One of the advantages of working for a technology company is that you get to play with some pretty cool toys. I recently had the pleasure of trying out a diminutive piece of hardware from Intel. It was a tiny, black box—all of 8.3 inches long, 4.6 inches wide, and 1.1 inches deep. When I picked up the feather-light device and examined it, I found that one side offered an SD card slot, USB 3.0 ports, and a headphone jack, and the other side packed in ports for power, networking, Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.0, HDMI, and Mini DisplayPort (mDP), in addition to a 3.5 mm speaker/TOSLINK jack.

Figure 1. Intel NUC Kit 6i7KYK, better known as "Skull Canyon"

Figure 1. Intel NUC Kit 6i7KYK, better known as “Skull Canyon”

What I held in my hands was an Intel Skull Canyon mini-PC. Well, an Intel NUC Kit 6i7KYK to be precise, but it’s much easier and more common to refer to it by the code name. The Skull Canyon NUC sits at the top of a broad lineup of mini-PCs from Intel. What puts this one above the others isn’t just the ports on the outside, it’s also the internal specs that include a 6th generation Intel® Core™ i7 processor and Intel® Iris™ Pro graphics. You need to bring your own memory and storage, but the Skull Canyon NUC mini-PC includes two M.2 slots for SATA or PCIe SSD cards, and it supports up to 32 GB of RAM.

Built for Gaming

You can put together an impressive gaming system with those specs, so it’s no surprise that hard-core gamers are a primary target for this device. That’s evident from the embossed skull on the cover—which, fortunately for office workers, can be replaced with a plain black cover, also included in the box. The Skull Canyon NUC mini-PC supports high-end 3D graphics, and the chassis is designed for optimal cooling, so you don’t have a whirring fan competing with your game’s soundtrack.

Great for Coding

But the thing is, I probably wouldn’t buy this NUC for gaming. Okay, sure, I’d fire up Call of Duty or Skyrim from time to time, but honestly, this little device would make a great platform for development—especially if you want to design apps that typically require high-end servers for testing, for performing deep-dive analytics, or for generating complex visualizations.

Here’s a perfect example: suppose you want to develop an online app for SAP HANA. You can’t just throw together a full SAP HANA in-memory database for testing, and you certainly can’t use your company’s production system as your sandbox. What you can do is trick out a Skull Canyon NUC mini-PC with 16 or 32 GB of RAM and an SSD drive, install a Linux or Windows operating system, and then download SAP HANA, express edition for free from the SAP website.

Now that you have a high-performing, isolated platform on your desk, you can use it to develop SAP HANA apps, and then test functionality and performance. If you’re so inclined, you can even run small production SAP HANA workloads at remote sites, where it might be impractical to set up a larger server system, without losing performance.

Where to Look for an Intel NUC Mini-PC

The Skull Canyon NUC is the ideal Intel mini-PC for high-performance work. However, Intel does offer several other NUC kits that might meet your needs at a lower price point. This Intel page has overviews of the current models with their specs and primary use cases. Just remember to consider your RAM and SSD needs, too.

And finally, if you like the idea of coding with SAP HANA, express edition as we described above, you can read this step-by-step guide written by SAP evangelist Craig Cmehil. Craig explains how to get everything configured on an Intel NUC mini-PC.

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