built to run Kodi and be as appliance-like as possible. Once you’ve installed it, you don’t need to worry about the operating system under the hood – you can just use your computer as a set top box in the living room.

I started out by installing standard OpenELEC 6.0, which I expected to work just fine for anything below 4k. However, when booting up I was greeted with an error message “failed to start xorg, is your GPU supported?” and the system failed to start. As it turns out, the new HD Graphics 520 GPU in the Skylake NUC was not supported by the drivers included in OE 6.0.

Luckily there’s a development build that has full 4k and HEVC support for Intel GPUs, see the post here: kodi.tv forum (and download the Isengard build). I installed the build OpenELEC-Generic.x86_64-6.0.98-fritsch and it seems to support the Skylake GPU just fine. I also wanted to see if it is possible to install OpenELEC on a SD card instead of the internal SATA drive and can confirm that this was all fine as well. The system is able to boot the operating system from the SD card.

With the OpenELEC development build all is good:

  • Does it support proper 23.976 Hz refresh rate? Yes
  • Can it decode full HD video at high bitrates? Yes
  • Can it upscale SD video using lanczos3 algorhitm? Yes
  • Can it deinterlace SD and HD video with advanced methods? Yes (MCDI and yadif)
  • Does it run heavier skins like Aeon MQ5 ok? Yes
  • Can it decode H.264 video at 4k resolutions 60 fps? Yes
  • Can it decode HEVC video at 4k resolutions 60 fps? Yes

The WiFi adapter as well as the Gigabit Ethernet adapter were supported directly out of the box. Although I experienced bad WiFi performance before loading a newer version of the Intel wireless firmware into the box. In OpenELEC you can temporarily update the firmware by running the following commands:

mkdir -p /storage/.config/firmware
cd /storage/.config/firmware
wget https://git.kernel.org/cgit/linux/kernel/git/iwlwifi/linux-firmware.git/plain/iwlwifi-8000C-17.ucode
reboot

I expect the next version of OE have both Skylake GPU support and the WiFi firmware in place.

Installing Linux

Just for the sake of it, I installed Ubuntu Desktop Linux 15.10 on the NUC. No problems during the installation. WiFi adapter worked straight out of the box and even during the installation. Bluetooth and Ethernet adapter work as well.

Skylake NUC running Ubuntu 15.10

Conclusions

Skylake NUC seems to be a worthy successor to the Broadwell model. It’s not bringing much new innovative features (well, DDR4 memory is a first for a NUC) and it does not have all the goodies we would have liked to see, but it is a good upgrade from last years Broadwell model. Performance gains were bigger than we were expecting and it is capable of hardware decoding 8-bit HEVC video. Also, it has gained an SD card reader and there’s a proper HDMI-CEC connector on the mainboard now. All in all, the evolution of the NUC moves to the correct direction and the product has become more polished.

Gaming performance was surprisingly good, keeping the context in mind. It was apparent that some games are actually going to be playable with this thing. Obviously it cannot compete with more power-hungry CPUs and discrete GPUs, but we found titles like Heroes of the Storm and Dirt 3 to be enjoyable.

Furthermore, the Skylake NUC6i3SYH (NUC6i3SYK as well) makes as nice HTPC as expected. It’s not the perfect 4k future proof HTPC due to the lack of HDMI 2.0 and 10-bit HEVC decoding, but I guess for those features we might need to wait one more year. In the mean time Skylake NUC makes for a great HTPC both in Windows and Linux environments. However, if you’d like to build a Linux-based HTPC with a bit lower budget, take a look at the Braswell model that also has HEVC decoding capabilities.

If you’re interested in one, visit our resident guru, the NUC Guru, who can recommend you parts that are known to work with each other.

Read the Other Parts of the Review

Read also the previous parts of the article:

72 Responses

  1. Bruce Fowler says:

    Thanks for all the great information! I’m holding out for a NUC6i5 in a fanless case. Maybe in a couple of months?

