Gigabyte Brix Gaming UHD Mini-PC Review

Gigabyte launched the BRIX series back in 2013 to cover the growing ultra compact and versatile DIY PC kit market. Gigabyte has offered a broad choice of processors covering a range of performance points and a couple of those systems have been aimed at gamers of the years. Gamers are a tough bunch to satisfy as you need to cram in high-performance PC hardware into a compact sleek design. Gigabyte has been teasing us with the Brix Gaming UHD since CES 2016 and after seeing it displayed at multiple trade shows over the course of this year we finally have the retail model in our possession! Gigabyte Brix Pro UHD GB-BNi7HG4-950 The Gigabyte Brix Gaming UDH is a vertically oriented gaming system that features an Intel Core i7 'Skylake' processor and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 950 graphics card with pricing starting at $999. Gigabyte has two Brix Gaming UHD models; GB-BNi5HG4-950 with an Intel Core i5-5300HQ processor and then there is the GB-BNi7HG4-950 with the more powerful Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor. Only the GB-BNi7HG4-950 will be available in the United States and that is the model that we are focusing on today. Gigabyte Brix Pro UHD GB-BNi7HG4-950 The Gigabyte Brix Gaming UDH has a 4.3-inch square base and measures in at 8.6-inches in height, so it is a pretty compact system considering all the components that Gigabyte packed inside. Cool air is sucked in the bottom thanks to ventilation mesh and a 120mm fan that helps push the air up through the enclosure and out the top. This stove pipe design has been around for centuries and is a proven way to vent hot air. The front of the system is clean and the top has LED lighting that looks pretty sharp. Gigabyte Brix Pro UHD Connectors The power button along with all the connectors are located on the back of the system. It might take some getting used to the power button being above the rear I/O area, but it keeps the front of the system clean. Our only concern with the layout is how tight all the USB ports are. We had trouble putting in a USB thumb drive with our keyboard and mouse plugged in along when the antenna was hooked up. If you have a large USB drive you'll likely be unable to use it on this system. Gigabyte GB-BNi7HG4-950 Features: https://youtu.be/4uNGmdF0HrU Here is an overview video on the Brix Gaming UHD. https://youtu.be/-zSMULdL8ac We aren't going to cover the inside of the Gigabyte BRIX Gaming UHD in much detail as Gigabyte has created a good installation tutorial on how to put everything together. We will note that it supports two 2.5" SATA storage drives, 1 M.2 SATA/PCIe slot, 1 M.2 PCIe slot and two DDR4 SO-DIMM memory slots. The single M.2 PCIe slot is connected directly to the CPU while the others go through the chipset. This means you can't run M.2 RAID arrays, but you can software RAID the three SATA drives together if one would want to do that.  This is a barebone system, so you'll need to purchase your own drive, DRAM and operating system. The bad news is that you likely won't be able to ever upgrade the already obsolete GeForce GTX 950 (GTX 965M) graphics on this system. Gigabyte won't say anything about the availability of a Pascal MXM 3.0b 10-series card ever being released for this system, but did say that they are exploring options. We've never seen anyone readily sell discrete MXM cards in the decade that they've been around, so we aren't holding our breath. Gigabyte sent us a loaner unit that already had Windows 10 Home installed ($90.72) to help speed along our review process. They populated the system with a Transcend 128GB SATA M.2 MTS800 SSD as the primary drive, a WD Blue 1TB 2.5" notebook drive for mass storage and one 8GB DDR4 2133MHz SO-DIMM. This configuration puts the total at around $1,305 for the fully built system. hwinfo64 HWiNFO64 shows a couple things that we'd like to hit on before we start showing you the benchmark results. For starters Gigabyte says they are using a GeForce GTX 950 with 4GB of GDDR5 memory in this system, but all the GPU diagnostic utilities will show it as an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M. It appears that Gigabyte has developed a custom MXM card for this system that they call a GeForce GTX 950, but is really a GeForce GTX 965M GPU (specs) running on a PCIe Gen3 x8 interface with 1,024 CUDA cores running at 935MHz base and 1,150MHz boost. A true NVIDIA GeForce GTX 950 desktop graphics card has 768 CUDA cores running at a base clock of 1,024 MHz and a boost clock of 1,188MHz. The Geforce GTX 965M memory is rated at 80 GB/s versus 105.6 GB/s on the GeForce GTX 950, so there are a number of differences. Overall performance should be roughly the same, but we are still confused by the fact that NVIDIA markets this system as having dedicated GeForce GTX 950 graphics when it really has a GeForce GTX 965M graphics solution. geforce-driver Due to the semi-custom nature of this discrete graphics solution there might be some driver complications that one might run into. For example our system came with GeForce 364.72 drivers installed and those are over 6 months old.  There have been tons of driver updates since then, but NVIDIA GeForce Experience says that none are available. We reached out to NVIDIA on the situation and they informed us that they don't keep up with partner solutions and that a custom driver may be needed for this specific system. Gigabyte doesn't offer any GPU drivers on the driver support page for the GIGABYTE BRIX GAMING UHD GB-BNi7HG4-950 system. winfail You might also notice that the GB-BNi7HG4-950 is running Windows 10 Home, Version 1511, Build 10586. We thought that was odd on a system that was just sent to us last week, so we let the system update to Windows 10 Home Anniversary update (Version 1607). The update failed brilliantly and left the system unusable, so maybe that is why Gigabyte shipped it without the update. Too bad they didn't turn off automatic updates for us! The good news is we ran a handful of benchmarks and tests on this system before the Windows update ruined our fun and we returned this loaner system. Let's move along to the performance tests that we ran on Windows 10 Home, Version 1511, Build 10586.

