Skull Canyon NUC Review 3/3: Gaming and Conclusions (NUC6i7KYK)

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.

Game Performance

Dirt 3

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.

Skull Canyon Player Dirt 3

Resolution 1920×1080, 60Hz 1920×1080, 60Hz
Preset High High
Multisampling Off 2xMSAA
VSync Off On
FPS Average 65.9 54.2
FPS Low 55.6 46.3

Need for Speed – Most Wanted

Need for Speed - Most Wanted on NUC6i7KYK

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.

Battlefield 4

Battlefield 4 on NUC6i7KYK

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!

Razer Core Thunderbolt 3 GPU Enclosure

Linux Support

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!

Conclusion

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.

Pros

  • Fast CPU
  • Small footprint
  • HDMI 2.0 support for 4k at 60 fps
  • Thunderbolt 3 support enables external GPU

Cons

  • Iris Pro 580 is not a match for mid or high-range discrete GPUs
  • Fan can be too noisy for some

Recommended Setup

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.

Product US UK DE FR
Intel Skull Canyon NUC NUC6i7KYK $577.69 £597.48 EUR 619,89 EUR 733,36
Kingston HyperX 2x8GB DDR4-2400 RAM (16GB) $114.49 £93.32 EUR 130,95 EUR 119,04
Samsung 950 PRO M.2 250GB NVME SSD drive $214.99 £212.71 EUR 181,13 EUR 269,90
Check out the total price of the whole setup on Amazon.com!

Read Further

Read also the previous parts of this review.

86 Responses

  1. Mark Dirac says:

    Thanks Olli – you’re a star!

    Would the BIOS be sufficiently flexible that you could set a maximum (quiet) fan speed and rely upon the CPU/GPU being throttled back to maintain a safe temperature?

    Could you go further and set both a quiet fan speed and, say, maximum temperature of 80 degC, and once again rely upon the BIOS to throttle back the watts to match?

    • Olli says:

      These are good questions, but I don’t have the answers. I can try to play around a bit later with this…

    • kix says:

      you can limit TDP of processor to something like 20W in bios.
      you can’t set max temp, or max fan speed.

      • telecastle says:

        Where do you set limit TDP in BIOS?

        You can set the following settings: “Minimum Duty Cycle,” “Minimum Temperature,” and “Duty Cycle Increment”. Modifying the setting for “Minimum Duty Cycle” allows you to slow down the fan speed until the temperature reaches the value assigned to Minimum Temperature. Then, the fan speed would increase per the formula listed in the BIOS help, based on the coefficient specified under “Duty Cycle Increment”.

  2. I am excited. I have mine on order. RAM and SSD will be here today. NUC will be here Wednesday. Ironically, I picked almost the same ram and SSD you suggested (just different capacities). I was just a little skiddish because a review on Amazon warned about the RAM not working with a same generation NUC, but it was not Skull Canyon, and I am now more encouraged because I think your recommendation is the same other than capacity.

  3. Here’s one for you… Would I be sacrificing any performance of the system or SSD if I were to stick with Windows 7 vs. Windows 10?

  4. mr_bots says:

    It’d be interesting to note the extent of any throttling of the CPU and/or CPUT under load and whether it’s thermal, TDP, or both. I know on the smaller, 15W NUCs the CPU can run maxed out all day but once the GPU sees any load that 15W package runs out of room fast. With twice the CPU cores and much more powerful graphics its seems it could very well be the case with the Skull Canyon’s 45W TDP.

  5. Do you think you could run Battlefield 4 at the 1366×768 resolution, and check the framerates at medium and high settings. ? That would be awesome because then the settings would be in line with the settings at notebookcheck.com uses, this way I could easily compare its performance to many other GPUs.

    Thanks

  6. mr_bots says:

    Can’t edit…should be CPU and/or GPU…

  7. Paweł says:

    I know I’m minority here but is there any way you could test support for 5K monitor (2xmDP 1.2) via TB3?
    Thanks for Ubuntu -great-news!

  8. You say that there is HDMI 2.0 support for 4k at 60 fps. But have you tried playing any HEVC/H.265 10-bit (Main 10) profile videos? Take a look at this page: http://jell.yfish.us/ (show only 10bit) and let us know which one was the highest bitrate you manage to play. It would be nice it this Skull Canyon could play BD 4k videos with at least bitrate of 128-140 Mbps.

    • jeffatwood715691947 says:

      I have this NUC. What video player should be used for these files??

    • Olli says:

      Hello there,

      The Skylake processors do not have hardware decoding for 10-bit HEVC (only 8-bit), so any 10-bit content must be decoded using the raw CPU power. I’ll try out a high bitrate video, but I doubt the CPU would be enough to decode such.

