We Finally Get To Try Out The Gigabyte Brix Pro
We first saw the Gigabyte Brix Pro Ultra Compact PC Kit in September 2013 at the Intel Developer Forum and instantly fell in love with the pint-sized system due to the hardware inside. Gigabyte managed to fit the Intel Core i7-4770R 3.9GHz quad-core processor along with Intel’s powerful new Iris Pro 5200 integrated graphics in a form factor that is just 62 x 111.4 x 114.4 mm or 0.79 Liters in size. We recently got our hands on the Gigabyte Brix Pro GB-BXi7-4770R, which is the flagship model that runs $649.99 plus shipping if you are lucky and can find a retailer that isn't out of stock at the moment. The Gigabyte Brix Pro is only available in limited regions and only available in black and red with the Intel Core i7 4770R processor. It should be noted that the $650 price tag includes the DIY PC kit that includes the Brix Pro, 802.11ac mini PCIe wireless card and the power adapter and cable. You still need to purchase a dual-channel DDR3L SO-DIMM memory kit and the mSATA Solid-State Drive and/or a 2.5" drive, which will add to the price of this build.
We'll be taking a look at the Gigabyte Brix Pro GB-BXi7-4770R in black today. This PC features a 4th Generation Intel Core i7-4770R 'Haswell' processor that runs at 3.2GHz (3.9GHz Turbo) and Intel Iris Pro 5200 graphics. This is the very best of the integrated graphics solution that Intel has to offer and is the same one used in some of the high-dollar Apple 2013 iMacs. This is a system that is aimed at high-end users that want a powerful CPU and graphics capable of playing some games and running a 4K or mufti-monitor setup.
Gigabyte Brix Pro GB-BXi7-4770R Features:
- Intel 4th generation Core i7-4770R processor
- Intel Iris Pro graphics 5200 w/ 128MB of EDRAM or embedded ram
- Supports 2.5” thickness 7.0/9.5mm Hard Drives (1 x 6Gbps SATA3)
- Ultra compact PC design - 0.79L (62 x 111.4 x 114.4 mm)
- 1 x mSATA SSD Slot
- 2 x SO-DIMM DDR3L Slots (1333 / 1600 MHz)
- IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi / Bluetooth 4.0 Mini-PCIe card
- HDMI plus Mini DisplayPort Outputs (supports dual displays)
- 4K resolution output (4096 x 2304 via HDMI)
- 4 x USB 3.0
- Gigabit LAN
- Headphone jack with S/PDIF
- VESA mounting bracket (75 x 75mm + 100 x 100mm)
Inside the retail packaging you'll find the BRIX Pro, power adapter, power cord, VESA mounting plate, screws for the mounting plate and VESA bracket and then finally the instructions and a driver disc. I'm not sure why any company bothers to ship driver discs in this day and age, but you have a copy of the already outdated drivers on it!
On the top of the Gigabyte Brix Pro you have a power button with an activity/status light built-in. It should be noted that the glossy black surface horribly shows fingerprints, so have your cleaning cloth ready if fingerprints bother you. On the front panel you have a pair of SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports and for audio connectivity there is a SPDIF audio a front panel connector. This will be useful in Home Theater scenarios that use an A/V receiver. A good portion of the front housing is a mesh cover for improved airflow and on the side of the Brix Pro there are also ventilation slots.
On the back of the Gigabyte BRIX Pro you'll find both Mini DisplayPort and HDMI ports on the rear panel, enabling support for simultaneous dual display connectivity. The GIGABYTE BRIX Pro also supports the latest 4K displays by offering support of screen resolutions of up to 4096 x 2304 via HDMI. You also have a Kensington Security Slot, DC power in, Realtek Gigabit LAN and another pair of USB 3.0 ports. The hot exhaust air from the CPU cooler is blown out of the large ventilation hole above the rear input/output ports and there are more vents and slots for cool air to enter on the side of the case and below the rear I/O panel. Cooling the mighty Intel Core i7 4770R processor is going to be a chore as this high-end chip is rated as being a 65W part under typical load scenarios, but can reach around 85 Watts under extreme load situations. Gigabyte is going to need a beefy cooler with a high CFM fan to keep this temperature running cool. In the past that has meant you'll end up with a noisy system, but we'll see if Gigabyte came up with a good solution.