Gigabyte Brix Gaming UHD Performance Testing

cinebench-r15 The Gigabyte BRIX UHD Gaming PC Kit with the Intel Core i7-6700HQ pocessor and discrete GeForce GTX 950 GPU scored 99.17  FPS on the OpenGL benchmark. On the CPU side, the system was capable of 678 points on the multi-core CPU test and 136 points on the single CPU test. 3dmark-skydriver In 3DMark we scored 16,692 points in Sky Diver, the benchmark for mid-range PCs, specifically 95.64 FPS in Graphics Test 1 and 90.72 FPS in Graphics Test 2. This benchmark has a rendering resolution of 1920x1080 and uses the DirectX 11 API at feature level 11. adia64-mem AIDA64 v5.80 beta showed that the single channel 2133MHz DDR4 memory had 15-15-15-36 2T timings and was capable of 16,600 MB/s read and 16,072 MB/s write speeds with a latency of 70.9 ns. The Gigabyte Brix Gaming UHD Mini-PC GB-BNi7HG4-950 has two memory slots, but only one was populated and that is why we are getting 'low' single-channel scores. We aren't sure why Gigabyte didn't put two modules in for dual-channel performance results, but we tested it as the system was built and loaned to us for testing. ciphershed CipherShed v0.7.4.0 shows that the Gigabyte Brix S had a mean score of 3.8 GB/s on the AES Encryption test. jetstream We ran the JetStream v1.1 JavaSctipt on Google Chrome 54 and found an overall score of 199.11.
cdm-scores
A quick run of CrystalDiskMark v5.2.0 showed the performance of the Transcend 128GB MTS800 M.3 SATA SSD used as the primary drive as well as the WD 1TB hard drive used as secondary storage. Sequential read speeds topped out at 555 MB/s and the sequential write speed was 209 MB/s. The Random 4K read speed was 31 MB/s and the 4K random write speed was 106 MB/s. It should be noted that this M.2 SATA was released in 2014 and is an older drive that is most certainly slow compared to the newer M.2 PCIe drives that would work in both of the systems M.2 slots. One slot works with M.2 SATA/PCIe cards and the other is PCIe only. The system also has room for two 2.5" SATA notebook drives. Our system came with one WD 1TB notebook drive installed and it had 118 MB/s read and 116 MB/s write speeds. steam-folder Having two drives is nice though as you can setup your steam library to hold your game titles on the secondary storage drive and it takes just seconds to get in order. boot-speed-test The last performance test that we wanted to run was Bootracer 6.0 to see how fast the system is able to boot Windows 1o 64-bit. We found that the Gigabyte Brix Gaming UHD Mini-PC GB-BNi7HG4-950 takes 7 seconds to get to the logon screen and it took a total of 28.7 seconds to get up and running on the desktop when using the Transcend 128GB MTS800 M.3 SATA SSD. This is not an impressive score, but is due to the older SATA drive and not the system itself. Time to take a look at the gaming benchmarks!

