Game Plan: System Builders Say Intel's New NUC Mini PC Kit Will Wow Enthusiasts

Intel Wednesday took the wraps off its Skull Canyon NUC, its latest Next Unit of Computing mini PC kit that system builders can gear toward digital signage, media centers and kiosk solutions.

But Intel system builder partners that now offer NUC-based systems said the product’s new features, which include better performance and graphics, are also attractive to a new set of potential customers -- gaming enthusiasts.

’Previous generations of NUC have been ideal for home theater applications, digital signage and retail POS [point-of-sale]" said Josh Covington, director of marketing and sales at Midlothian, Va.-based Velocity Micro. ’But with this new Skull Canyon hardware, I really think those applications will be expanded to everyday usage and even more enthusiast applications -- even light gaming.’

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Skull Canyon will start at $650 and be available in May, according to Intel, Santa Clara, Calif. An Intel spokesperson confirmed that it will be available to the channel.

On the processor front, Skull Canyon packs a sixth-generation Intel Core i7-6770HQ processor that expends 45 watts -- a higher-end processor than those in previous NUCs.

Intel also aimed to wow enthusiasts with a new integrated higher-end Iris Pro graphics 580 chipset, giving the NUC 30 times better 3-D graphics than its previous version.

Velocity Micro markets its NUC-based Velocity Mini as an all-purpose home and office PC for customers who need full functionality but have space limitations. These customers in particular could benefit from Intel’s integrated graphics and upgraded processor, said Covington.

’From the hardware side, the importance of the i7-6700, Iris Pro Graphics and support for DDR4 especially for the enthusiast audience that is our main customer really can’t be overstated,’ he said. ’With these specs, performance for high-demand applications should be on par with a full-sized, fully powered desktop, which is pretty remarkable considering the form factor.’

Intel’s NUC now contains support for newer ports including Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.1 and DP1.2. There also are four USB 3.0 ports and a full-size SD slot.

Thunderbolt 3 is a critical new port for the NUC as it allows customers to use just one cable to connect to storage devices, 4K displays and high-speed memory devices.

The addition of Thunderbolt 3 also makes the NUC attractive to the enthusiast segment by allowing users to connect to external discrete graphic solutions like the Razer Core.

Intel has amped up the storage for its NUC as well, with Skull Canyon offering dual M.2 slots for SATA3/PCIe x4 Gen 3 NVMe/AHCI SSDs.

’[It is] exciting to see what can be done within the NUC form factor these days. There are several nice features on this product such as the dual M.2 connections with a PCIe3.0x4 NVMe and the Thunderbolt port,’ said Kent Tibbils, vice president of marketing at ASI, a Fremont, Calif.-based Intel system builder. ’This product is clearly crossing different platform groups between small-form-factor desktops and performance or gaming notebooks, but the real interesting thing will be to learn what other applications or environments integrators will find for this device, particularly if Intel makes the motherboard available. This opens some real possibilities for higher-end digital signage devices, as an example.’

On the outside, the NUC has a completely redesigned chassis and case, which now includes two lids, one with a skull logo and one that is black.

While the suggested retail price for NUC is $650, a build with added 16 GB of memory, 256-GB SSD and Windows 10 Home will be almost $1,000.