Phantom Canyon NUC Review (NUC11PHKi7C)

This is a review I was hoping to write this spring – half a year ago. I ordered my Phantom Canyon NUC (NUC11PHKi7C) from a dealer that told it should be available in two weeks. Then it was postponed by two weeks, then another week until I was told they cannot commit to any delivery date. I cancelled my order some time during the summer time. Finally a few weeks ago I noticed the thing was available and I decided to pick one up for this review.

The global component shortage has hit everyone from car manufacturers to computer giants like Intel. It’s a shame because this year’s NUC models are better than ever. I was very happy with the Panther Canyon early this year and the Phantom Canyon is honestly just pretty darn good.

For those who are not familiar with the Intel NUCs of the past: The Phantom Canyon NUC is the third generation in a lineup of miniature computers that are targeted for gamers and people in need of high GPU performance. Whereas most NUCs utilize the inbuilt HD Graphics or Iris Graphics GPU of the processor the Phantom Canyon has a Nvidia Geforce RTX2060 GPU with 6GB GDDR6 RAM.

The quad-core Core i7 powered Phantom Canyon NUC is priced currently at $1390 (€1099 in Europe) which might seem like a lot but when you realize that just the RTX 2060 GPU will actually cost more than $600 at the moment it does put things a bit into perspective. GPU prices are high at the moment as demand exceeds supply. But yeah, it’s still not a cheap piece of kit.

Specifications

  • CPU: Intel Core i7-1165G7 Processor (4 cores/8 threads, 12M Cache, up to 4.70 GHz)
  • GPU: GeForce RTX 2060, 6GB GDDR6
  • GPU: Intel Iris Xe Graphics inbuilt in SOC
  • Memory: Two 1.2V DDR4 SO-DIMM slots, up to 3200 MHz (Max. 64 GB)
  • M.2 slot: 2x M.2 PCIe Gen 3 slots for 22×80 drives (key M), other one for NVMe only
  • Ethernet: 2.5 gigabit port, Intel i225-LM
  • WiFi: 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 adapter with Bluetooth 5.1, Intel AX201
  • Thunderbolt: 2 TB3 Type-C ports (1 front, 1 rear), USB4 compliant, connected to Intel GPU
  • Connectors for RTX 2060 GPU: MiniDP 1.4, HDMI 2.0a
  • USB: Three Type-A USB 3.2 Gen2 ports (1 front, 2 rear) + two Type-C ports
  • Headset: 3.5mm headset jack (front panel)
  • Consumer Infrared Receiver
  • SD card reader: SDXC with UHS-II support
  • Dimensions: 117 x 112 x 51mm

The full technical product specifications PDF is available here.

Overview

In the box you can find the NUC itself, some assembly instruction guides, a large 230-watt LiteOn manufactured power brick, a vertical stand for your NUC and a VESA mount to attach the NUC to the back of your monitor or TV.

The power brick is huge when compared to the NUC itself.

The front panel of the NUC features an infrared sensor for remote control, SD card reader, a USB type-C port with Thunderbolt 4, two USB 3.2 type-A ports (other one with 2A current support), 3.5 mm headset jack and a power button.

Phantom Canyon NUC

The front has a typical selection of ports.

Ports, ports, more ports.. The rear panel has a combined 3.5 mm jack with optical out, 2.5 GbE Ethernet port, 4 USB 3.2 type-A ports, another USB type-C port with Thunderbolt 4, full size HDMI 2.0a port, Mini DisplayPort 1.4 and a power connector.

Rear panel provides ample connectivity.

Rear panel provides ample connectivity.

The top of the NUC features the familiar skull that has always divided opinions sharply. Luckily for those who dislike it it can be switched off. And if you really love it, you can highlight it by changing the color or making it blink with the Intel NUC Software Studio utility. The behavior and color of the skull and all LEDs in the front panel can actually be customized which is pretty cool. The skull is actually just a plastic screen that can be replaced (for custom logo) or rotated if you use the vertical stand and want to keep the skull facing the right way.

LED color and purpose can be modified with NUC Studio

Assembly

Ok, let’s get to the assembly. First you will need to open 8 hex small screws with the supplied 2 mm key.