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is an action role-playing stealth video game developed by Eidos Montreal and published by Square Enix. Set in a cyberpunk-themed dystopian world in 2029, two years after the events of Human Revolution, Mankind Divided features the return of Adam Jensen from the previous game, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, with new technology and body augmentations. The game was released on August 23rd, 2016 for PC users. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Train Station Deus Ex: Mankind Divided uses a heavily modified version of the Glacier 2 engine that has been tweaked so much that they are now calling it the Dawn game engine. deus-ex deus-ex2 We took a look at GPU performance using the 'High' image quality preset with MSAA and VSync turned off. We picked to run just 'High' image quality settings due to how tough this game title is to render and we feel that most gamers will try to target this setting. deus-ex-results Benchmark Results: It looks like the high image quality preset it way too much for the Gigabyte Brix UHD as we averaged 29 FPS and dipped down to the single digits for the minimum. 

GTA V

GTAV Grand Theft Auto V, currently one of the hottest PC games, was finally released for the PC on April 14, 2015.  Developed by Rockstar, it is set in 2013 and the city of Los Santos.  It utilizes the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE) which Rockstar has been using since 2006, with multiple updates for technology improvements. gtav-settings In Grand Theft Auto V we left the suggested settings alone, but did disable MSAA and we turned VSync off. We used the games built-in benchmark utility and averaged all the five of the default benchmark runs to get our average results. GTAV Benchmark Benchmark Results: When it comes to GTA V we found that the Brix Gaming UHD GB-BNi7HF4-950 was capable of 59.9 FPS on average with 0x MSAA enabled (minimums were 11-46 FPS depending on which of the five runs you were looking at). If we enabled 4x MSAA we were able to average 33.1 FPS, so game titles like GTAV are playable as long as you turn off AA and maybe some the other eye candy. 

Thief

thief Thief is a series of stealth video games in which the player takes the role of Garrett, a master thief in a fantasy/steampunk world resembling a cross between the Late Middle Ages and the Victorian era, with more advanced technologies interspersed. Thief is the fourth title in the Thief series, developed by Eidos Montreal and published by Square Enix on February 25, 2014. thief1 thief2 We ran Thief with the image quality settings set at normal with VSYNC disabled. thief-benchmark-results Benchmark Results: The Gigabyte Brix UHD with the GeForce GTX 950 discrete graphics card averaged 57.2 FPS, which is oh so close to that magical 60 FPS number that we like to see for the average. 

Rise of the Tomb Raider and SteamVR

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Rise of the Tomb Raider Rise of the Tomb Raider is a third-person action-adventure video game developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix. It is the sequel to the 2013 video game Tomb Raider, which was itself, the second reboot to its series. It was released for Microsoft Windows in January 2016. Players control Lara Croft through various environments, battling enemies, and completing puzzle platforming sections, while using improvised weapons and gadgets in order to progress through the story. tomb-raider-1 tomb-raider-2 Crystal Dynamics used a proprietary game engine called 'Foundation' for Rise of the Tomb Raider and it is able to create some pretty nice looking graphics. We tested Rise of the Tomb Raider with the medium preset and disabled  VSync. We ran the built-in DX12 benchmark. tomb-raider-3 1080P Benchmark Results: Rise of the Tom Raider is a very tough game title and we were able to get an overall score of 52 FPS during the three scenes that the built-in benchmark runs. This is really close to being acceptable frame rates as the minimum frame rate never dipped under 30 FPS. steam-vr Undoubtly someone will ask if the Gigabyte Brix Gaming UHD will be able to handle Virtual Reality (VR) and we ran the SteamVR benchmark and found that the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 950 discrete graphics solution had over 25% of the frames below the magical 90 FPS threshold and failed the test. This mini PC will not be able to handle VR content out of the box and if Gigabyte would have used Intel Apline Ridge controller for USB Type C (USB 3.1 Gen 2) there would have been an easy way to hook up external graphics if you'd like to purchase a third party enclosure and more powerful discrete desktop add-in card! Let's take a look at power consumption and CPU temperatures on the Gigabyte Brix Gaming UHD Mini-PC GB-BNi7HG4-950.