  2. Matt says:

    Great review Olli, thanks.
    I was deciding between the 5th gen i5 and i7 models or waiting for the Skylake models and am really impressed that the new i3 benchmarks close to the old i5.
    I still think I will wait for the Skylake i5 and am hoping it shows a similar boost.
    I am curious how long it will be until the skull canyon will be released but don’t think I will wait that long.

  3. Robert says:

    Excellent review!

    Now to see what the Skylake NUCs will cost in South Africa and if the Broadwell NUCs will be sold at a heavy discount.

  4. Martin says:

    How many watts does the Skylake Nuc draw in idle?

    • Olli says:

      I don’t unfortunately own a wattmeter, but the good guys at the German technology website Technikaffe took measurements for the NUC6i3SYH. The idle consumption was 5.8 watts in their tests. You can find more consumption figures from their review:
      http://www.technikaffe.de/anleitung-346-intel_nuc6i3syk_h_mit_skylake_cpu_im_test_unter_windows_10_und_openelec

      • Anonymous says:

        Hey Olli, I’d definitely recommend getting a wattmeter. You can get a kill-o-watt p3 for around $20 +/- $5. With mine I was able to cut and save more than that in the first 6 months alone. For example, my pc was entering C1 state during sleep instead of C3 state, because for some reason the BIOS had disabled the C3 state. After reenabling that my sleep mode was actually sleeping using 3W instead of >180W. The only bad thing is now I’m in electricity optimizer mode, swapping out all my light bulbs for LEDs, etc.

  5. hyperspaced says:

    In the last paragraph of the 3rd part, you say: “However, if you’d like to build a Linux-based HTPC with a bit lower budget, take a look at the Braswell model that also has HEVC decoding capabilities.”

    Are you suggesting that HEVC @1080p with Windows 10 on the Braswell model will not suffice ?

    • Olli says:

      Braswell can actually do even HEVC@4k (30fps) in Windows too. I am a bit hesitant to recommend NUC5CPYH for any Windows usage as it tends to get a bit too sluggish for my taste. I’ve got one on my desk that I use every now and then. NUC5PPYH is significantly better than NUC5CPYH if you need to do more things in Windows.

      If you just run Kodi or other media center on Windows, Braswell is just fine. My personal opinion is that if you aim to build a really low-cost HTPC then a free operating system is a natural choice. Windows 10 license costs almost the same as the cheaper Braswell NUC.

      However, don’t take that sentence as excluding other possibilities. You can do so much more with the Braswell NUC than just use it as a Linux-based HTPC. πŸ™‚

  6. TheWombat says:

    Have you encountered any stability or other issues with the NUC6i3SY_ models. On the Intel NUC forum there are a few posters who are having significant stability/BSOD issues whether they are using linux, windows etc. It is unclear if it is the RAM they are using or some inherent issues with the BIOS etc

  7. Has anyone ordered their nuc6i5sy h or k model yet? Which site did you order from?

  8. I got a confirmed delivery on the 13th today…

  9. Erick says:

    FYI. PC Connection is one of my many vendors and I just ordered a batch of the NUC6i5SYK units this afternoon for a project – they are now actually showing available.
    http://www.pcconnection.com/product/intel-barebones-nuc6i5syk-mini-core-i5-6260u-1.9ghz-max.32gb-ddr4-m.2-hd540-gbe-ac-bt-noos/boxnuc6i5syk/30945591?cac=Result

  10. Ted says:

    MacMall, too, for $399.99 with free shipping:

    http://www.macmall.com/p/Intel-Desktop-Computers/product~dpno~13739011~pdp.jihcjic

    Funny, I called them two days ago to check availability and was told that all off the first shipment was preordered, would be another 2-3 weeks for the next batch. I guess they got more in than they expected.

    No complaints since it means I get this early next week. πŸ˜€

    • Ted says:

      Wow, I do not recommend MacMall. I just spent half an hour on hold then talked to a rep. I *might* get it shipped Monday *if* they can straighten out their IT mess up with PayPal transactions. Or something like that. And they won’t guarantee that the remaining stock will still be there whenever they fix things.

