Minisforum H31G review: A surprisingly powerful entry to PC gaming
PC gaming can be a bit intimidating for new players or those used to consoles, but it’s worth it for all the extra games and flexibility you get. After a few weeks with the Minisforum H31G, I can say that this little box is a great place to start, packing more power than I expected into a simple, portable design.
The H31G is a mini PC, a class of devices that ditches the desktop tower in favor of a box no bigger than a DVD box set. Normally, these machines are made for office work, running a projector, or other low-intensity uses. But the H31G has gaming on its mind, and to that end it’s kitted out with a GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics card. Measuring just 154 x 153 x 62 mm (6 x 6 x 2.4 in), Minisforum says it’s the smallest mini PC to have a dedicated GPU.
The 1050 Ti isn’t the most powerful card on the market of course – this thing was the budget unit of its generation, and that was four years ago. So when news of the H31G dropped in September, I was a little dismissive of its abilities. I said it could probably handle some “moderate gaming,” and pointed out “don’t expect to be running Cyberpunk 2077 in 4K at 120 fps on this little thing, but it should handle older and less graphically-intense games just fine.”
Now, after trying it out for two weeks, it looks like I might have underestimated it. This little slugger handled everything I threw at it with gusto – up to and including VR.
I’m a bit of a lapsed PC gamer. Once my platform of choice, for the last four years I’ve traded the desktop for the couch, living off the dynamic duo of a PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. So I thought this review would be a good excuse to dust off my poor neglected Steam library.
Honestly, I didn’t expect too much. I thought it’d handle some indie gems and older AAA games just fine, but assumed it would struggle with newer releases, even on lower graphical settings.
As such, I started off easy, with the small, graphically-simple-but-strategically-complex indie game Into The Breach. Of course, the H31G ate it up without a peep. I moved onto Minecraft – again, not exactly known for chewing up GPUs. I cranked the draw distance up to the full 56 chunks, and played online for a while. I could see all the way to the blocky horizon with no issues.
Next up were the decade-old classics Portal 2 and Left 4 Dead 2. On the highest settings they ran perfectly fine, no matter how many zombies piled up. On a related note – wow, remember how meticulously designed Valve games were, back when Valve made games?
Then I tried a new game, albeit not a particularly intense one – Phasmophobia. Well, I mean it’s not graphically intense, but things sure feel pretty intense when you’re cowering in a closet hoping a murderous spirit doesn’t find you.
Strangely enough, this is the game that the H31G seemed to struggle with the most. For the first time I heard the mini PC’s fans fire up loudly, and movement in the game started to stutter. The visuals are definitely nothing to write home about, so all I can chalk it up to is the fact it’s still an early access game, so perhaps it’s just not very well optimized yet. That’s more the fault of the game than the machine, and even so it was still playable.
To crank things up a notch I busted out two meaty games that only came out last year: The Outer Worlds and Blair Witch. The H31G handled both like a champ – with the settings on The Outer Worlds pumped up to Very High, it dropped a few frames, but going back down to just plain old High settings it ran fine.
Amazed that it had handled every challenge I’d thrown at it so far, I devised the ultimate test – VR.
VR test run
Nowhere in the most optimistic of press materials did Minisforum claim the H31G could handle VR, and a quick Google search of the HTC Vive’s minimum requirements suggested the GTX 1050 Ti was dicey at best. But I dug out the office Vive, plugged it in and fired up two little VR demos – Star Wars: Trials on Tatooine and Don’t Knock Twice.
Lo and behold, suddenly I was under Tatooine’s two suns, watching the Millennium Falcon land next to me. Don’t Knock Twice worked too, although I only tested the first minute or so – as soon as the monster showed up in a flash of lightning, I decided I’d seen enough.
It only worked on the absolute lowest settings, of course, and even with headphones on I could hear the little fans working overtime. But that’s not the point – the H31G can run VR. I wouldn’t count on it as a dedicated VR machine, but knowing it can is a bonus. Plus, it might make a good partner for the Oculus Quest, the standalone VR headset that can be plugged into a PC for extra help.
But maybe the more important lesson from that VR test is that this mini PC should be able to run most non-VR games in at least low graphics settings.
An easy sell
Not only does the H31G ace its main job of playing games, but it does so in a handy little package. It’s pretty much as portable as a laptop, and I had no issue moving it around at home between my desktop monitor and the TV, or stuffing it in a backpack and taking it to the office.
The H31G’s specs are also customizable too. It comes loaded with a 256-GB solid state drive (SSD), but that can be upgraded with a 2.5-in SADA hard disc drive (HDD), a second SSD, and a MicroSD card. Likewise, the included 8 GB of RAM can be boosted up to a maximum of 64 GB between two slots. I didn’t get a chance to test this expandability, but it’s nice to know it’s there when you inevitably run out of storage space.
The H31G won’t cut the mustard for hardcore PC gamers, but that’s not who it’s for. If you’re a casual player or looking to begin dabbling in the hobby, this is the perfect place to start. You’ll be able to play pretty much everything – provided you don’t mind missing out on fancy effects like raytracing – and best of all, you can do so at less than half the price of a decent desktop rig.
The Minisforum H31G is available now starting from US$399.
Product page: Minisforum