Gaming is one use case that often comes up with this NUC. It’s not really as powerful as a full-size tower with a discrete GPU (who would have ever guessed), but it will handle some gaming just fine. Intel is pretty upbeat about the gaming possibilities of the NUC. The big question is what will it handle and what will it not. Intel is helping you out a bit here, they’ve created a website with recommended settings for various games.
I’m not that much of a gamer these days, but I’ll try to give you some ideas how the things survives some games I was able to try out.
Dirt 3 represented the racing genre here. It’s not exactly the latest rally game, but it is still a lot of fun. The game was easily playable on 1080p resolution with most of the parameters set to high. The results below are achieved with the internal benchmarking option found in the graphics settings.
|Resolution||1920×1080, 60Hz||1920×1080, 60Hz|
Need for Speed – Most Wanted
Need for Speed Most Wanted was fully playable in 1080p resolution. I had to set most details to low though, with the exception of high resolution textures. FRAPS was showing me a min/avg/max frame rate of 41/44.3/46 during my play.
I also wanted to check how accurate are the suggestions Intel has given on their site. So I downloaded Battlefield 4, checked up what Intel says about optimal settings and punched them in. Was happy to find out that the game was nice and playable with FRAPS showing me frame min/avg/max frame rates of 39/40.44/42 during play. This might be a bit low for some and for some acceptable. However, there’s still room to tune down the graphics, if you want higher FPS.
Dropping the resolution down to 1366×768 and setting the graphics to high details improved the FPS to 41/49.64/64 and dropping the details even further down to medium increased the frame-rate to 48/58.42/73.
It’s interesting to notice that during these games the fan does not spin up to maximum speed. I think it’s due to these games fully stressing the GPU heavily but the CPU itself is doing relatively little work.
Thunderbolt 3 and External GPU
The NUC has a Thunderbolt 3 connector which will enable the possibility of using an external GPU – this can dramatically increase the gaming performance. There are not many on the market yet and the prices are steep, but I’ll see if I could get hold of a Razer Core and fit a modern GPU inside. The Razer Core enclosure is just 3 times the size of the NUC itself!
Just to quickly test if a modern Linux distribution runs on the Skull Canyon NUC without problems, I installed Ubuntu 16.04LTS on it. Basically the installation was uneventful. Everything worked just fine. After booting it up, found out that sound, WiFi adapter, LAN adapter, Bluetooth and the SD card reader were all working fine out of the box. There were also questions whether the Iris Pro 580 graphics would be properly supported in Linux already. That seemed to be the case. I ran glmark2 to check that the GPU indeed is working. You can detailed results of the glmark2 execution here. For those more interested, I also saved the dmesg output here.
That was extremely short test, but results seemed promising!
The Intel NUC6i7KYK is an impressive mini PC with a fast Core i7 processor and a relatively fast Iris Pro 580 GPU. It was a long wait for the Skull Canyon NUC and I have to say it’s quite impressive what they managed to pack in this tiny PC: a 45-watt CPU, their most powerful integrated GPU, HDMI 2.0 connector, Thunderbolt 3 interface plus all the other connectivity that is already familiar from other NUC products. It’s clearly Intel’s first real attempt at producing a gaming oriented NUC. They’ve even went as far as producing a web site where you can find recommended settings for many popular games and some screen shots. However, if you’re into playing the latest first person shooters or racing games, you might need to cut the graphics details or the resolution quite a bit. It will definitely run any MOBA with ease (the Skylake i5 NUC was quite allright with them already) and a bit older games will be a piece of cake. External GPU might be an option for those looking for more gaming horse power.
However, the Skull Canyon NUC is not only for gamers. The fast i7 CPU handles almost any productivity task you might have. Having a browser open with 20 tabs while listening to music and working in Excel at the same time did not slow down the system a bit. If only it was fanless… Well, we can dream right.
I can also imagine some interesting enterprise applications. The 4-core CPU with hyper-threading would make it possible to turn this NUC into a nice mini virtualization platform. I’ve been thinking of running an OpenStack platform on a few of these and packing it in a suitcase.
- Fast CPU
- Small footprint
- HDMI 2.0 support for 4k at 60 fps
- Thunderbolt 3 support enables external GPU
- Iris Pro 580 is not a match for mid or high-range discrete GPUs
- Fan can be too noisy for some
This time the recommended setup has 16 gigabytes of DDR4-2400 RAM that is known to work well in this NUC and an ultra-fast 250-gigabyte Samsung NVME SSD drive. It leaves you one slot empty for another drive. If you would like to equip you Skull Canyon in a different way, have a look at our build-a-NUC tool: the NUC Guru.
Read also the previous parts of this review.