Power Consumption, CPU Temperatures and Fan Noise

Gigabyte Brix Pro UHD Connectors We found the the entire system was consuming 20.1 Watts of power from the wall outlet at idle and when running the AIDA64 System Stability test the system power consumption topped out 120 Watts. load-temp   AIDA64 reported that the Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor idled at 0.703V with a core temperature of ~35C. With the built-in AIDA64 stress test we found that we got up to 90-96C on the four CPU cores at 1.165V. This system runs on the hotter side when you are really putting the CPU to work, so beware that temperatures above 90C will be common when gaming or transcoding.  Brix Gaming UHD Fan Noise Gigabyte calls the Brix Gaming UHD sleek, cool & quiet. They even have an info graphic that shows it running at 23dB in idle mode and up to 36db at peak mode. Super Silent says the infographic... Brix UHD GB-BNi7HG4-950 Fan Noise The system is pretty quiet at idle, but once you start gaming, transcode a video or run a system stress test like AIDA64 or Prime95 the little system sounds comes to life with fan noise During our 30 minute stress test we easily recorded fan noise that was in excess of 60 dB from just off to the side of the system where the blowing air wasn't interfering with the reading. Maybe Gigabyte was testing from really far away when they got the low numbers they posted up, but when this system is running full throttle for more than a couple minutes you'll certainly know it and so will everyone else around you. Let's wrap this review up!

Gigabyte BRIX Gaming UHD Final Thoughts and Conclusions

Gigabyte Brix Pro UHD GB-BNi7HG4-950 The Gigabyte BRIX Gaming UHD GB-BNi7HG4-950 is a really neat concept that we've been excited about since first learning of it nearly 11 months ago at CES 2016 in Las Vegas. Now that we've gotten our hands on the final retail version and actually used it on our test bench, we aren't as impressed as we once were. For starters the Gigabyte Brix Gaming UHD is rather expensive for what you get as our system as it was configured cost just over $1,300. Sure the system is small, but you can get more powerful desktop gaming PCs at nearly half the price that are fully assembled with Windows 10 already installed. For example the CyberPowerPC Gamer Xtreme VR (our review) is $719.99 and there was even a holiday sale recently that had it paired with an Oculus Rift VR gaming headset for $999 for Amazon Prime members. Knowing that there are deals like that out there make it extremely tough to recommend something like the Brix Gaming UHD to someone primarily  concerned with gaming. Since this system is stuck using the GeForce GTX 950 (GTX 965M) it fails to meet the recommended video card requirement for pretty much any new AAA gaming title coming out. Our gaming benchmarks show that the Brix Gaming UHD can play some of the more recent game titles so long as you are willing to reduce the image quality to get acceptable frame rates for 1080P gaming. For $1,300+ and having to take the time to build a system it really hurts to lower the image quality settings straight away. There might be UHD in the product name, but it struggles with Full HD gaming. Maybe Gigabyte was targeting MOBA gamers (Dota 2, Heroes of the Storm, and Paragon for example), but how many casual gamers are buying $1300+ systems that need to be built for casual games. Too expensive for casual gamers and not enough power for die hard gamers, so where does the Brix Gaming UHD really fit in? That is before you even talk about the noise level at load, high operating temperatures, possible lack of being able to upgrade the GPU down the road and the software issues that we ran into. We love the small form factor and the idea behind the Brix Gaming UHD, but the performance just isn't enough at this price. Die hard gamers are going to go with the Intel NUC Skull Canyon (NUC6i7KYK) for $575.00 shipped and use the systems Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps) port for an external GPU enclosure dock like the Razer Core external graphics dock ($499.99). The temperatures aren't any better on Skull Canyon, but at least you have an external GPU enclosure that you can use for years to come.   Legit Bottom Line: The Gigabyte Brix Gaming UHD is a solid system, but for a gaming system the performance is a bit lower than we want to see and we sure wish the GPU was easy to upgrade.