New Intel 6th generation Core i7 NUC, Skull Canyon NUC6i7KYK with dual M.2 and up to 32GB of RAM

Posted by Paul Braren on Mar 17 2016 (updated on Sep 23 2016) in
  • ESXi
  • Virtualization
  • HomeLab
  • HomeServer
  • GPU
  • Mar 18 2016 Update - additional information, and podcast with video, added below. If you find this article helpful, consider shopping for the NUC6i7KYK with these affiliate links: Amazon, Newegg, Wiredzone.


    Intel dropped a little surprise late Wednesday, with new and improved GPU capabilities, in a new shape. Introducing an Intel NUC that's a little bigger, taking aim squarely at more demanding customers users this time around.

    Intel makes it pretty clear what their intentions are for this new NUC, right in their Product brief:

    Razer Core External GPU Dock


    VR Ready? *

    Oculus Ready PCs with VR Ready Intel® Core™ i5 or i7 processors are certified to meet your expectations on Rift."
    – Nate Mitchell, VP Product

    * It seems an external GPU could enable this NUC6i7KYK to be VR capable, but it's not on the VR Ready list. Read more about VR Ready initiative here. Keep in mind that the NUC6i7KYK kit requires RAM and disk, add in a VR capable (USB Type-C connected) Thunderbolt 3 dock, AND a beefy GPU (up to 375 watts). You're likely looking at a total near $2000. We'll have to wait for a bit to know more.

    Here’s an amazing statistic: Earth’s population has reached nearly 7.5 billion people—and 1.3 billion of them are PC gamers!
    – Gregory Bryant, Corporate Vice President/General Manager Desktop Client Platforms


    Workstation / Content Creation - M.2 x2 is a very nice touch

    Available now on Amazon in 256GB and 512GB sizes, 1TB expected early 2016.

    For workstation use in a small home office, that Iris Pro 580 GPU claims to have enough grunt to handle 3 4K displays (60 Hz max), paired with the Intel® Core™ i7-6770HQ Processor with 4 cores at 2.6 GHz / 3.5 GHz, and 6 MB of cache, at a TDP of 45 watts.

    This is the first of any 6th generation NUC to feature a Core i7, with considerably more capability than any 6th generation Gigabyte BRIX. And adding a 2nd M.2 slot in there for storage was a very good move.

    Click to view the entire Intel® NUC Kit NUC6i7KYK Product Brief.

    Family Room TV / Home Theater

    Now this could be interesting for some families, I would think. HDMI, (possibly) quiet operation unless gaming, speed, and compact size. Still, close to $1000 once configured with some memory and storage. Would have been nice to have something like this, back when Media Center was still a thing ;-). Too soon?

    Home Server / Home Lab / VMware Cluster/vSAN (RAID over 10Gb)

    Yes, I'm biased here. TinkerTry tends to focus on small servers that can be suitable for home lab use. Especially for virtualization, where a watt burning GPU is not needed, or desired. For example, Xeon D-1541 based servers share the same TDP of 45 watts as the new NUC, and runs at a little lower GHz while getting more work done per clock cycle). But what you also get is 2 times the cores and cache, 4 times the RAM (full size/cheaper DIMMs in 4 slots) and NIC ports (2 of them 10GbE!), M.2, and 6 SATA drive bays. Oh, and a low profile PCIe slot that can fit a quad-4K GPU that I'm currently testing seen here as a Datacenter/Workstation all-in-one working experiment that I actually use. But I fully realize mini-towers that start at ~$1700 equipped with 64GB aren't for everybody, especially folks considering a 2nd or even a 3rd cluster node, where affordability is crucial.

    For folks interested in experimenting with VT-d passthru, the new NUC's CPU does support it, seen at Intel ARK here. It's not certain that the Intel Iris Pro 580 GPU could be passed through, or that the BIOS will enable VT-d. This NUC is said to allow connection to external GPU, see also Skull Trail NUC Fact Sheet.

    So for this Intel NUC6i7KYK, perhaps 3 of them in an All Flash vSAN 6.2 role, with 2 M.2 drives in each.

    Or perhaps a single NUC6i7KYK in a dual-boot role, using an external drive (since there's no internal bay for 2.5" drives). Such a light gaming workstation that could also occasionally be part of a All Flash vSAN 6.2. None of this would be officially supported by VMware for Virtual SAN of course, as is the case with pretty much all affordable (non-enterprise) consumer gear.

    This little NUC will be particularly compelling if the M.2 in this NUC can get the full speeds of the M.2 slots this time around. This seems likely, given it can do USB 3.1 Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps). See also page 45 of the Core i5 NUC615SYH manual, which states that model's M.2 limitations:

    for the Using PCIe x4 M.2 SSD maximum bandwidth is approximately 1600 MB/s

    What if 10GbE can be creatively added? Without 10GbE, those stellar NVMe M.2 speeds of 2,500 MB/sec reads and 1,500 MB/sec writes wouldn't be seen for vSAN anyway. Still, it could be an interesting thing to try, assuming the designed-for-Windows 10 hardware gets along well enough with VMware ESXi 6.

