Gigabyte Brix Pro GB-BXi7-4770R Ultra Compact Barebones System Review

by - 7 years ago

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Introduction


GB_BrixPro_Top

In the early stages of last year, Intel released one of the biggest products of 2013 into the market place and no – it was not Haswell. What I am referring to here is the Next Unit of Computing, or NUC as it is more commonly known. Part of what makes this product so special is its ultra compact design, but on top of that, the system that’s tucked inside has a little more to offer over what one would expect from a system of its size. When we took a look at the first generation NUC and also Gigabyte’s own first generation Brix, the results that we got back showed the performance to be somewhat average, leaving them at the entry-level end of the scale. Consequently, these systems are ideal for basic home office use, but if you want a little more grunt from your system then sadly these early units just won’t cut the mustard.

Since those reviews went live, we have seen a number of Brix branded systems come out of the Gigabyte factories and towards the end of last year we caught wind that there was something special on the way which could potentially remodel the entry-level image that the first generation systems have given us. The question is though, can we really get desktop performance out of a unit this small? Granted this new creation is twice as tall as the first generation Brix, but are we getting substantially more performance as well? Bring forward the Brix Pro GB-BXi7-4770R.

When we take a look at the spec list that the Brix Pro has on offer, the biggest difference that we have to note is the step up to Intel’s high performance i7 Haswell CPU. Obviously we shouldn’t be expecting a 4770k to be residing in a system of these dimensions, however the 4770R that we do have is actually not a million miles off what its bigger brother has to offer. With a TDP of 65w and a core clock speed of 3.2GHz boosting up to 3.9GHz, there is certainly a lot of poke beneath the covers so we have got the spirit of a 4770k, although overclocking is not present and the power envelope has been reduced to save on the power consumption.

  • Model: GB-BXi7-4770R
  • CPU: Intel Core i7-4770R @ 3.9GHz
  • Cooler: Copper heatsink with blower fan
  • RAM: Support for up to 16GB 1333 /1600MHz DDR3 SODIMM
  • Storage: mSATA slot plus SATA header for 7.0/9.5mm 2.5″ drives
  • GPU: Intel Iris Pro 5200 Onboard GPU
  • PSU: External 135W DC adaptor
  • Network: Realtek RTL8111G Gigabit LAN, AzureWave AW-CB161H mini PCIe 802.11ac WLAN / BT 4.0 combo
  • Misc: HDMI & mDP display outputs, 4x USB3.0, 3.5mm audio / SPDIF, VESA 75 & VESA 100 compatible
  • Warranty: 2 Year Standard
  • Price: £510.20 inc Vat @ Scan / $649.79 @ Newegg.com

Naturally it is a little hard to test a barebones system as it is so we need to add in a couple of key components before we can put everything through its paces. Over the specifications listed above, a 240GB Intel 525 series mSATA SSD and a 1TB WD Red 2.5″ HDD have been added for storage along with 8GB of Kingston’s 1600MHz ValueRAM.

In addition to the i7 processor, the other key component that the Brix Pro has to offer is Intel’s latest Iris Pro 5200 series graphics. Now at this point I can imagine that a few of you out there are shrugging your shoulders at the thought of Intel graphics, but Iris Pro is nothing like the HD4000 series graphics that we find onboard a 4770k for example. Simply put Intel have stepped up their game with Iris and reworked the way in which their graphics core works to offer up much more power and performance. In simple terms this means that there is the potential for gaming at an average level of detail and this is there for the reason why the Brix Pro has been featured recently as part of the Steam Box era.

Whilst I do state that gaming is a potential application for the Brix Pro, the more modest graphics performance that Iris has to offer is not going to make the Brix Pro the perfect alternative for your full-fat pixel pushing gaming rig – it is just a more tame alternative. Where the Brix Pro is also suited is with the prosumer user group, where image editing and design work requires the more powerful Intel processors and where applications such as Adobe Photoshop relish when surrounded by the higher specified components. By the time we take the price of the bare system and add on the extra components that we have used here (not including operating system) we are looking at a ball park purchase price of around £880 in the UK or around $1080 in the US.

GB_BrixPro_Package

Like the Brix Pro, the packaging is condensed right down with almost no space going to waste. Tucked neatly inside the box, Gigabyte include a full driver set and setup guide, regional power adaptor, VESA bracket and screws for mounting the system to the back of a monitor and finally a small rubber bung to close off the SPDIF output on the front of the system.

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A Closer Look


The biggest thing that sets Intel’s NUC based systems and their derivatives apart from anything else that I’ve ever reviewed is with out a doubt the form factor. That said though, this may just be the biggest ultra small form factor system that we’ve had and possibly will have for quite a whilst to come. Inside this small box which measures a shade over 6cm tall and is just over 11cm square is all the parts needed to give us the full desktop experience that we are used to, but without the loss in space on or under the desk.

