Skull Canyon NUC Review 1/3: Hardware Overview (NUC6i7KYK)

It’s finally time for our Skylake i7 NUC (NUC6i7KYK also known as Skull Canyon NUC) review. For those of you who have been following the topic and read my sneak peek last week, this first part is probably a bit of a rehash, but I’m sure the benchmark results in part 2 will be interesting!

Features

  • Intel Core i7-6770HQ processor (Quad-core, max. 3.5 GHz, TDP 45 W)
  • Intel Iris Pro 580 Graphics
  • Two DDR4 SO-DIMM sockets (up to 32 GB, 2133+ MHz)
  • Two M.2 slots with flexible support for a 42 or 80 mm SATA or PCIe SSD
  • Integrated Wireless-AC 8260 and Bluetooth 4.2 adapter
  • SDXC card reader (UHS-I)
  • Four USB 3.0 ports (including one charging port)
  • Consumer infrared sensor
  • Intel Gigabit LAN adapter
  • One Mini DisplayPort version 1.2
  • One Thunderbolt 3 port with USB 3.1 (USB Type-C connector)
  • One full-size HDMI 2.0 display port

 
Technical product specification with all those nitty-gritty details is available here (PDF).

Chassis

With the Skull Canyon Intel has decided to go for a totally different kind of case. It’s still ridiculously small, but this time much wider than before. The dimensions are 8.3″ x 4.6″ x 1.1″ (211mm x 116mm x 28mm) so it is flatter than any NUC before but also wider than anything before. It’s pretty much the same size as an average paperback novel.

On the front we have a power switch that lits up when the unit is powered, an SD card reader slot, two USB 3.0 ports (yellow one is fast charging capable), headphone jack and an infra red receiver. Hexagon has clearly been the shape that the designer of this unit has had in mind!

Behind the unit you will find a DC connector, optical sound out, gigabit Ethernet, two more USB 3.0 ports, Mini Displayport 1.2 connector, USB 3.1/Thunderbolt 3 connector and a full size HDMI connector.

If the mean-looking skull gives you the creeps or just prefer the plain matte black cover, Intel includes another cover in the box. You can unfasten the six hex screws with the included Allen key and replace it.

Like before, the VESA mount to attach the unit behind your monitor is included. The power brick is a bit larger one this time and it can output 120 watts.

What’s Inside?

The Skylake i7 NUC is delivered without memory and storage media included. For memory you should choose either 4, 8 or 16 gigabyte memory modules. There are two slots available and even if you can populate only one of them, you should definitely consider installing two similar memory modules for optimal performance. The memory module must be a 1.2 volt DDR4 SO-DIMM module, and if this one is anything like its predecessors it can be a bit picky regarding the compatible memory modules. If you want to be sure that you get the right kind of memory module go visit the NUC Guru – our resident guru who can suggest you hardware that definitely works together. I actually tried several different types of memory in order to find out how critical the memory speed is when it comes to performance. I’ll write a separate article on that topic later on. The fastest RAM that I could get hold of for the Skull Canyon NUC at the time of writing was the G.Skill Ripjaws DDR4-2800. I also tried out HyperX 2133 MHz and 2400 MHz RAM that worked fine in this unit. However, I did not see much performance difference between these RAMs (read more on the next page).

Skull Canyon NUC with the components installed

After removing the four screws that secure the bottom cover to the chassis, you can immediately access the mainboard. Note that the unit does not have a slot for a 2.5 inch drive – it’s M.2 SSD or nothing. Or two of them, as there are two slots. Supported M.2 drive lengths are 42 and 80 mm. I used a Samsung SM-951 NVME SSD that I had lying around, even if Samsung 950 Pro would have been a better choice. The maximum bandwidth of the NVME SSD is not locked at 1600 MB/s like on the previous generation i7 NUC. It might be worth noting that the RAID controller does not support NVME drives, you can only use it if you equip your NUC with slightly slower SATA M.2 SSD drives.

EDIT: NVME drives are supported for RAID operation. You must use UEFI boot in that case. Read Intel’s detailed instructions on how to setup NVME RAID here.

The 802.11ac WiFi adapter is soldered to the mainboard and not replaceable.