The power adapter that is included with the Giabyte Brix Pro is a 135W model with a DC19V output (7.1A) made by FSP Group. The exact model number is FSP135-RSEBN2 and we've run across this power adapter before on All-In-One (AIO) systems and tiny PCs. This power brick has a power efficiency level rating of V, which means it has to be 86% efficient at low voltage and 87% efficient at standard voltages. It also must have a true power factor of 0.9 or greater at 100% of rated load when tested at 115 volts @ 60Hz. This power brick does have a noticeable whine to it and can be heard in a quiet room especially at low loads.
We've covered the basics of the Gigabyte Brix Pro, but before we get to benchmarking and performance testing, let's first take a look at the inside of the DIY PC kit and show you how we built ours.
Inside the Gigabyte Brix Pro
To take the Gigabyte Brix Pro apart you first need to remove the bottom cover that is held on by four Philips screws. Once you remove the bottom plate you can quickly and very easily install a 2.5" hard drive or SSD of your choice along with the DDR3L memory kit and mSATA SSD. You can use either a 2.5" notebook drive or mSATA for the boot drive.
The image above shows how the 2.5" drive tray is built into the bottom cover of the Brix Pro. Gigabyte includes a custom SATA data and power cable for the 2.5" drive with the Brix Pro, so no additional cable is needed. We checked and the cable uses the SATA III (6Gbps) interface. What is the maximum z-height drive that you can fit? Gigabyte officially supports 7mm and 9.5mm thick drives.
The Gigabyte Brix Pro comes with just the 802.11ac wireless installed, so all you need to do it pop in the DDR3L (1.35 Low Voltage) memory kit of your choice and storage drive and you should be ready to install the OS of your choice. Since many want to see 'inside' the Brix Pro we are going to continue to do a full tear down before we add in the memory and mSATA SSD that we'll be using.
Gigabyte went with an AzureWave AW-CB161H mini PCIe card to handle the 802.11ac WiFi+Bluetooth 4.0 wireless duties. This card also shows that it is Realtek Model RTL8821AE. Gigabyte went heavy with Realtek controllers on the Brix Pro as the Gigabit LAN, audio and wireless are all handled by Realtek.
- Audio: Realtek ALC296
- 802.11ac Wireless: Realtek RTL8821AE
- Gigabit Wired LAN: Realtek TRL8111G
Our Gigabyte Brix Pro uses the Gigabyte M4HM87P revision 1.0 motherboard and the layout and design looks familiar as it is very similar to what Intel has done with their NUC series. Two Philips screws hold the motherboard down, so let's take those off and remove this board.
With the Gigabyte M4HM87P motherboard removed from the system we can see how Gigabyte ran the dual antennas in the enclosure. We were half expecting to see three antenna solution inside, but those have yet to take off since companies like Intel don't offer a three antenna solution just yet. Not much else can be said about the case, so let's look back at the motherboard.
Here is a look at the rear I/O panel of the Gigabyte Brix Pro and under that you can see a thin copper heatsink for the Intel Core i7-4770R processor and then the large exhaust opening from the blower style fan.
The large blower fan sucks air through the small fins on the cooper heatsink and exhausts the hot air directly out of the case. Having an outside thermal exhaust system is needed for a system like this.
Notice that Gigabyte had to shape the heatsink around the three phase power solution on the motherboard in order to maximize the heatink surface area in order to dissipate as much heat as possible.
Spinning the motherboard around to the other side you can see just how many cooling fins there are. The last four rows on the left side end short to leave enough clearance for the power button of the chassis to work. The system battery is tucked tightly between the PCB and heatsink as you can see above. Gigabyte went with the EverFlow BB7515BU DC12V 0.80A fan on the Brix Pro. This 75x75x15mm centrifugal blower fan is often referred to as a turbo fan and is common in servers. We couldn't find any CFM ratings, but this fan pushes major air and is pretty loud.
We went with the Intel 525 Series 240GB 'Lincoln Crest' mSATA SSD. The part number on this SATA III SSD is SSDMCEAC240B3 and it can be picked up for $264.99 plus shipping. This drive is rated to have up to 550MB/s sequential read and 520MB/s write speeds along with up to 50,000 IOPS when it comes to 4K Random Read and 80,000 IOPS on 4K Random Write operations. It is also backed by a 5-year warranty.
The fastest memory that the Gigabyte Brix Pro supports is 2133MHz and we wanted to have the best performance possible. We went with a G.SKILL RIPJAWS 8GB DDR3L 2133MHz CL11 SO-DIMM memory kit. This kit is sold under part number F3-2133C11D-8GRSL with a lifetime warranty for $89.99 shipped. This price makes it the lowest cost 8GB (2x4GB) 2133MHz DDR3L memory option on the market right now.