      Next generation Intel CPUs (Kaby Lake) should have HW decoding for 10-bit HEVC as well.

      • Alchemist says:

        Skylake processors do not support HDMI 2.0 yet. The skull canyon nuc has a separate chip handing the HDMI 2.0 port and associated protected content support. I don’t know if that chip has anything for HEVC decoding but it very may well. Probably something that needs to be tested to see what happens.

    • According to Intel specs HEVC 10 bit support is partial meaning some CPU and some GPU support – wiki: Hybrid/Partial HEVC Main10/10bit decoding acceleration. That’s why this is important to use those test files for 10bit with various bitrates to see what can be played, what no. I’m not sure which player supports HEVC 10 bit so far, but I’ll try NUC with VLC latest version.
      If anyone can try those that would be much appreciated.

    • jeffatwood715691947 says:

      Ok I tested with MPC-HC x64 latest version. No codec packs installed, default Windows 10.

      1080p default:
      jellyfish-55-mbps-hd-h264.mkv plays at 5% total CPU usage

      10bit 1080p default:
      jellyfish-90mbps-hd-hevc-10bit.mkv plays at 33% total CPU usage

      10bit 4k default:
      jellyfish-140-mbps-4k-uhd-hevc-10bit.mkv pegs cpu at 100%

      It does look like 4k 10bit is definitely out of reach of this CPU..

      • jeffatwood715691947 says:

        very high bitrate 4k:
        jellyfish-250-mbps-4k-uhd-h264.mkv about 60% CPU

        there’s something “magical” about adding 10-bit to 4k that really crushes playback, because even 4k at super high bitrates plays back fine.

      • Paweł says:

        Thanks for your time Jeff.
        Are you sure it is 264 not 265? My NUC5PPYH (Atom N3700) plays Samsung NX1 UHD files just fine. Same player.
        I’ll check these jellyfish on my i5i7s to see what’s the usage on Broadwell i7U and then I’ll decide whether to buy KYK or GF 1080 (with full support fornew gen codecs) for 5960X WS.

        Thanks again.

        • Olli says:

          Using MP-HPC and activating HEVC decoding (Options -> Internal filters -> Video decoder -> enable HEVC and UHD) I got the following results when playing HEVC encoded files (H.265):

          Any 8-bit sample plays fine (they’re handled by the HW decoder)
          Any 10-bit 4k sample stutters
          10-bit 1080p 60Mbps sample playes fine

  9. Robert says:

    Thanks for the review, Olli! It’s a very capable little computer, I must just get over the price tag.

  10. RL says:

    What’s the idle and max load watts at the outlet? Also, if possible, could you run LuxMark. I’m looking at this as a system that could give me better performance than my laptop but at a lower wattage than a mini-itx.

  11. Alchemist says:

    I know the CPU gets up close to 100c under load. I’m guessing it doesn’t run that hot all the time. How is if for normal operation? and does the case get hot under and extended load or is the cooling system dissipating the heat well? Also, under load I would expect the fan to be audible but when its just web browsing is it not terribly load (aka notebook like?)

    • Olli says:

      It idles around 44 degrees Celsius (ambient temp. approx. 23 degrees). When doing generic productivity related tasks the fan stays rather quiet. Notebook-like is correct. I’d say it’s louder than my HP EliteBook Folio 9480m, which is a mid-to-high-end laptop with 15-watt Core i5 CPU.

      The exhaust air when CPU is stressed is really warm, so I’d say it’s dissipating the heat quite well. When you look at the case, it takes the air in from the right and left side and pushes it out to the back. The case does warm up a bit, but not too much.

  12. MelonTherapy says:

    The samsung new 950 pro gets really hot, can increased temps in the case due to samsung pro trottle the cpu ?

    • Olli says:

      I have been told that the SM-951 that I have gets even hotter than the SM-950. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3GlInzvHr8

      However, I think the SSD is not typically stressed heavily when the CPU/GPU is stressed, so maybe that is a factor when thinking about this. As I’ve been ok with the 951, I think the 950 will be even better.

      • MelonTherapy says:

        I am not planning to play games on the machine I’ll use it more as a workstation.

        Well the reason it does not get that hot is because 950 temp limit is lower and throttles sooner than SM-951. I quess that is good for cpu temps and all but now i wonder if the ssd wont be hold back due to the throttling.

        In that test you posted 950 is seriously held back by the trottling and the file transfer takes 33% longer.

        • Ray says:

          The way the airflow on the Skull Canyon is designed it looks like all the airflow is drawn in over the m.2 and memory. It should actually cool any M.2 sufficiently. Once I get mine I’ll take a closer look though.