BIOS

The device runs Intel’s usual Visual BIOS. This time Intel left a lot of the performance tuning options unlocked. This gives some possibilities for overclocking the unit. I started with BIOS version 33 that I later updated to 34.

Windows Installation

Installing Windows was a breeze. I used Windows 10 November 2015 image, also known as version 1511, and installation itself was uneventful and as expected. It took took literally some 5 minutes, thanks to the ultra-fast USB stick and the NVME SSD drive I was using. However when the system was up and running a driver from Intel’s download center was needed for both the WiFi and Ethernet adapters before the system was fully usable. When the networking was up and running Windows automatically installed the necessary drivers for rest of the NUCs components. However, the display driver was not the latest and greatest version, so I replaced the driver with a newer one from Intel’s support website.

Read Further

The next parts of our Skull Canyon NUC review:

11 Responses

  1. Eric says:

    Previous NUCs had a TPM chip, even though that wasn’t mentioned on ark.intel.com — does this one have it too? Can you add some screenshots of the Security tab in the BIOS?

    • Olli says:

      Hi Eric,

      Does the screenshot at http://wp.me/a5k73C-lR help you?

      • Eric says:

        Mmm, thanks for that! Unfortunately not. Let me have a look at the docs…

        The BIOS Glossary mentions an option called ‘Clear Trusted Platform Module’ but sais it’s on the ‘Maintenance’ screen which none of your screenshots shows where it is.
        You gave a screenshot of the ‘Devices’ tab but only the PCI section. There should be two more options related to TPM somewhere under in the Devices tab. One called ‘Trusted Platform Module Presence’ and another called ‘Trusted Platform Module’ which would indicate whether or not a chip is present and whether it is/can be enabled.

        Or boot to Windows and Start Run tpm.msc which would show lots of stuff or just one message saying it’d show up here if it is enabled in the BIOS.
        http://www.intel.com/content/dam/support/us/en/documents/boardsandkits/BIOSGlossary_NUC_v06.pdf

        I think it’s lame for modern devices, especially those small high value ones to have to do without a TPM these days…if ark.intel.com is correct.

        • Olli says:

          Hi Eric,

          I enabled Intel Trust Platform Technology and run tpm.msc:
          http://wp.me/a5k73C-lZ

          Before that change, it complained that TPM was not present.

          • Eric says:

            Ah, thanks! That’s the explanation, allright. At least I wouldn’t have to use a USB stick to boot as I’ve done with my desktop the last few years…

    • mrhunter9 says:

      KY does not have a hardware TPM chip but does use PTT (Platform Trust Technology) which is TPM 2.0 in software. The i5 MY NUC has a hardware TPM 2.0 chip.

      Of course, PTT and hardware TPM can only be used on a true UEFI OS, so Windows 8 and higher and some versions of Linux.

  2. Ray says:

    Olli,

    You can install the NVMe drives in Raid0 through the bios. You have to disable legacy mode, reboot and then go to devices and the raid controller configuration will be there to use.

    • Olli says:

      Hi Ray,

      Thanks, that’s good to know! I have only one NVME drive, so I cannot test it in practice, but have read that it should work though (with legacy mode disabled only).

  3. Sam says:

    I have Seagate thunderbolt dock for 2.5 drivers. I use a regular Apple thunderbolt cable to attach it to iMac. How can I attach my dock to this NUC? Are there cables available out there which have usb 3.1 type connector on one side and thunderbolt connector on the other?

  4. With the USB Type C port, I thought it was supposed to be able to work as either Thunderbolt or USB 3? I bought a hub which has USB type C port that it uses to connect to the PC, and then gives 4 standard USB 3.0 ports. It doesn’t seem to work. Is there something that I need to do to switch it between Thunderbolt and USB mode, perhaps? TIA

  5. Greg Heaney says:

    Olli,
    Intel posted this after your review. It states you can setup Raid 0 or 1 using 2 PCIe (NVMe) M.2 cards.

    RAID Setup Procedure for Intel® NUC Kit NUC6i7KYK
    Last Reviewed: 07-Jun-2016
    Article ID: 000021493
    http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/support/boards-and-kits/000021493.html

    This may clarify what Ray was saying.

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