Let’s analyze the Gigabyte BRIX Pro, an ultra-compact PC kit, with an Intel Core i7-4770R CPU, two slots for DDR3 memory modules, one 2.5” bay for hard disk drive or SSD, HDMI and Mini DisplayPort outputs, and four USB 3.0 ports.
Mini PCs are not new in the market: there are plenty of compact and ultra-compact desktop computers. But the Gigabyte BRIX Pro (model GB-BXi7-4770R) has three characteristics that make it unique. First, it is really tiny, measuring only 2.4” x 4.4” x 4.4” (62 x 111 x 111 mm).
Second, it does not come “ready to use”. Gigabyte sells the BRIX Pro (as well as less powerful, and even smaller, versions) as a kit: you got the case, power supply, motherboard, CPU, and Wi-Fi adapter, but you have to buy and install the RAM and the hard disk drive (or SSD).
And third, but not less important, unlike most ultra-compact desktop computers, the BRIX Pro does not use a low voltage, low TDP (and, consequently, low performance) CPU. It uses a mighty fourth-generation Core i7-4770R CPU, with four cores and eight threads, 3.2 GHz standard clock and 3.9 GHz turbo clock. This processor also includes an Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200 GPU, which has 128 kiB dedicated memory to work as a cache, presenting higher performance than “usual” Intel integrated GPUs.
In Figure 1, you can see the box of the Gigabyte BRIX Pro (GB-BXi7-4770R).
Figure 2 shows the accessories that come with the computer. It uses an external 135 W power supply, and comes with a small manual, drivers disc, and a VESA mount for installing it behind your video monitor.
Figure 3 unveils the Gigabyte BRIX Pro, and Figure 4 shows it in our hand, so you can have an idea of how small it is.
In the following pages, we will look at the BRIX Pro in detail.
[nextpage title=”Overall view”]
In Figure 5, you can check the front of the computer. It has two USB 3.0 ports, an audio output (which shares a headphone output and an SPDIF optical output), and a meshed area for refrigeration.
At the rear of the case, there are two ventilation openings, an opening for anti-theft devices from Kensington, the power supply connector, HDMI output, Mini DisplayPort output, Ethernet port, and two more USB 3.0 ports.
At the bottom of the BRIX Pro are four screws that you must remove in order to open it.
In the next page, let’s see the inside of the BRIX Pro.
[nextpage title=”Inside the BRIX Pro – Part 1″]
Removing four screws, you can remove the bottom panel. As shown in Figure 8, there is a 2.5” bay at this panel, where you can install an SSD or a hard drive.
In Figure 9, you have a view from the inside of the BRIX Pro when the bottom panel is removed. At first glance, you can see two memory sockets, a Wi-Fi adapter, and a cable with a power and data SATA connector, which must be, obviously, connected to the 2.5” device you install.
Removing the motherboard from the case, you can see it better. The two SODIMM (“laptop memory”) sockets are for DDR3L 1.35 V modules (L stands for low voltage). There is a Mini PCI Express slot, populated by an Azurewave AW-CB161H Wi-Fi/Bluetooth card, which complies with IEEE 802.11ac (dual band) and Bluetooth 4.0. The Wi-Fi control chip used is the Realtek RTL8821AE.
There is a second slot (the black one near the Wi-Fi card) that is actually an mSATA slot for an SSD unit based on this form factor.
[nextpage title=”Inside the BRIX Pro – Part 2″]
Looking at the other side of the motherboard, all you can see is the CPU cooler. It comes with a “blower” fan that removes hot air from the BRIX Pro.
Removing the fan, the heavy, pure copper, CPU heatsink is exposed.
Removing the cooler, you can see the CPU (at the center, soldered to the motherboard) and the Intel HM87 chipset.
The Core i7-4770R is a high-end CPU, with four cores (eight threads thanks to the Hyper-Threading technology), 6 MiB of L3 cache, 3.2 GHz nominal clock and 3.9 GHz turbo clock, and 65 W TDP.
The Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200 GPU embedded in the processor has 40 cores running at 1.3 GHz. It has a 128 MiB eDRAM cache memory embedded, which allows it to reach 3D performance similar to discrete video cards.
The Gigabit Ethernet interface is controlled by a Realtek RTL8111G chip.
The audio is generated by the chipset using the Realtek ALC269 codec, which supports only 2+2 channels, providing 98 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 98 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, and up to 192 kHz sampling rate for outputs and 96 kHz for the inputs, with 24-bit resolution. It is a shame Gigabyte used such a low-end codec, which limits the audio capabilities of the computer, unless you use an external audio interface.
[nextpage title=”Usage and performance”]
In order to “feel” the performance of the Gigabyte BRIX Pro, we mounted it with memory and a hard drive, installed Windows and tested it a little. However, keep in mind that we did not perform a full benchmarking session with a complete testing methodology; the results obtained are only for us to have an idea of how well it performs.