      I’m not pleased at all.

  11. Max says:

    Did you have any issue with S3 mode with OpenElec ? Everytime I shut it down, the fan and the front blue led are still working like on power on mode but I wake it up either with IR nor power button or USB keybord …

  12. Matthew says:

    I saw the review concerning 10-bit HEVC (something I’m not very familiar with), so my question may be very ignorant…

    I watch a lot of 10-bit H.264 anime (720p/1080p) and most small video players do not support 10-bit, only 8-bit. The existing ASUS unit I have which is aging does not support 10-bit files either. I’m hoping moving to the i5 version of this unit will provide me with stutter-free anime playback. Can anyone comment on this and shed some light? Thanks!

    • Olli says:

      Hi Matthew,

      If you’ll point me to some content, I can try how well they play on the i3 Skylake NUC. Any 10-bit HEVC content will be decoded with the CPU, but that should be fine for 1080p and 720p – for 4k you’d need much more powerful CPU.

      • Matthew says:

        Hi Olli,

        I can try and find a sample clip somewhere, I’d hate to point you to unlicensed anime simply because that’s an odd grey area from a copyright standpoint in many countries.

        I actually found a couple of Kodi-specific links on the topic of 10-bit:

        http://kodi.wiki/view/Hi10P
        http://forum.kodi.tv/showthread.php?tid=165716

        The second one was posted almost 3 years ago, and lightweight CPUs at that time seemed to be able to decode the 10-bit sources via software decoding. That seems promising for the i5 model of the NUC. In an anime environment there’s also complex subtitles that are software rendered as well, so CPU utilization for these purposes can be a bit more demanding than your average source.

        PS: Sorry for my original post not being it’s own comment, somehow that fell under Will’s comment as a reply.

        • Matthew says:

          Good news! I’m happy to report 720p/1080p HI10P playback with ASS2 advanced subtitles runs flawlessly on the i5 model. I’m seeing an average of 20% utilization across the cores with no core peaking over 50% on OpenELEC 6.0.98 (the build recommended in the article).

          I tried a 7.0/17.0 nightly development build and had hardware lockup issues.

      • roop says:

        Hey Olli, I tested HEVC (H.265) and H.264 10 bit 1080p. It works flawless with nuc6i3syh. Some Things should be considered: HEVC 1080p10 will stutter if some other software uses 20% or more cpu power. Dual Channel setup should also be used.

  13. Can this badboy output 1080p24Hz? Because most TVs can’t play 24Hz via 60Hz source judder-free, so if you want judder-free playback then you need to output 24Hz

  14. Matthew says:

    Will you be doing an article on the i5 model when it’s available? I have my expected setup ready in a NewEgg wishlist (they have the i5 listed but “Out of Stock”), but I’m curious if the ~$90 premium is worth it instead of using that money to move to a larger/faster M.2 SSD.

    • Matthew says:

      This is, of course, tempered by my needs for 1080p H10P playback which is almost universally software-only decoded (I had a separate discussion about the above).

      I’m in a toss-up between running Kodi and PLEX server/HT, but other than that this unit will almost exclusively be for HTPC use (I may choose to have it act as a NAS as well).

  15. Matthew says:

    ALERT! The i5 model is as of today available on NewEgg!

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16856102144

    • I’ve just ordered a Broadwell based i5 NUC for an awesome price ($209 shipped from Jet.com after $50 discount code and $20 AMEX rebate) and am still waiting on it to ship. But I’m so tempted to get this!! If it was Amazon.. then there is no doubt that I would purchase it. Because I could ship it overnight or same day for free!

      With NewEgg I’m guessing it might take 3-5 business days, which means next week. I’ll give the Broadwell NUC a week to get here. If that shipment doesn’t happen soon or if that order gets cancelled.. then I’m hoping that Amazon gets the Skylake NUC soon. Because I’ll be jumping ship to the newer model πŸ™‚

      • Matthew says:

        Not trying to sell NewEgg on anyone, but I have their Premier membership that’s relatively cheap and shipped it all UPS 3-day for free.

