Core i7 Skull Canyon NUC blows away our expectations
The latest Intel® NUC is out, and it’s the most powerful one yet (by quite a chalk too).
You may have noticed that the “Skylake”, 6th generation release of Intel NUC mini-PCs was initially missing an equivalent to the Core™ i7 model that topped the spec list of the 5th gen “Broadwell” range. Only Core i3 and i5 CPUs were represented in the standard 4.5” NUC kits that launched earlier this year. Of course, performance boosts garnered from the Broadwell to Skylake microarchitecture update made up for this to some extent, but where was our top of the line NUC? Where was our i7?
It turned out that we didn’t have to wait very long for an answer to that question. The Skylake i7 model is now here with a new name and form factor, and it exceeds all expectations. To describe it as an equivalent to the previous generation Core i7 is something of an understatement because it comes in a sleek new chassis and has a much higher performance processor than expected. The Skull Canyon name inspires a wicked skull design emblazoned on the lid, but do not fear, if that’s a bit too in-your-face for you, every kit comes with an alternative plain lid.
NUC mini-PCs in the standard 4.5” x 4.5” chassis that has become a familiar and very successful part of the VeryPC portfolio over the last couple of years use an “ultra-low power” CPU, hence the U suffix in the processor name (e.g. i3-6100U). U processors get the job done with really good clock speeds and benchmarks and are fully capable of dealing with most productivity tasks. The limit comes in how much electrical power they can use. To avoid overheating in the tiny NUC chassis, U processors are limited to just 15 watts, and will throttle CPU activity when that limit is reached. The i7-6770HQ (“high performance graphics, quad core”) on the other hand is housed in a newly designed, wider chassis with a larger heatsink and fan to the side and has up to 45 watts at its disposal. Couple that with its 4 physical cores, enhanced integrated graphics and very fast clock speeds, and the leap in performance is quite startling. Here are some comparative performance benchmark scores so you can see for yourself what I’m getting at:
|Clock speed||2.1 GHz||1.6 GHz||3.1 GHz|
|Boost speed||n/a||2.7 GHz||3.4 GHz|
|Clock speed||2.3 GHz||1.8 GHz||2.6 GHz|
|Boost speed||n/a||2.9 GHz||3.5 GHz|
*Higher is better. Performance benchmarks from cpubenchmark.net
The difference really leaps out doesn’t it? Unlike last year’s i3 » i5 » i7 steady progression up the U series scale, the current i7 NUC abandons the pattern, goes HQ and shatters the performance benchmark we all expected to see. On top of processing upgrades, NUC Skull Canyon’s i7-6770HQ CPU includes integrated Intel Iris™ Pro 580 graphics capable of outputting 4K resolution, triple display and handling complex 3D graphics. This is NUC, but not as we know it. This is NUC extreme.
Workstation productivity in a mini-PC
So, what will you be using your NUC Skull Canyon for? Frankly, you’ll be spoilt for choice. This kind of performance and graphics means there’s no type of application out of reach really.
You’ll be able to breeze through high resolution photo editing and graphic design with the likes of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Full HD video editing will be no problem at all and even 4K video editing will be possible. 3D applications such as Solidworks, AutoCAD and Blender will run nicely when you are working on complex models and rendering times for ray-traced output will be shortened by the 8 fast processing threads available.
Of course, your more day-to-day usage, with software such as Microsoft® Office etc., will be sublimely unhindered. Modern web browsers will be able to handle multiple tabs, only limited by the speed of your connection and the webserver. Video playback will obviously run very smoothly – this machine is built to deliver 4K after all.
There are limitations to what the NUC Skull Canyon can achieve of course. If you are a 3D design specialist working on highly complex models with thousands of parts or regularly edit and render 4K+ video with lots of special effects this is not the PC for your work; you’ll need to stick to the high-end dedicated workstation (I hope) you are already using. However, for the kind of all-round creative user who needs various professional design tools to work well on a regular basis, the NUC Skull Canyon is a fantastic option. Put it this way: top professionals will not be using it for their work, but it’s perfect for schools training the creatives of tomorrow.
A complete build
Before I finish, it’s important to note that NUC Skull Canyon is not just a pretty processor. The standard NUC Skull Canyon widely available is a barebones kit which needs to be completed with additional components before it becomes usable. What you buy from VeryPC, however, is a fully integrated system ready and waiting for you to start your work.
For memory, we add up to 32GB of DDR4 2133MHz (that’s fast!) RAM and either one or two M.2 SSDs up to a capacity of 480GB each. The build is completed by adding Windows® 10 or Windows 10 Pro, or we can install your organisation’s system image right here in our factory before dispatch to save you lots of tedious setup time.
Connectivity is bang up to date too, as you would expect. The latest AC wireless is dual band, dual channel, dual antenna and supports Intel WiDi wireless display for easy and glitch free screen casting. Up to 3 x 4K displays can be delivered through HDMI 2.0, mini-DisplayPort 1.2 and USB Type-C acting as DisplayPort. The USB Type-C port also acts a high speed peripheral connector in either USB 3.1 (10Gb/s) or Thunderbolt 3 (40Gb/s) modes. Bluetooth 4.2, gigabit Ethernet, 3.5mm/optical audio jacks and 4 x USB 3.0, including a charging port, complete the set.
The best mini-PC ever
Skull Canyon has redefined what a mini-PC can be. The performance is on par with a high-end full size desktop, and even pushes into workstation territory. This tiny little beauty will handle with grace just about everything that virtually every user and student can throw at it, all whilst being so low profile that you may not even notice it’s there (especially if you use the included VESA mounting plate to hide it away on the back of your monitor).
As a completely integrated package like we supply at VeryPC, NUC Skull Canyon is basically the ultimate productivity PC.