Intel Targets Gamers With New NUC Mini-PC

At the Game Developers Conference, the 'Skull Canyon' NUC system comes with a fast Intel Core i7 processor and Iris Pro graphics.

Intel gamer NUC

Intel officials for the past several years have been targeting the PC gaming market as a growth market for the chip maker's broad product portfolio.

The company has released numerous chips with the compute and graphics power for the increasingly sophisticated and power-hungry games, and the processor maker also hosts its Extreme Masters eSports tournament that company officials said attracts 100,000 spectators to the events and more than a 1 million online viewers and participants.

Gaming also was one of the central topics at the vendor's Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in August 2015.

Given the focus on gaming, it's no surprise that Intel came to the Game Developers Conference (GDC) this week in San Francisco with some new products and demonstrations of existing technologies. At the top of the list is the company's new NUC mini-PC that comes with a quad-core 6th Generation Core i7-6770HQ chip and Iris Pro 580 graphics technology. The NUC6i7KYK (code-named Skull Canyon) is a 45-watt system that also includes Intel's Thunderbolt 3 for connecting to 4K displays, high-speed storage and other devices, and a variety of ports, including an HDMI 2.0, SD card slot, a gigabit LAN port and four USB 3.0 ports.

The new Skull Canyon NUC (next unit of computing) is larger than previous NUC mini-PCs, coming in at 216mm by 116mm by 23mm.

The NUC kit is aimed at enabling do-it-yourself (DIY) gamers, who can bring their own memory, operating system and storage, or can order what Intel calls a typical build that includes Microsoft's Windows 10 OS, 16GB of DDR4 memory and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD). The barebones system will sell for $650; the typical system for $999.

It will be available for preorder from in a few weeks, Intel officials said.

Similar to other system and component makers at the show, Intel also put a focus on the virtual reality (VR) space. Company officials said the chip maker is working with Oculus and Valve to build an array of tested VR-capable systems. At the same time, the company launched an initiative called "VR Ready" that is designed to help gamers find the right PC for users looking for VR systems.

Officials at the gamer show also reportedly said Intel was not developing its own VR and augmented-reality (AR) headset prototype, despite reports earlier this month.

VR has been a focus at the GDC—there was a conference track devoted to the technology—with Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices making a series of announcements around the technology. Qualcomm this week also announced a software-development kit (SDK) for VR based on its ARM-based Snapdragon 820 system-on-a-chip (SoC).

VR also had a track at the SXSW show in Texas this week. However, it's going to be some time before the technology becomes mainstream, according to Forrester Research analyst J.P. Gownder.

"The vast majority of consumers aren't there yet, don't know or care about VR, and won't know or care in 2016 unless they are hardcore gamers," Gownder wrote in a post on Forrester's blog. "And only a few forward-looking enterprises—digital predators—are experimenting with VR in effective ways today. VR will find its place in the pantheon of important computing platforms, eventually reshaping the way workers work, enterprises interact with customers, and consumers perform a variety of tasks. In other words, it's going to be a real market ... at some point."

During IDF last year, two Intel executives talked about how Intel about five years ago had pulled back from the gaming industry, but that the company was now focused on it. Given the numbers involved, it's not surprising. According to the Intel executives, more than $34 billion was expected to be spent in 2015 on PC games. There are 1.8 billion gamers around the globe, with about 711 million of them saying they are active PC gamers, which means they pay for games at least once a month.