        If anyone is interested, this is the package I put together (prices valid for 1/12/2016):

        —-
        Intel BOXNUC6I5SYH Aluminum and Plastic Mini / Booksize Barebone System ($396.99 USD)
        http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16856102144

        SAMSUNG 850 EVO M.2 250GB SATA III Internal SSD Single Unit Version MZ-N5E250BW ($99.99 USD)
        http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820147398

        HyperX Impact 8GB (2 x 4GB) 260-Pin DDR4 SO-DIMM DDR4 2133 (PC4 17000) Laptop Memory Model HX421S13IBK2/8 ($56.99)
        http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820104587
        —-

        Total Cost: $553.97 USD

        None of these items were on sale, I was too impatient to wait for one. I know the 850 EVO is often $10-20 USD off.

        I also intend to push this hardware a little harder than many people do, hence my desire for a competent SSD and the i5 CPU / Iris 540 GPU. You could cut corners on RAM size and SSD and save some cash there, and the smaller i3 model is almost $100 less.

        Can’t wait to get this in and running! I intend to post back some results when I have it, probably before the end of this week. If anyone has any questions for the i5 I’ll do my best to check back and help out.

        • Only 8GB of RAM? Why not 16 or 32 if you are going to push this machine?

          • Matthew says:

            Hi Will, for me the utility of this box will get pushed computationally, and more than 8GB of RAM at this point will go unused.

            I may change this tune and swap to higher capacity sticks if I decide to use a full PLEX Server/HomeTheater setup instead of Kodi.

        • Erick says:

          I ordered a bunch of the same machines, but went with the SM951 from Samsung, a nice boost. Definitely worth the slight premium.

          • mark5@bizturbo.co.uk says:

            huh? I’ve been told the new NUC6’s can’t take advantage of the SM951 M.2 PCIe read/write speeds?

          • Matthew says:

            That’s not entirely true. From what I’ve read, they can sustain most of the NVMe SSD speeds, up to around 1.6gb/s. That’s a great boost up from the ~500mb/s of a SATA SSD.

          • Erick says:

            You’ll actually see a boost from both the NVMe and AHCI version of the SM951, the latter mainly on the read.

  16. pieterwi says:

    I’ve been this for about 3 weeks now:
    – NUC Swift CANYON NUC6i3SYH2.5IN i3-6100U
    – Kingston SODIMM DDR4-2133 Kit 2x4GB HyperX Impact
    – Samsung 850 Evo 250GB SATA6G M.2 80mm
    – Seagate SpinPoint 2TB SATA6G 5400rpm 2.5″ 9.5mm

    First thing I recommend to do is check to see if there’s a firmware (“bios”) update available. You can update this from within the firmware itself using a USB stick. Overal really satisfied with the NUC, runs very smooth.

  17. Just got our i5 NUC6. 3 of the i5SYK and 2 of the i5SYH.

  18. Matthew says:

    Has anyone tried any of the OE/KODI fritsch 7.0/17.0 alpha builds on the new Skylake?

    • Matthew says:

      Well I loaded them, and they’re not really stable yet. Lots of hardware lockups.

      Also noticed that Bluetooth doesn’t work out of the box for some reason in OpenELEC. Trying to research this…

      • Matthew says:

        I have an open thread to troubleshoot this here:

        http://openelec.tv/forum/64-installation/79655-intel-skylake-nuc-no-bluetooth-adaptor-found#155683

        It seems that OpenELEC 6.0.98 does not come with the appropriate firmware.

        • Olli says:

          Hi Matthew,

          Did you add the extra firmware iwlwifi-8000C-17.ucode into /storage/.config/firmware directory?

          • Matthew says:

            Hi Olli,

            I did not. Will that also assist with the Bluetooth adapter? I will add it in anyways, because I did see that you got more stable wifi as a result.

