Intel Skull Canyon NUC review

A productivity mini PC masked as a gaming rig

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Our Verdict

Muddled by confused marketing, the Skull Canyon NUC is an excellent mini PC for productivity with some light gaming on the side.

For

  • Powerful CPU
  • Compact form factor
  • Easy port access

Against

  • Expensive to configure
  • High-end gaming requires extra parts

What if you could build a Steam Machine that's smaller than a console, more capable than the Xbox 360 and PS3 and fully customizable with the operating system (and even some components) of your choice? That's exactly what Intel hopes to accomplish with its latest series of NUCs, its "Next Unit of Computing" hardware.

Technically called the NUC Kit NUC6i7KYK, Intel has opted to dub its latest mini computer outing "Skull Canyon" for short, saving you the embarrassment of recommending such a long-winded name for a piece of tech.

The humiliation you may have to undergo instead is from purchasing a PC clearly marketed toward gamers only with Intel's integrated graphics to show off its gaming prowess. However, Intel promises this time is different. That's because this time Iris Pro graphics have hit the scene, naturally integrated into a 6th-generation Skylake Core i7-6770HQ processor.

Skull Canyon NUC

For $649 (about £444, AU$904), the Skull Canyon wouldn't be a tough sell out of the box. It has the latest processor for getting your work done fast, a decent graphics solution for casual gaming in your downtime and a brilliantly designed, compact form factor with all the ports anyone would typically need in their day-to-day.

But, don't be fooled, $649 is far from the final cost of the Skull Canyon NUC – it's only the beginning. Being what's called a barebones PC or a barebones kit, the Skull Canyon NUC ships boasting support for up to 32GB of RAM and either a SATA3 or NVMe solid state drive (SSD), but without either included in the box.

Rather, those items have to be purchased separately, which drastically raised the value of my own review unit from a humble $650 to around $1,050 (about £717, AU$1,461).

Skull Canyon NUC

That excludes the cost of an operating system. If you opt for Windows 10, that could set you back up to 200 bucks more. Of course, you could always go for something like Ubuntu or SteamOS instead, which wouldn't add any potentially unneeded expenditures.

That purchase isn't quite as justifiable, especially considering the comparable price of a system with native support for a discrete graphics card. The Skull Canyon NUC is a niche product for a mindfully small audience. If you think you may be a part of that specific group, continue on ahead.