We have to mention that the BRIX Pro is not officially compatible with “common” 1.5 V SODIMM DDR3 memory modules. It uses DDR3L modules, which uses 1.35 V. As we had no such modules available, we installed two “common” 2 GiB DDR3 1333 MHz with 1.5 V. The POST status screen gave us a message about the incompatible memory, but it worked anyway, after pressing F1. We reduced the memory clock from 1333 MHz to 1066 MHz, just in case.
The configuration we used is listed below.
- Memory: two 2 GB DDR3 1333 MHz SODIMM modules, running at 1066 MHz
- Hard disk drive: Seagate Momentus ST1000LM024
- Operating system: Windows 7 Home Premium (64 bit)
- 3D performance test: 3DMark 1.2.362
- Noise test: Prime95
While installing the software and running the operating system, the “feel” was the same as any high-end desktop computer.
3DMark is a program with a set of three benchmarks: Ice Storm, Cloud Gate, and Fire Strike. The Ice Storm benchmark measures DirectX 9 performance; Cloud Gate benchmark measures DirectX 10 performance, running at 1280 x 720 resolution, and the Fire Strike benchmark measures DirectX 11 performance, and is aimed on high-end gamer PCs, running at 1920 x 1080 resolution.
We ran the three 3DMark tests, and obtained the results shown below.
Ice Storm Extreme
Just so you can have an idea, the results were better than the ones we measured with a desktop computer with an entry-level video card, as you can check in our XFX Radeon R7 240 Core Edition Video Card Review. The Gigabyte BRIX Pro performed better than our test system with GeForce GT 640, GeForce GT 630, and Radeon R7 240 video cards installed.
And, since in that review we concluded that those video cards are powerful enough to run even very recent games if you do not mind using medium or low video quality settings, we can say the same applies to the Gigabyte BRIX Pro: it is perfectly fitted for casual gaming.
As we were worried about how much noise such a compact system with a relatively high TDP processor would make, we measured the noise produced by the BRIX Pro, using a digital decibelimeter, at a distance of 4” (10 cm) from the rear of the computer.
In idle, the BRIX Pro we mounted was virtually inaudible: we measured only 39 dBA. Running the Prime95 in order to force the maximum heat production, the CPU cooler accelerated, and the noise level increased. We measured a maximum of 55 dBA, which is tolerable. The exterior of the device maintained a reasonable temperature during this stress test, not heating more than “barely warm” to touch.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the Gigabyte BRIX Pro which we analyzed include:
- Dimensions: 2.4” x 4.4” x 4.4” (62 x 111 x 111 mm) (H x D x W)
- Weight: 1.9 lbs (874 g) (no power supply, memory or hard disk)
- Processor: Intel Core i7 4770R (four cores, 3.2 GHz, 6 MB cache)
- Chipset: Intel Mobile HM87 Express
- Memory: maximum 16 GiB, up to DDR3-1600 DDR3L (1.35 V modules)
- Graphics chip: Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200 (integrated to the CPU)
- Network: Realtek TRL8111G Gigabit Ethernet
- Wireless network: Bluetooth 4.0, IEEE 802.11b/g/n Azurewave AW-CB161H
- Audio: produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC269 codec (2+2 channels, 24-bit resolution, 192 kHz sampling rate for the outputs, 96 kHz sampling rate for the inputs, 98 dB SNR for the outputs, and 98 dB SNR for the inputs), optical SPDIF output
- Ports: Four USB 3.0, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, Gigabit Ethernet
- Memory card reader: No
- More information: http://www.gigabyte.com
- Average price in the US*: USD 620.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day this review was published.
The Gigabyte BRIX Pro proved to be an excellent option for the user who wants an extremely compact desktop PC, but still needs a high performance machine.
The way Gigabyte is selling it, without RAM and storage, is questionable. On one hand, it gives the user a lot of flexibility, as he or she can choose how much RAM to install, and how much storage is needed, focusing on speed (with an SSD), space (with a traditional hard drive), or both (installing an mSATA SSD and a 2.5” hard drive).
On the other hand, the average Joe may find it difficult to choose, buy, and install those components. Even more if we remember the BRIX Pro uses the sill not-so-common 1.35 V “DDR3L” memory modules. Not to mention that the user also needs to install an operating system, drivers, and all the software.
- Extremely compact for a desktop computer
- High-performance CPU
- Enough 3D performance for casual gaming
- Supports one mSATA SSD plus a 2.5” storage device
- Comes with a good Wi-Fi and Bluetooth interface
- Low-end audio interface
- Needs professional assembly, or at least an experienced user
- Could come with a newer M.2 slot instead of an mSATA slot
- A little noisy under stress