A while back, rumors began to surface that chip giant Intel (INTC 1.08%) planned to introduce a new version of its "Next Unit of Compute" (or "NUC") mini-PCs known as Skull Canyon. Unlike Intel's previous NUCs, these would feature higher power/performance processors.
Indeed, Intel's "mainstream" NUCs tend to use chips rated at either a 15-watt thermal design power or a 28-watt thermal design power. These chips tend to feature dual core processors and either the company's bog-standard "Intel HD graphics" or its more powerful Iris graphics.
At the Consumer Electronics Show, Intel finally officially outed some details of this Skull Canyon PC. Let's take a closer look at them.
More power, please
According to Intel, Skull Canyon will come with Skylake processors rated at a 45-watt thermal design power. These 45-watt chips will pack four processing cores rather than the two cores found on the 15-watt and 28-watt processors.
Additionally, these chips will come with Intel's Iris Pro graphics engine. Iris Pro graphics features 50% more graphics "execution units" than the company's Iris graphics (the best Intel offers in 15-watt and 28-watt thermal envelopes) and triple the number of execution units found in standard Intel HD graphics.
Indeed, while Iris Pro won't deliver the kind of performance that a nice, powerful stand-alone graphics chip will, it should deliver a fairly respectable gaming experience in most 3D games at reasonable graphics settings and resolution levels.
In my view, bringing this class of performance to small, NUC form factors is quite welcome.
A solid attempt to expand the PC total addressable market
In a recent investor conference, Intel's Gregory Bryant explained that one of the company's key business strategies in the desktop market is to try to expand the total addressable market for desktop PCs by delivering "form factor innovation."
Although the NUC form factor isn't anything new, and although other PC vendors (such as Gigabyte) have put higher-performance Intel silicon into NUC-style systems, I think Intel is doing itself and its shareholders a favor by rolling out these relatively high-performance NUCs.
Is the launch of Skull Canyon going to, by itself, drive a dramatic turnaround in the PC market? Of course not. However, it's good to see Intel continue to roll out new and interesting chips and systems to house them.
When do we see Skull Canyon? Skylake with Iris Pro?
Previous leaks suggested Skull Canyon would launch in the first quarter of 2016, but according to various reports, Intel says it's coming in the second quarter of the year.
I suspect this launch timeframe is a good indicator of when we'll start to see other systems using the quad core Skylake chips with Iris Pro graphics. Indeed, one of the highest-profile buyers of Intel's 45-watt mobile processors with Iris Pro graphics is Apple (AAPL 0.13%) for its 15-inch MacBook Pro.
In light of when Intel expects to launch Skull Canyon, I'm now expecting to see a refreshed 15-inch MacBook Pro in the second quarter of 2016. Indeed, Apple last refreshed the system in May 2015, and it stands to reason, particularly in light of the Skull Canyon launch timeframe, that a May/June refresh of the 15-inch MacBook Pro would make sense.
Intel also indicated at its most recent investor meeting that its design wins with Iris/Iris Pro grew by 2 times in 2015. As those designs ramp up in 2016 (there is a lag between when a design is won and when the systems come to market), Intel could enjoy a nice boost in PC processor average selling prices (as Iris/Iris Pro chips command premiums over their cousins that pack just Intel HD Graphics).