          • Olli says:

            Yes, the fan draws the air in from both sides and pushes it out to the back. I’m sure this is there to cool the M.2 slots as well.

            When it comes to cooling and throttling of SM950 and SM951, I don’t think there are many people who are copying constantly tens of gigabytes of data around at full speed (which is what causes the temperature of the SSD to raise).

  13. Gudi says:

    I’m only holding backup because of the yet to be released 950 Pro 1TB version. Think I’ll install a mSata disk with a M.2 converter, and then clone disks when it arrives. Thank you for the review!

  14. Adrian says:

    perfect, now all i need is patience until amazon brings it to EU.

  15. Robin St.Clair says:

    New USB 3.1 Type C To HDMI 2 Adapter

    Yes – 4K@60fps.

    http://plugable.com/products/usbc-hdmi

    I’ve not tried it yet, but if it does what it says on the label…..

    Ideally, I’d like to use their hub with it, but I wonder if the hub supports 2 HDMI 2 ports, both 4K@60fps

  16. Jesse says:

    Olli, could you check if there’s an option for iSCSI Remote Boot in BIOS for the integrated NIC?

    Thanks.

  17. Andrea says:

    Thanks for this review Olli.
    I am considering to buy this NUC, but I am worried about the fan noise: compared to the nuc6i5 is the skull canyon significantly noiser? I read that when idle the noise will be pretty the same, but I wonder how different will be the noise under average workload (a.i. Lightroom + youtube/spotify).
    Thanks in advance

  18. mr_bots says:

    Got mine today from Newegg and while I’m still installing the OS and give props for a good and thorough review it left out the most disappointing part…the box doesn’t play the Intel theme when you open it!

  19. Abdulrahman says:

    This machine looks interesting .. but how well does it run HTC Vive? Any testers?

  20. Chris Hoffman says:

    I have my NUC! It almost went so smoothly! 99% of everything went fine. I installed RAM and storage…np…installed Windows…np…installed most drivers…np…even updated the BIOS with np. However, I have one big problem. The mouse I usually use is wireless. It has a USB dongle. When I have it connected, the mouse will hardly move AT ALL. I mean, there is a HUGE delay, to the point you think it is never going to move. Any thoughts? The only drivers I don’t yet have installed are Network Controller (although I did run the setup for both bluetooth and the NIC, and I am connected to the Internet, sending this from the NUC right now) and PCI Simple Communications Controller. I thought I had downloaded all the drivers onto my USB drive, but I must have missed something.

    • Pawel says:

      Chris, would you be so kind and tell us what is the mouse. Logitech?
      I use Logitech, have my 5i3RYK behind the big TV screen, aprox. 2 meters away from the mouse and sometimes it is not working properly.

      1. Try gettin closer to NUC and put the unifier into fron USB port.
      2. Don’t instal drivers from Intel apart from bios and NIC (if needed). Let the Windows installer finds all devices and install MS drivers – much more stable that way.

      Hope that helps,
      Goodluck.

  21. Thanks for the reply.

    Yes, the mouse is Logitech MX Master.

    I was using one of the front ports. I had to take it out to plug in this wired mouse so that I could effectively use the system in the meantime, but it was in the front port when the problem occurred, and the mouse is actually very close to the dongle…even closer than it was on my previous system (because it did not have front ports).

    I have installed all of the drivers from Intel (because I am using Windows 7). If there are any you think I should uninstall considering that, please let me know.

    Thanks again. I sincerely appreciate the assistance.

    • Robin St.Clair says:

      I have a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard that only works with Windows 10 and Bluetooth 4.

      This solved a lot of problems.

      The mouse, despite being elegant and expensive manages to be both clicky and sticky. I am considering switching to a Logitech MX Anywhere 2, but don’t wish to throw good money after bad.

      If the Apple keyboard and muse had been 100% compatible I’d have bought them.

  22. Robin St.Clair says:

    for muse read mouse

  23. I got my mouse working. So, feel free to ignore that now. 🙂

    I wanted to get the PCI Simple Communications Controller driver installed. I downloaded this: https://downloadcenter.intel.com/download/24499/Intel-Management-Engine-10-Driver-1-5M-for-Intel-NUC – Even though it says Windows 7 x64 is clearly supported there, when I run the setup, it says the platform is not supported. Anyone else on Windows 7 x64? What did you use for that?

  24. Marc A says:

    Two questions for the experts here about my new Skull Canyon NUC:

    1). I’m running Win10 Pro and a LG Ultrawide 34″ monitor with the latest Intel graphics driver (15.40.23.4444). When the display goes into sleep mode after 15 minutes inactivity, upon waking-up, all the windows are compressed and in the upper-left corner of the display. I’ve read of owners of other graphics cards experiencing this issue, until driver fixes were issued by the vendor. Anybody else seeing this?