After taking off the lid you’ll need to remove the LED assembly and the skull screen. 5 more screws but they’re Phillips screws this time. There sure are quite a few screws here! Just don’t lose any while building the NUC…

Carefully detach the LED panel cable from the mainboard and you can finally see the internals of the NUC. There are two slots for M.2 devices. The other one takes a 2280 NVMe or SATA drive whereas the other one is NVME only, but can also take a 22×110 size in addition to the usual 22×80. There are two slots for DDR4 SO-DIMMs for memory. On the bottom right corner of the picture you can see the AX201 Wi-FI 6 adapter that’s soldered down.

I chose to equip the NUC with a Kingston KC2500 NVMe drive and 2x 8GB Kingston ValueRAM DDR4-3200 RAM modules.
Normally at this point you’d put the lid back and fasten all those screws. However, I wanted to see what’s on the other side of the mainboard. I carefully detached all fan connectors, Wi-Fi antennas and the front panel connectors. Unfastened a few more screws and pulled the mainboard out of the chassis that’s barely big enough to fit the mainboard.

On the bottom of the chassis there are two fans that take up as much real estate as they can. The relatively large diameter helps to keep down the RPMs while still enabling them to move enough air. I have to say that I was quite impressed by the fan management in this device. Even under stress the fans don’t become annoyingly loud or whining. During normal desktop use the unit was more or less silent. The fans use AVC’s Advanced Hydraulic Bearing technology which is supposed to be good for quieter fans as there’s no contact between the shaft and the bearing.

On the other side of the mainboard you can find several heat pipes and a heat sink that will help dissipate the heat. The heat pipes for the RTX 2060 GPU are significantly larger than the ones for the Core i7 CPU. No wonder, since the 115W N18EG1-B RTX 2060 variant can produce significantly more heat than the 28W TDP Core i7 GPU.

Perhaps a picture of me holding the mainboard will give an idea of the size here.



Contents

8 Responses

  1. Olli says:

    Honestly, this has been a frustrating year. It was next to impossible to get hold of the new NUCs and even if I could get one it still wasn’t possible for you, readers, to buy one. And it’s not very motivating to write about something you know won’t be available in the stores.

    Hell, Panther Canyon NUC was actually good and so is the Phantom Canyon. Panther: already discontinued. Phantom: somewhat available currently, but prices are what they are…

  2. Vlado says:

    Thanks. Better late than never.

  3. sahin xilen says:

    thanks gents for all the reviews, though after this year I will stop buying cannon PCs for my family. It got to the point where building a mini ATM line nCase is cheaper, more reliable and more maintainable than the NUCs… which used to have price, size and power on their size with Skull canyon

  4. Ale says:

    Thanks for the review. Here in Switzerland I was able to get it for around 950 Euro.
    I am loving the much quieter fan compared to hades canyon.
    Quick question: as I am using it mainly for office work, using a Thunderbolt video connection (which is attached to the Intel integrated graphic) would consume less resources as compared to me using it with the DP cable?

  5. Clara the great says:

    I personally dont recommend this NUC. It’s not a nuc but a skull. Scary for kids and christians.

    • nucblognet says:

      Personally I fail to see how a picture of a skull would be scary for Christians in particular. But if you want to avoid your kids having nightmares you can remove that plastic skull screen while assembling the NUC or replace it with a home-cut image of Sponge Bob.

  6. Thomas says:

    thanks for the review. I have some questions though.

    1. Does the system have an Nvidia Optimus configuration, where the dedicated GPU is only used when needed, and the INtel iGPU is primarily active during light desktop use?

    2. if it’s not Nvidia Optimus, is it still possible to seamlessly switch between the two GPUs when the display is connected to the DP or HDMI port?

    3. Could you please try to compare the fan noise with the classic NUC formats like the 6i5-SYH or the current 11-i7PAH?

    • burnsidhe says:

      It’s a whisper under idle. A gentle susurrus that is drowned out by your AC running, by road noise, by your mate talking on the other side of the house, by a copier machine or printer running, whatever. Nearly silent.
      Under load it does spin up, but it’s still about half as loud as your AC running, if that.

      i7PAH runs up to 54.5 db, Phantom Canyon idles at 25db up to a maximum under load (for a brief period) of 47.9. So even at its loudest it’s about half as loud as an i7PAH, and it takes more of a load to get there.

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