The entire case has a glossy grey finish with a great looking modern design to it. On the top of the system is little more than some Gigabyte branding and in the opposite corner a power button with a system LED built-in.

GB_BrixPro_Full

Remember the small rubber plug that I mentioned earlier? Well this unusual little extra simply pushes into the audio port on the front of the system to block out the red glow that optical connections emit. In the image below the bung has only been pushed in part way to make its presence clearer and when fully inserted, the bung sits relatively flush to the surface. Beside the audio output we have two out of the four USB3.0 ports on hand for easy access when the system is placed on a desktop.

GB_BrixPro_AudioPlug

Wrapping around the front and to the right hand side of the case is a large mesh grill which provides a wide opening for air to flow in and through the system to the heatsink which sits within the upper half of the build. As well as having a practical function, the grill and the smaller line of slats beside it breaks up the otherwise plain exterior making the unit a bit more aesthetically pleasing to look at.

GB_BrixPro_VentRight

On the opposite side of the system is another line of slots for air flow, although not quite as bold as the other side in order to not make things look too over the top.

GB_BrixPro_VentLeft

On the rear of the Brix Pro is the business side of things. Unlike a laptop or desktop system which typically packs a fair number of USB ports, card readers and display outputs, the selection here is a lot more modest and to the point. Aside from an additional two USB3.0 ports (bringing the total to four) we have Gigabit LAN, a mini DisplayPort (supporting a maximum resolution of 3840×2160 @ 60 Hz) and a HDMI port for 4k display (up to 4096×2304 @ 24 Hz supported). A DC power jack and a Kensington lock point round off the connectivity. A pair of grills above and below the system I/O allow for even more freedom of air flow and we can just see through the upper grill a glimpse of the copper heatsink.

GB_BrixPro_Rear

On the underside of the Brix Pro we find the unit product label and serial numbers, with four screws (one in each corner) positioned around the unit. The Windows product label and the red security tag are not found on retail units – these are only present on our review sample. In the middle of the base is a bold “This way up” print which, as we will see further down has one simple, yet important purpose.

GB_BrixPro_Base

To either side of the product label we can just make out two small holes. These holes are for the two staged screws that are bundled with the VESA mount and how they work is simple, yet effective.

GB_BrixPro_ScrewHoles

With the thumbscrews inserted we can see that between the head and the tip of the screw is a spacer which the unit uses to latch onto the VESA backmount plate with a simple hook-type fitment. Obviously when the system is not going to be mounted on the back of a monitor, these screws are surplus to requirements and will need to be removed (if previously installed) allowing the unit to sit flat on a desktop.

GB_BrixPro_ScrewMount

Once each of the four screws are removed from the underside of the Brix, a little tag to one corner allows you to easily lift up the base plate and gain access to the inside for installing the SSD and/or HDD along with your choice of RAM.

GB_BrixPro_Lift

Lifting the base plate off and looking at the top (as it would sit on a desktop) we find the 2.5″ drive bay which supports both 7mm slim and 9.5mm drives  – ideal for a hard drive if you use mSATA for your boot drive.

GB_BrixPro_DriveTray

With a drive installed into the base we see that Gigabyte offer a slim SATA power and data cable which connects straight to the motherboard via a propitiatory connector.

GB_BrixPro_HDD

Looking into the system itself (which at this point is upside down) all the areas that the end user needs to get their hands at are found all on one side of the motherboard. To either side of the motherboard we find all of the system I/O ports with the two SODIMM slots in a stepped formation to the front of our view and the mini PCIe and mSATA slots sitting to the rear of the board as we see it.

GB_BrixPro_Inside

Lifting the mSATA drive out of its slot we can get a look at the mini PCIe WiFi & Bluetooth Combo card that ships with the system. Whilst wired connections are handled by a Realtek controller, wireless communications are handled by an AzureWave AW-CB161H dual band wireless controller, giving the Brix Pro the latest 802.11ac support along with full Bluetooth 4.0 support for devices such as headsets.

GB_BrixPro_WiFiModule

Beyond the add-in components that are needed to complete the system build up, there is no further dis-assembly of the Brix Pro required – although this is not to say that we can’t take a further look into what’s inside. To get a clearer access to the motherboard, the rear panel of the case lifts up out of the way and two screws later the motherboard is freed from the chassis (take care and ensure you disconnect the wireless antennae from the mini PCIe card first).

GB_BrixPro_CaseOpen

Looking into the remainder of the case there really isn’t much to see aside from a pair of antenna for wireless communications and an extended system power button towards the top right of the shot below.

