Intel Skull Canyon

Pint-sized PCs smaller than even typical mini ITX rigs have become something of a trend the last few years as manufacturers like Zotac and Gigabyte have learned to do more with less space. But today we’ve got a PC that’s literally not much bigger than a pint and features high-end components and expandability that will make even some mid tower systems blush. It’s Intel’s new Skull Canyon NUC the latest in their line of small form-factor computers. But is this little machine decorated with a skull just an attempt at voodoo magic or can it really trade blows with an expensive desktop rig? Let’s find out. Cooler Master’s Master Case Maker Five features their free for modular system allowing you to customize adjust and upgrade.

Make it yours through the link in the video description down below. So it surprised me that most right off the bat is how light this thing is. Despite its laundry list of primo components by my gue-estimation this thing is roughly about the same weight as a chipotle burrito. So it’s pretty freaking portable that way. Volume wise it takes up just about the same amount of space as a couple of soda cans or a fifth of vodka if that’s your kind of thing, but please don’t try to figure that out yourself if you’re under age. Anyways despite how small and light this thing is there’s no shortage of goodies under the hood.

You get a Skylake core i7 6770 HQ with a 2.6GHz base clock and a 3.5GHz turbo with Iris pro 580 graphics which is Intel’s current top and integrated GPU. A pair of DDR4 SODIMM slots that support 32 gigs of memory to M.2 slots that support 80mm SSDs and our full speed PCI Express capable slots. Dual band wireless AC and NFC header, bluetooth support. Do keep in mind. This is a bare-bones kit however.

So you’ll need to provide your own storage and ram. That’s why we didn’t say specs for those in particular. Moving to the outside there’s a power button which is you know, always useful. A SDXC card reader, a pair of USB 3.0 ports including one optimized for charging, a headphone jack and an IR sensor. You can use if you have a, you know compatible device or whatever.

Around the back there’s a power connector for the included 120 watt power brick. An interesting combo 3.5mm audio and TOS link jack so if you can get an adapter you can output digital 5.1 signal to a surround system and Gigabit ethernet. Then there’s two more USB 3.0 ports, a mini displayport, thunderbolt 3.0 for high speed external storage or an external GPU enclosure like the razor core and HDMI 2.0 for 4k at 60Hz. Although I wouldn’t try to push those kind of frame rates while gaming on the iGPU.

However, it is kind of useful for a feature if you’re doing other things at 4K and want your general experience to look much smoother. The exterior design features Intel’s trademark skull keeping with the skull canyon overall theme. But if having bones all over your electronics isn’t really your bag, Intel does thoughtfully include a top plate that’s otherwise the same, but sands the skull.

The screws that hold it on are captive. Which is a nice touch since they’re quite small and would be otherwise easy to lose. If you’re lucky enough to own your own 3D printer Intel also provides files on their website that allow you to create a custom cover for the NUC that will fit correctly.

And you also get Vesa mounting hardware if you want to screw the NUC to your monitor and create an ARSATs all in one. Once you turn it on you can get to the more comprehensive than expected Intel visual bios which features a modern GUI and lots of interesting options even including adjustable settings for overclocking but more on that in a minute But is this little guy worthy of the extreme sounding skull canyon name? Let’s turn to our benchmarking results to find out starting with the CPU bound 7-Zip and Cinebench R15 or the NUCs core i7 6770HQ didn’t quite touch our full fat desktop 6700K.

But still managed some very solid scores and beat out our razor blade stealth 15 which contains the slightly lower performing, but still very high-end 6700HQ. So intensive multi-threaded applications should be no problem for the NUC. But what about gaming? Although there’s some serious potential here if you hook up an external graphics card via thunderbolt, We unfortunately didn’t have a razor core at the time we tested the NUC. But that did give us a chance to see if the integrated Iris Pro 580 graphics solution could tread water.

Both Star Wars battlefront and the notoriously punishing Crysis 3 ran at 31FPS at 1080p on medium settings. Yeah, seriously! Totally playable frame rate with decent settings on a graphics processor strapped into a CPU. Wicked! Grand Theft Auto 5 was also a positive experience coming in at 32FPS at 1080p, using the default settings and FXAA.

Although we saw some dips into the low 20s at times the game is still perfectly playable. Rise of the Tomb Raider was a little bit of a different story as we had to turn it down to hit even 25FPS at 720p but overall as long as you keep your expectations reasonable You can still enjoy modern titles in a pinch at respectable frame rates. But given that the NUC is such a small package could it manage heat adequately when putting such a load on the CPU and its integrated GPU? Well, sort of.

The CPU heated up to 87 degrees Celsius during our 7-Zip benchmark and 79 on our Crysis 3 Skybox tests and a whopping 100 throttling it down right when we stress test with AIDA64. So trying to overclock probably isn’t a good idea Even though the BIOs does let you tinker with clock speeds. The AIDA64 test cause the system through throttle like I mentioned but no such throttling was observed in our other benchmarks. So you probably won’t have to worry about it too much when gaming or putting a reasonable load on the CPU. Not like a benchmark, stress test thing.

Despite the slightly too hot for comfort temperatures another positive is that even with said temperatures the top bezel only got to 42 degrees Celsius at its warmest spot. So there won’t be any painful surprises if you need to handle the NUC during heavy use. Of course this kind of performance in a small form factor comes at a cost. 650USD to be exact.

We went on PC part picker to see what a similarly configured mini ITX, barebone system would cost and we came up with an estimate of about $465. So a total difference of $185 and that’s minus the card reader, thunderbolt support and Iris Pro graphics. So, like, not on the same level at all really, but despite the NUC giving you these add-ons, you are paying a premium to get everything shrunk down into an attractive lightweight device. But this also means you’re getting mostly uncompromised performance in the smallest package we’ve seen yet. Even on the iGPU and with the capability to pair the NUC with an external graphics card to have possibly the ultimate tiny gaming setup. Speaking of which, I’ll be doing just that in an upcoming video so stay tuned tiny little computer, tons of performance including a skull canyon NUC, awesome razor core thing.

I don’t have a link for you because I haven’t done it yet, but it will happen so stay tuned. Ifixit.com is your complete do-it-yourself electronics repair solution from their 19,000 free step-by-step repair guides. To their huge inventory of replacement parts and tools with lifetime warranties. Ifixit has got your repair needs covered.

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Buy ’cause it’s awesome, or don’t and still have free access to all of their repair resources on ifixit.com. If you’re interested head over to ifixit.com/linus and use the code linus at checkout to save five dollars on your next purchase of ten dollars or more. Like the video if you liked it, dislike the video if you disliked it, and you’re like I don’t like small computers, screw you. I don’t want to watch videos about small computers.