Minisforum NUCXi7 – a powerful ultra compact gaming PC for the living room (review)

The NUCXi7 from Minisforum is squarely aimed at gamers wanting a compact PC small enough to connect to their living room television and blend into their entertainment unit. The smaller and more energy-efficient form factor also appeals to traditional PC users looking to save desk space and reduce their electricity bill.

The NUCXi7 is about the size of a 15.6-inch gaming laptop with the screen, keyboard and battery removed. Powered by an 11th Gen Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia RTX 3070 mobile GPU, the chassis of the NUCXi7 resembles a slimline games console rather than a traditional desktop tower.

With a starting price of $US1,029, the NUCXi7 is significantly cheaper than a comparable Intel NUC while also boasting significantly better gaming performance.

Is the NUCXi7 the living room gaming PC to beat?

NUCXi7 Design

Although substantially smaller and slimmer than a traditional small form factor (SFF) PC, the NUCXi7 is larger than your typical mini PC such as the Beelink GTR5 I recently reviewed.

The NUCXi7 is designed to be mounted upright via the included hefty metal stand. Due to the way the cooling is designed with the intake on the bottom of the chassis, the unit cannot be laid on its side.

Overall, the NUCXi7 looks sleek and feels sturdy. It’s easy to access the internals by simply unscrewing three screws and sliding off the bottom panel. There are five thick copper heat pipes as well as two fans to keep the system running cool and quiet.

The NUCXi7 comes with two dual DDR4 SODIMM RAM slots and two NVMe SSD trays. The RAM, SSD and WiFi card are all user upgradeable.

Looking at the mainboard, you can clearly see the NUCXi7 laptop roots with plugs and headers for connecting the keyboard, screen and battery still visible. At the top of the unit, there is a significant amount of empty space where the battery would normally sit. I would’ve preferred this space used for a 2.5-inch drive or removed entirely for more efficient space usage.

NUCXi7 diagonal view
The NUCXi7 packs plenty of power for its size

NUCXi7 Ports and connectivity

The NUCXi7 is a little light in the ports department. It has an HDMI 2.1, Thunderbolt 4 and 2.5Gbit/s on the back and 3x USB 3.2 Type-A ports, a headphone jack and an SD Card reader on the front. I would have liked more USB ports as well as DisplayPort and there appears to be enough space on the unit to accommodate them.

That said, the inclusion of a Thunderbolt 4 is very handy. It effectively prolongs the life of the system as it enables the ability to connect an external graphics card (eGPU) once the RTX 3070 starts to get a bit long in the tooth.

Having an SD card reader is great, but it does appear to be capped at USB 3 speeds with my file transfer test topping out at 82MB/s with a V60 UHS-II SD card.

Next to the power switch is a boost button that increases clock speeds and fan speeds, but the overall system still remains very quiet and certainly a lot quieter than a gaming laptop. In games, I found that the boosted performance mode increased frame rates by 10% on average, so I recommend leaving it enabled.

The NUCXi7 uses a high-quality Intel Wi-Fi 6E-AX210 card, but I noticed the range isn’t as great as some other laptops. Considering this, use the wired 2.5Gbit/s port for the best internet connection where possible.

Pricing and configuration

The NUCXi7 starts at US$1,029 for the barebones system while the 16GB RAM model with 256GB SSD is US$1,139. I reviewed the 512GB model which increases the cost slightly US$1,169. All models barring the barebones option come with Windows 11 Pro as well.

There’s also the NUCXi5 model which comes with an Intel Core i5 CPU and RTX 3060 GPU for a starting price of US$859.

The included DRR4 RAM is from ADATA and has a rating of CL22 which is very slow in terms of latency. I felt the memory latency in day-to-day use, with noticeable delays when opening new tabs in the Edge browser and playing 4K video. Swapping the RAM out for some spare CL16-rated RAM that I had on hand from another laptop eliminated the lag issue entirely.

Similarly, the included SSD is PCIe Gen3 and not PCIe Gen4, so read speeds topped out at 2300MB/s and writes at 1600MB/s in my CrystalDiskMark test. Note that for testing, I switched out the 512GB drive for a faster and larger 2TB PCIe 4.0 NVMEe SSD from Kingston (Model: NV2) which almost doubled the read and write speeds.

As a result, I recommend going for the barebones model and using the money saved towards faster RAM and storage. You can find 16GB of low latency SODIMM DDR4 RAM for as cheap as $70, while something like a Kingston NV2 1TB NVMe SSD goes for a street price of just $100. By going this route, not only will you save some cash but you will get much better performance from the NUCXi7 as well.

NUCXi7 on desktop

Performance

Once I switched out the RAM and storage, performance as both a productivity and gaming machine was excellent.

Starting off with synthetic benchmarks, the NUCXi7 achieved a single-core score of 1538 and a multi-core score of 9172. In 3DMark’s Time Spy benchmark, the RTX 3070 mobile GPU inside the NUCXi7 achieved a graphics score of 9625. This is an excellent result and faster than gaming laptops that I’ve tested equipped with the same GPU. There is also sufficient headroom for overclocking should you desire a bit more performance.

On the gaming front, the NUCXi7 consistently delivered above 60fps as a baseline on ultra settings at 1440p resolution with every game I threw at it from Control that God of War. The only two exceptions were Cyberpunk 2077 and Dying Light 2 which I had to drop down to 1080p to get above 60fps. Slightly older titles such as Witcher 3 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider delivered above 100fps on average at 1440p on ultra graphics settings.

I was able to run quite a surprising number of recent titles at native 4K at 60fps as well as Forza Horizon 5 and Doom Eternal.

My preferred way to play on the NUCXi7 is to run games at 1440p and use Nvidia’s DLSS to upscale to 4K which looked fantastic on my 77-inch LG CX OLED. Using Nvidia’s AI-powered upscaling can at times look just as good as native 4K and avoids performance hits that normally come with running at such high resolutions.

It’s worth noting that the NUCXi7 has a completely unlocked BIOS, which is rare to find on prebuilt systems and increases the overclocking potential.

GadgetGuy’s take

The NUCXi7 offers stellar performance in an ultra-small and power-efficient package. It’s a great choice for anyone looking for a desktop PC replacement without the complexity of building one. In terms of gaming performance, it outperforms every other Intel NUC on the market as well as other gaming laptops equipped with the very same RTX 3070 mobile GPU. The top-notch cooling means it runs quieter while also offering generous headroom for overclocking.

At a starting price of $US1,029, the NUCXi7 is competitively priced and I recommend going the barebones route so you can equip the system with faster RAM and storage. Of course, the NUCXi7 won’t sway traditional PC users who can build a more powerful and upgradeable system for less, but then you won’t get something as ultra-compact as this.

If you’re looking for an incredibly small and quiet gaming PC that is both powerful and won’t break the bank, the NUCXi7 from Minisforum is tough to beat.

Positives

Stellar gaming performance for a system of its size

Runs cool and quiet

Excellent build quality

Headroom for overclocking and an unlocked BIOS

Reasonably priced

Negatives

Could use more USB ports and a DisplayPort

Latency with the included RAM is too high

Cannot be laid on its side

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