Here is a quick look inside the Gigabyte Brix Pro with all our hardware installed. The build turned out great and should take just a few minutes if you just need to install the memory modules and mSATA SSD. Assembling one of these systems is very easy. We installed Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit and here is a quick look at HWiNFO64:
Gigabyte Brix Pro UEFI - aka the BIOS
We always update the BIOS on all the products we get to review to ensure we are running with the latest fixes and options. The Gigabyte Brix Pro runs a Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI), which replaces the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) firmware interface. When the Gigabyte Brix Pro arrived we found that it was running UEFI version F2 and that the latest build was version F3 (added memory clock frequency adjustment). We went to update the UEFI and were shocked to find that Gigabyte as no built-in UEFI update tool nor a Windows application to update the UEFI. How do you update the UEFI?
You need to create a bootable USB Flash drive and update the UEFI through DOS. This isn't a big deal and something we've been doing for decades, but it is 2014 isn't it?
This is the main menu of the American Megatrends UEFI that is installed on the Gigabyte Brix Pro. Right off the bat you'll notice that this UEFI is not full color and there is no support for a mouse. This UEFI has a basic functionality similar to a traditional notebook BIOS. It turns out that the team who built and designed the Gigabyte BRIX Pro is the companies PC ODM team and that market usually has very basic BIOS/UEFI designs. Gigabyte is hoping that they will be able to work on a more feature-rich UEFI with added functionality in the months to come as the BRIX is a crossover product that has received much interest in the market.
Under the Advanced CPU Configuration you get some information about the Intel Core i7-4770R processor and can disable some things like EIST, Turbo mode, and C3/C6 power states. There are no overclocking options available for the Intel Core i7-4770R the Gigabyte Brix Pro due to thermal constraints. We'll cover this more later.
As of UEFI F3 you can now adjust the DRAM Clock Frequency and this is the only adjustable clock frequency on the system. It is nice to be able to select the clock frequency, but there isn't a way to adjust any of the memory timings. You are stuck running the factory set SPD timings, which is okay if you aren't trying to tighten the timings or run 1T command rate.
Here is a hint as to why Gigabyte doesn't allow any CPU overclocking on this system. The PC Health Status menu showed that our system was running at 77C on the Intel Core i7-4770R processor and the fan was already humming along at just over 2300 RPM. We knew from the second that we fired up this system that it was not going to be a cool running or quiet system!
Let's take a look at some common benchmarks on the Gigabyte Brix Pro.
Gigabyte Brix Pro Performance
In the latest build of 3DMark we found scores of 1387 in Fire Strike, which is a strong score from the Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200 solution.
Moving along to Cinebench R15 we found the Gigabyte Brix Pro with the Intel Core i7-4770R processor scored 60.53 FPS on the OpenGL benchmark, 695 points on the multi-core CPU test and 155 points on the single CPU test.
We heard from some readers that they were interested in using the Gigabyte Brix Pro as a mobile render node due to how small it is, so we ran KeyShot 4.3 to see how CPU rendering would do. We installed KeyShot 4.3 to do some benchmarking and real-world stress testing and found that we were averaging 56.0 FPS on a scene that had nearly 42,000 triangles. (Our screenshot of KeyShot 4.3 shows that it is unregistered, but we did get permission from Luxion Inc. ahead of time to include it in our review.)
A quick look at the memory performance showed just shy of 24 GB/s of bandwidth. This sounds about right for a dual channel memory kit running at 2133MHz with CL11 memory timings.
AIDA64 v4.20.2808 Beta showed memory read speeds of ~30,400 MB/s and write speeds of ~30,100 MB/s with a memory latency of 65.4ns.
In Sandra Processor Arithmetic the aggregate native performance score was 93.2 GOPS.
The Sandra Processor Multi-Media aggregate performance score was 218.77 MPix/s.
In the Encryption Algorithm Benchmark that comes inside TrueCrypt we found an AES mean score of 4.1 GB/s.
A quick run of CrystalDiskMark v3.0.3a showed the sequential read speed at 456.5 MB/s and the write speed at 3004 MB/s! The Random 4K read speed was 20.77MB/s and the 4K random write speed was 59.88MB/s.
Taking a look at another storage benchmark called ATTO, we find that the SSD reaching speeds of up to 557MB/s read and 514 MB/s write.