    2). My G.SKILL memory, despite being spec’d at 2800 MHz, is only showing up as 2400 MHz both in the OS and UEFI screens. Any idea of how to properly configure UEFI to see the faster speed memory?

    • Pawel says:

      Known issue for drivers working in MST mode to support high resolutions. I suppose your LG screen is de facto made of two screens glued together. I’ve been experiencing this since first UHD monitor Dell UP2414Q and it does not matter whether it is Intel Graphics, AMD W2100, Nvidia K600 or HP Z27Q 🙂

      My fix: turn off and the monitor. Try Microsoft drivers not the Intels.

      Goodluck and thank you for the info!
      I was about to buy that UW LG.

      • Pawel says:

        edit:
        My fix: turn off and ON the monitor.

      • Marc A says:

        Hi Pawel,

        Problem is, I am replacing an older Sandy Bridge NUC D53427HYE) that is running Win 10 Professional with the same monitor and cables. They both have the latest Intel drivers…and the older NUC does not exhibit this type of behavior. I have swapped old/new systems out (4 USB cables, 1 NIC, 1 DP, 1 power) in 5 minutes and tested. My thought is that the display driver and the Iris 580 have some sort of bug that has yet to be found/solved. I will contact Intel support today and ask them to add this to the list…

  25. Can Undervolting achieve significantly better thermals and less cpu throttling? And if so, by how much? I want to use this as a 24/7 load and very small and light portable cpu package. Thank you!

  26. Here’s a new one. It seems the PC is completely locked. This is not a normal Windows app lock where you can Ctrl+Alt+Del, get into task manager, and end whatever might be locked. The screen is not even updating. For example, the web page I have open in Chrome is a game where there’s a progress bar that should be moving. It is stuck. Mouse won’t move. Keyboard does nothing. Even a taskbar icon that should be glowing is not. Any thought on this one?

  27. latajl says:

    Hi, thanks for your review. Could you please tell me the video playback performance of this kit? Can it play YouTube 4k@60fps Video (VP9 stream) smoothly?

  28. Tony says:

    Nice review, one question though will this nuc run the game Star Wars Battlefront. I like it can run battlefield 4 but got to know if battlefront will play.

  29. iseng says:

    can it play fallout 4?

  30. Bill Mason says:

    I would be grateful for suggestions here, or redirection to a different site: I set up the Nuc 6i7KYK running Win10-x64 with 32 GB ram and a 512GB Samsung 950 Pro M.2 in Slot #1. It has run, and is running, problem free. Today I added a second 950 Pro M.2. It is not detected in the system. I took the second 950 Pro out and re-seated it. This made no difference. I downloaded the driver installer and installed the driver, with the result that Device Manager now shows to SSD controllers. This also made no difference. I have not swapped the positions of the two 950’s.

    Suggestions for getting the second 512GB recognized will be most appreciated.

    Many thanks!

  31. paul says:

    I’ve had one setup for 2 weeks now connected to my LG 65″ OLED via the HDMI 2.0 @4k60hz and its been completely fine. It will play 4k60p content in both h.264 and h.265 10 bit without issues. It can even play Sony FS7 Cine 4k120p files without dropping frames.The only issue I’ve had is some display issues where sometimes it dims the screen despite all settings being maximum power. Sorting out drivers is also a bit of a pain as the Intel driver utility is a awful program.
    I went with a 512gb Samsung M2 and 32gb of Crucial 2133mhz DDR4 and that combo has been stable.

  32. KP says:

    Just got my skull canyon kit, with 16GB ram, and 512gb intel m.2 ssd. set up windows 10, updated all drivers, bios etc. using intel driver utility. When I play Deus X Mankind Divided (settings high), it runs for about 10-15 minutes, then freezes up with a piercing tone and I have to power cycle it.

    Anyone having similar issues, or any idea ?

  33. Jim Brannan says:

    I had the Skull Canyon in my Amazon wish list ready to order for a month until I saw it was so hard to put Windows 7 on it. Never going to Windows 10, EVER. I’m still searching through these boards looking for a way to do it.

    • It’s not so bad for Windows 7. I am using it with Windows 7. I have a new problem, though, which I am trying to figure out.

      I recently moved to a new house. This required disconnecting everything. I don’t see why this would have anything to do with it, but just mentioning for completeness.

      Since setting up at the new location, my speakers have produced no sound. I thought something had happened to the speakers and even bought a brand new speaker (bluetooth, but also with 3.5mm jack, which is what I am trying to use right now). Connected to my phone’s 3.5mm jack, this speaker works fine, but still no audio through the PC.

      What could I be missing?

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