GB_BrixPro_WiFiAntenna

With all the add-in components removed from the motherboard, bar the system IO there is not a lot to be found on this side of the PCB. The model number of the motherboard is a key reminder that the Brix Pro is home to the latest generation of Haswell Processors with an M87 chipset to hand

GB_BrixPro_Mobo

Going back to the SATA connectivity, there is no space inside the case to pack in a traditional SATA power and data header as we would typically find, instead this small proprietary connector is all that is needed to boost the internal storage capacity of the Brix Pro by up to 2TB.

GB_BrixPro_SATAHeader

Turning the motherboard over we can see that the core components are all cooled by an all-copper heatsink with a laptop style blower fan bolted on top to draw air in and through the heatsink, before its blown out the back of the system.

GB_BrixPro_HSFan

Lifting the cooler off we can see that it has two major components to cool, in the middle of the motherboard is the surface mounted i7-4770R CPU and Iris Pro GPU and its right is the M87 chipset. Like the CPU, the chipset is effectively a trimmed down version of the full on Z87 chipset which we see on the latest full ATX motherboards. Like the CPU, the chipset cuts out a number of  features that the Brix Pro doesn’t need or have – such as a RAID controller, reducing both the chipsets power consumption and cost of production.

GB_BrixPro_HSOff

Focusing on the processor a little closer we can see that the chip itself is divided into two clear areas. The larger die to the left is the i7 quad-core processor, with the smaller die playing home to the Iris Pro 5200 series GPU. The key thing that we have to remember here is that the Iris GPU is nothing like the HD4000 series graphics that we find onboard the likes of the 4770k as mentioned before.

GB_BrixPro_CPU

Sat at the front of the motherboard we lastly find Realtek’s RTL8111G Ethernet controller. Whilst this is not really my favoured option for a LAN controller, it is one of the more popular options favored by a wide number of manufacturers.

GB_BrixPro_RTL

Putting the Brix Pro all back together and looking at the VESA mounting plate, fitting it onto the back of your monitor or TV (if a media centre is your intended use) is very simple. Like the underside of the system there is an arrow to indicate which way up the bracket needs to be and two sets of holes cater for both VESA 75 and VESA 100 layouts.

GB_BrixPro_Bracket

With the bracket in place and the two mounting screws fitted to the bottom of the chassis, the unit simply drops into place with no additional work required – it’s as simple as that.

Going right back up to the top of this page and noting once again the grill that wraps around the front corner of the case, we can now see how this plays an important role of aiding the cooling. Even though the heatsink and fan is still able to function as normal, the grill also allows for heat to rise up passively and out with ease without causing a heat build-up on one side of the motherboard.

GB_BrixPro_Mounted

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Test Procedure


To test this system, we want to stress every component of the system to check stability and performance, giving us an idea as to why those particular components were picked for this system. This particular system comes pre-installed with Windows 8.1, but of course this can be customised upon checkout. A wide variety software applications are used to gain the broadest spectrum of results and this allows us to get the best and fairest set of results for comparison as possible.

Hardware used:

  • Acoustic dBA meter
  • AC power meter

Software used:

  • 3DMark 11
  • 3DMark 2013
  • AIDA64
  • Cinebench R11.5
  • Cinebench R15
  • CrystalDiskMark
  • CPU-Z
  • HW-Monitor
  • Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0
  • PCMark 7
  • PCMark 8
  • Super PI
  • Unigine Heaven 4.0
  • Unigine Valley 1.0

Games used:

  • Bioshock Infinite
  • Dirt Showdown
  • Metro Last Light
  • Sleeping Dogs
  • Tomb Raider

CPU-ZBrixPro_CPU-z

GPU-Z

BrixPro_GPU-z

AIDA64 GPGPU

BrixPro_AIDA_GPGPU

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PCMark 7


PCMark 7 provides a set of 7 suites for measuring different aspects of PC performance with a high degree of accuracy. Overall system performance is measured by the PCMark Suite. The Lightweight Suite measures the capabilities of entry-level systems and mobility platforms unable to run the full PCMark suite. Common use performance is measured by the Entertainment, Creativity and Productivity scenario suites. Component performance is measured by the Computation and Storage hardware suites. The Storage suite is ideal for testing SSDs and external hard drives in addition to the system drive.

BrixPro_PCM7

Systems Comparison

GB_BrixPro_Chart_PCM7

Diving straight in to PCMark 7, the Brix Pro from the get go is punching well above its predicted level with one of the higher scores to appear in our charts. Compared to the entry-level NUC and first Gen Brix, the Brix Pro has blown them both out of the water.

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PCMark 8


CMark 8 is the latest version in our popular series of PC benchmarking tools. Improving on previous releases, PCMark 8 includes battery life measurement tools and new tests using popular applications from Adobe and Microsoft. Whether you are looking for long battery life, or maximum power, PCMark 8 helps you find the devices that offer the perfect combination of efficiency and performance for your needs.