            Thanks for replying, I haven’t had much luck elsewhere so far.

        • Olli says:

          I think it should improve things. Have a go and report back. πŸ™‚

          • Matthew says:

            Looks like it didn’t have an effect on the Bluetooth situation, still seeing these in the System log:

            [ 2.323509] bluetooth hci0: Direct firmware load for intel/ibt-11-5.sfi failed with error -2
            [ 2.323513] Bluetooth: hci0: Failed to load Intel firmware file (-2)

          • Matthew says:

            It seems error -2 is a missing file and sure enough I don’t see those firmware files on my system.

            I did find the missing files here:

            git.kernel.org/cgit/linux/kernel/git/iwlwifi/linux-firmware.git/tree/intel

            But I’m unsure how to get ibt-11-5.sfi and ibt-11-5.ddc where they need to go in OpenELEC (seems like they need to end up in /lib/firmware/intel or /lib64/firmware/intel ). Forgive me, my Linux skills are rusty. πŸ™

          • Matthew says:

            Well a kind soul over at the OpenELEC forums pointed out where I need to place those files and I got them to load, but now it’s partially initializing and timing out.

            [ 2127.769383] Bluetooth: hci0: Found device firmware: intel/ibt-11-5.sfi
            [ 2129.769765] Bluetooth: hci0 command 0xfc09 tx timeout

          • Matthew says:

            Update: For some very frustrating reason, a complete reinstall of OpenElec 6.0.98 now has the Bluetooth working just fine! UGH! O_O

  19. Is there anyway to download ALL of the NUC drivers from the intel site in one zip drive. Seems so ridiculous to click on each driver, wait for it to open a web page, then click download within that webpage. I’m counting 37 downloads!!!!

    If not. Once Win10 is installed on these NUC’s is it possible that Windows Update or some other software management program will automatically download all of these updates?

    • Olli says:

      Windows 10 will automatically take care of updating and even installing the drivers. However, you will want to install the latest display drivers from Intel’s page – I noticed almost 10% speed boost on the i5 NUC with them. It seems Windows update will get the new drivers with a slight delay…

  20. Frank says:

    Can someone tell me if Diablo 3 will be playable on the nuc 6i3syh?

  21. Henkklaas says:

    Could somebody confirm if Intel bothered to enable pass through of DTS-MA en Dolby TrueHD on the 6th gen NUCs? The biggest problem with the previous generations is that Intel for whatever reason never enabled the Windows drivers to do pass through of HD audio, making them essentially useless as a HTPC.

    Obviously the hardware is capable of it because it does work in Linux.

  22. Monty says:

    @Henkklaas – I have used my Nuc5i5RYH with windows 10 and pass through of DTS-MA – it works

  23. ThunderCat says:

    Hi there OLLI!
    Great test, but cound you test much more games in future? (CS GO, Dota 2, World of Tanks, The Witcher 3, TES V Skyrim, Overwatch, GTA 4, GTA 5, Mafia 2, BF: Hardline, COD: Black Ops 3, Heartstone, Life is Strange, Fallout 4, Tomb Raider (2013), AC 4: Black Flag (or even Unity or Syndicate), and any of Total War series.

  24. GFWong says:

    There is no Toslink digital audio out on this? NUC5PPYH has it. πŸ™

    • nucblognet says:

      GFWong, you are right, the NUC6i3SYx does not support Optical Audio via the 3.5mm Port. HDMI-to-Toslink splitters do exist, but haven’t got any experience of them.

      • pieterwi says:

        I bought a 10$ Chinese HDMI splitter. HDMI goes in, HDMI and Toslink goes out. It works well, still 1080P and digital audio. Only issue was my projector (where the HDMI cable ends up going to) would not turn itself off after 5 minutes no signal – simply because the splitter kept the signal alive.

        My receiver was getting old and lacking new technology. I kept buying external devices for Bluetooth audio, HDMI audio splitter and HDMI switcher – after a while I was done and bought a new receiver that had everything included.

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