802.11ac Wireless Testing and System Boot Times
When it comes to wireless performance the we used LAN Speed Test to check the performance of the included AzureWave AW-CB161H mini PCIe card 802.11ac Wireless Card. We used a desktop with Gigabit Ethernet to run LAN Speed Server that was hard connected to the ASUS RT-AC66U 802.11AC wireless router on the 5GHz band and moved it 15-feet away from the NUC test machine to check out performance with both 1MB and 100MB packets. We ran LAN Speed Test on the Gigabyte Brix Pro to test the throughput and found roughly 225 Mbps average write speeds and 219 Mbps average read speeds.
We then moved the router 35 feet away and retested the wireless performance. Performance was expected to decrease and it did as we were now averaging about 150 Mbps write and 125 Mbps read. You can use Intel 7260 series wireless cards in the Gigabyte Brix Pro if you wanted to go with a difference card. The write speeds on the AzureWave AW-CB161H are solid, but the read speeds are about 100Mbps lower than what we get on the Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 Card.
The last performance test that we wanted to run was Bootracer 4.6 to see how fast the system is able to boot Windows 8 64-bit. We were happy it takes just 7 seconds to get to the logon screen and about 28 seconds to get the desktop fully loaded!
The Intel Core i7-4770R processor features Intel Iris Pro 5200, which is the best IGP solution that Intel has to offer. It would be an injustice to not look at how a real game title performs on this system!
Metro: Last Light is a first-person shooter video game developed by Ukrainian studio 4A Games and published by Deep Silver. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world and features action-oriented gameplay with a combination of survival horror elements. It uses the 4A Game engine and was released in May 2013.
We wanted to see what happened in a newer game title, so we fired up Metro: Last Light and ran some benchmarks at various resolutions with the games built-in benchmark in order to get repeatable results. You can see our exact settings in the screen capture above.
Benchmark Results: The Gigabyte Brix Pro with Intel Iris Pro graphics actually was able to run Metro Last Light with DX11 Low image quality settings at some pretty decent resolutions. We tossed in a couple benchmark results with the flagship Intel NUC, which is the D54250WYKH that uses the Intel Core i5-4250U processor with Intel HD 5000 graphics. Clearly the Gigabyte Brix Pro with Intel Iris Pro 5200 graphics is superior and it looks like the higher IGP clock speeds (up to 1.3GHz) and 128MB of EDRAM really do help gaming performance.
One thing that we noticed is that sometimes the graphics performance was low and at other times it was fine. Here is a quick look at some Metro LL benchmarks runs. The first run averaged just 12 FPS and the second run run just seconds later was averaging 31 FPS. We thought it might be something to do with throttling, but then why would the second run in this scenario be faster? We also can't find a way to replicate this issue at will. We pointed this out to Gigabyte and they are looking into it.
Let's take a look at temperatures, power consumption, noise levels and then wrap this up!
Temperature, Power and Noise
If the Gigabyte Brix Pro was to have an Achilles' Heel it would have to be the heat generated from the Intel Core i7-4770R processor. We aren't sure where to start, so we are just going to dive in head first as we've had many discussions with Intel and Gigabyte about the thermal temperatures we observed on the Brix Pro. For starters the Intel Core i7-4770R is rated to be a 65W Max TDP processor according to Intel. Thermal Design Power (TDP) represents the near maximum power a product can draw for a thermally significant period while running commercially available software. We have been able to get the Gigabyte Brix Pro over 65W TDP by launching apps that use both the GPU and CPU according to the 'CPU Total TDP' in Intel XTU.
For example we were running a couple apps and closed one to open another and the CPU Total TDP was at 73 Watts when doing this task. This is 12% over the rated max TDP and was with just a CPU and GPU intensive application being opened and closed. We have been told that if you fully stress everything on this system that you can easily hit a TDP of 85 Watts. Why is this an issue? From what we can tell Intel doesn't put the CPU and GPU at 100% load to get their 'typical' max TDP number. Gigabyte designed their CPU cooler for a 65W TDP processor and therein lies the issue. What issue?
We'd be talking about the 56C idle temperatures....
And the fact that you are running 100C with CPU throttling after seconds of running a CPU intensive application. In the example above we fired up Cinebench and it the fan ramped up to a scream, but couldn't keep the processor from a 50% throttle. Intel XTU said that it was throttling and so do other applications. There is no easy fix for this, but Gigabyte said that they are working on a new BIOS that will improve throttling issues in certain conditions and that we could disable turbo. Yes, Gigabyte actually told us to go into the BIOS menu and under the Advanced CPU Configuration that we should disable Turbo Mode. They claim that will drastically reduce temperatures, but who wants to disable features on a flagship processor like the 4770R?