    What if William Lam's ESXi experiments with Thunderbolt broadens to even more devices? Interesting possibilities.

    For virtualization enthusiasts hankering for more NICs, here's a little something:

    • Development Project – M.2 Ethernet Card for Intel NUC

      To meet this need we’re currently developing an M.2 Ethernet card for the 6th generation Intel NUC. Here’s what is promises:
      Two Intel i210 Ethernet ports
      Since it's PCIe based rather than USB based, VMware ESXi support shouldn't be an issue.

    from the same company that did this with the 6th generation NUC:

    G2 Digital - NUC miniature computing has evolved

    You may also be interested in a recent close look at the specs of another new 6th generation NUC, the NUC615SYH:

    Now let's imagine ripping that skull-decorated plastic shell off (which doesn't look as great once dusty anyway), and putting it into something else, more like the above pic, or even a custom Lego case.


    Closing thoughts

    It's always fun to see what kind of tweaks and hacks folks come up with, and having a nice solid foundation for enthusiasts to build upon can only lead to good things. I'm glad the Intel NUC platform, and the huge community of support around it, really seems to be thriving. Such competition is good for all of us. People are finally realizing that modest electricity usage, noise, and heat are rather important when living near your versatile PC, no matter what role you choose for it to fill. Using less resources before it eventually becomes landfill.

    For home server use, the Xeon D-1500 mini-tower with lots of drive bays and IPMI for remote management is still a better choice for most, knowing that the NUC's 32GB of RAM maximum is going to feel pretty small in 2-3 years time.


    The price is expected to be roughly $650, arriving in May. I haven't found any US sites taking pre-orders quite yet, but Newegg may be first. As was the case with prior NUCs, this is a kit: you'll need to provide memory and disk.

    Sep 23 2016 Update - If you find this article helpful, consider shopping for the NUC6i7KYK with these affiliate links: Amazon, Newegg, Wiredzone.

    CPU Specifications

    See comparison of the following 4 CPUs, to get a sense of how they differ:

    • Xeon D-1541 (SuperServer SYS-5028D-TN4T)
    • Core i5-6260U (NUC615SYH)
    • Core i7-6770HQ (NUC6i7KYK Skull Canyon)
    • Core i7-6700K (higher-end Skylake Desktop PC)
    Click the image to visit the full Intel ARK comparison page. Xeon D-1541 [SuperServer SYS-5028D-TN4T] / Core i5-6260U [NUC615SYH] / Core i7-6770HQ [NUC6i7KYK Skull Canyon] / Core i7-6700K [high-end Skylake desktop]

    Mar 17 2016 Update 1

    New post at engadget

    Great new post that really sums things up quite nicely.

    Price-wise, it's a large step up from the latest gaming consoles, though. The bare NUC is $650, and Intel says a typical build with 16GB RAM, a 256GB SSD and Windows 10 would run $999. Should you go for external discreet graphics via the Razer Core (now on pre-order for $500), and an NVIDIA GTX 970 graphics card (the minimum for an Oculus Rift and HTC Vive) you're in for another $850. That makes the total investment $1,850 and you could easily build a much better PC for that price.
    However, NUCs do have their place. If you don't have a lot of space and are fine with the Iris Pro graphics, you'll get an okay gaming PC and extremely competent media server. The NUC goes on pre-order at Newegg in April for $650 and will ship in May 2016.

    Comparative Size

    which converts to:
    4.6" depth x 8.5" width x 0.9" height

    which converts to:
    11"  depth x 8.3" width x 9.5" height

    Images resized to approximate relative size of Supermicro SYS-5028D-TN4T at left and Intel NUC6i7KYK at right. Completely different animals, but similar desktop space and watt usage.

    See also at TinkerTry

    Home vSAN? These 2 extras SuperServers were borrowed, sure was fun though!
    Things sure have come a long way in gaming since 2011, with a 2.5" SSD, and 3 x 3.5" drives in a RAID0.

    Mar 18 2016 Update

    This new NUC is featured in this just-published PC Perspective Podcast episode, including a discussion about (pricey) external GPU options:

    Here's the audio queued to just the right spot:

    Here's the video queued to just the right spot:

    PC Perspective Podcast 391 - 03/17/16 at 50 min 7 sec.

    Sep 23 2016 Update

    Special thanks to Leandro G Faria Corcete DUTRA who dropped a comment about an error I had made in my Intel ARK table and caption:

    The NUC6i7KYK Skull Canyon sports the i7-6770HQ, not the 6970HQ.

    I have made the appropriate correction to the relevant section of the article above.

    See also