Here is a quick look at what happens when you run Prime 95 on the Gigabyte Brix Pro. Notice that all three clock speed monitoring tools are reporting different clock speeds due to how fast the processors is switching the clock speeds. It is tough to tell you about how loud this is, so we tried to make a video clip to show you.
We used a Rode Video Mic Pro that was positioned one foot away from the Gigabyte Brix Pro and recorded the sound for you to hear. At an idle the system used ~10.6 Watts of power, had a CPU temp of 56C and a noise level of ~38.9dB. When gaming we found the power peaked at ~81 Watts, the temperature was pegged at 100C and the noise level was ~52.3dB. We also included the results for the Intel NUC D54250WYK so you know how other tiny SFF DIY PC kits sound. As you can hear the pitch of the fans in the Gigabyte Brix Pro make it tough to ignore at both idle and load.
At the end of the day we have to conclude that the CPU cooler in the Gigabyte Brix Pro isn't enough for the Intel Core i7-4770R processor, which is a real shame. This is a really a great system and form factor, but sometimes you can push the envelope too far.
Final Thoughts and Conclusion
We waited five months to get the Brix Pro in our hands to try out and we are left with mixed emotions. The Gigabyte Brix Pro looks amazing and we love the form factor. The Gigabyte Brix Pro is certainly chunky compared to the Intel NUC, but we can let that slide. The inputs and outputs on the device are good enough for our needs today and we really like the 4K Ultra HD monitor support. The only thing we'd change is the stacked USB 3.0 ports on the front of the Brix Pro as pretty much all of our high-end USB 3.0 Flash Drives blocked the other port. If Gigabyte went to a side-by-side USB port configuration with some spacing between them that would fix that issue. All in all the unit looks great and is highly function.
Inside the Gigabyte Brix Pro we found the motherboard to be solid, but the BIOS was a bit lacking. For a $500+ DIY PC we expect to see a full UEFI BIOS with more features and end user functionality, unfortunately you don't get that with the Brix Pro. The latest BIOS added the ability to adjust memory clock speeds, so maybe Gigabyte will unlock more features like that down the road. The CPU Cooler on the Gigabyte Brix Pro might work well on models with lesser processors, but wasn't up to snuff for the Intel Core i7-4770R and its rated 65W TDP. The Gigabyte Brix Pro struggles to keep this processor cool when you put it under any substantial load and it gets pretty load when the fan ramps up. Intel says that 100C load temperatures are within spec, but many of our readers will end up avoiding this system due to the temperatures and fan noise.
Overall system performance was impressive as this small system had incredible performance in both CPU and GPU intensive tasks. We were really impressed how Intel Iris Pro 5200 integrated graphics was able to play DirectX 11 game titles like Metro Last Light as we've never been able to play recent tier 1 game titles on Intel integrated graphics before! Intel has made good improvements when it comes to improving graphics performance and they've been keeping up on their promise of having quarterly driver updates. Intel doesn't support game day drivers yet for big titles, but they are making big strides.
When it comes to pricing the Gigabyte Brix Pro GB-BXi7-4770R runs $649.99, but you can also step down to the models like the GB-BXi5-4570R for $499.99. In fact that model might be a better choice for many as it costs less, still has Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200 and might not have as severe the thermal issues that we saw on the Brix Pro GB-BXi7-4770R. Then again it also uses a 65W TDP processor. Here is a breakdown of our build cost for the model we reviewed today.
- Gigabyte Brix Pro GB-BXi7-4770R - $649.99
- Intel 525 Series 240GB mSATA SSD - $264.99 plus shipping
- G.Skill 8GB 2133MHz DDR3L Memory Kit - $89.99 shipped
- Windows 8.1 Pro - $96.88 Shipped
That puts the grand total for this build at $1101.85 shipped for all the parts.
At the end of the day we are excited by how much power Gigabyte was able to put in a tiny PC that was just 0.79 liters, but we are also disappointed that they couldn't get better thermals. In fact we'd be happy with a slightly taller system if that would mean better thermals. For example, if Gigabyte should have made this system another 12.7mm (half inch) thicker to support a larger heatsink would we not be sitting at 100C and thermally throttling?
Legit Bottom Line: The Gigabyte Brix Pro GB-BXi7-4770R is a great system, but the thermal solution just isn't keep the Intel Core i7-4770R from throttling and you end up with a noisy system.