BrixPro_PCM8_Home

Systems Comparison

GB_BrixPro_Chart_PCM8

Although PCMark 7 shows a very strong result, PCMark 8 knocks the Brix Pro down a few pegs towards the bottom of the result chart. The reason for this all comes down to optimisation. Whilst PCMark 7 will show strong performance all-round, PCMark 8 has been built to push the latest hardware that bit harder.

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3DMark


3dmark13

“The new 3DMark includes everything you need to benchmark your hardware. With three all new tests you can bench everything from smartphones and tablets, to notebooks and home PCs, to the latest high-end, multi-GPU gaming desktops. And it’s not just for Windows. With 3DMark you can compare your scores with Android and iOS devices too. It’s the most powerful and flexible 3DMark we’ve ever created.

Fire Strike is our new showcase DirectX 11 benchmark designed for high-performance gaming PCs. It is our most ambitious and technical benchmark ever, featuring real-time graphics rendered with detail and complexity far beyond what is found in other benchmarks and games today.”

3D Mark 2013 FireStrike

BrixPro_3DMark_FS

3D Mark 2013 Fire Strike Extreme

BrixPro_3DMark_FSE

Systems Comparison

GB_BrixPro_Chart_3DM13

On the graphics side of the testing, I was not expecting 3DMark 13 to give as stronger result as what we have above. I was expecting the Iris Pro graphics to get a reasonable score for what it is, but to run this well was rather surprising.

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3DMark 11


3dmark11

3DMark 11 is the latest offering from Futuremark, taking full advantage of DirectX 11 by utilising tessellation features and volumetric lighting. It takes your graphics and CPU hardware to the edge to simulate the most extreme conditions whilst working as a stand point to compare results with other users online.

3DMark 11 Performance

BrixPro_3DMark11_Perf

3DMark 11 Extreme

BrixPro_3DMark11_Xtr

Systems Comparison

GB_BrixPro_Chart_3DM11

Like the latest 3DMark, 3DMark 11 shows some promising figures with the Brix’ performance score getting close to the extreme score of our lowest ranked full fat desktop system.

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Unigine Heaven 4.0


heaven

Heaven Benchmark with its current version 4.0 is a GPU-intensive benchmark that hammers graphics cards to the limits. This powerful tool can be effectively used to determine the stability of a GPU under extremely stressful conditions, as well as check the cooling system’s potential under maximum heat output. It provides completely unbiased results and generates true in-game rendering workloads across all platforms, such as Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.

heaven1680config

1680 x 1050

BrixPro_Heaven_1680

1920 x 1080

BrixPro_Heaven_1920

Systems Comparison

GB_BrixPro_Chart_Heaven

Looking more at the frame rates within Heaven over the overall score we can see clearly that gaming grade graphics are within reach and that the Iris Pro may just be a suitable alternative.

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Unigine Valley 1.0


Valley Benchmark is a new GPU stress-testing tool from the developers of the very popular and highly acclaimed Heaven Benchmark. The forest-covered valley surrounded by vast mountains amazes with its scale from a bird’s-eye view and is extremely detailed down to every leaf and flower petal. This non-synthetic benchmark powered by the state-of-the art UNIGINE Engine showcases a comprehensive set of cutting-edge graphics technologies with a dynamic environment and fully interactive modes available to the end-user.

valley1680config

1680×1050

BrixPro_Valley_1680

1920×1080

BrixPro_Valley_1920

Systems Comparison

GB_BrixPro_Chart_Valley

Unigine Valley is like 3DMark 13 in that it can push the latest generation hardware that bit further than Heaven 4.0. The scores within Valley may look rather bad, but this is at a rather high quality preset; turning this down will achieve a smoother run.

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Bioshock Infinite


bioshock

BioShock Infinite is the third game in the BioShock series. It is a first-person shooter video game developed by Irrational Games, and published by 2K Games. It supports higher-resolution textures and fully utilises DirectX 11 capabilities.

GB_BrixPro_Chart_Bioshock

Moving into the real world gaming benchmarks we know that the Brix Pro is not going to match the frame rates that we would typically see from a desktop system with an AMD or NVIDIA GPU. Surprisingly though we do see a promising result with frame rates not a million miles off the point where I would say the game is playable.

GB_BrixPro_Comp_Bioshock

In order to achieve a more playable frame rate, we can see that simply lowering the quality settings down to medium is enough to bring the frame rate up to around 30 per second. 2560 x 1440 gaming does still appear to be unplayable at this stage, but for a typical 1920 x 1080 setup the Brix Pro is ready to go.

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DiRT Showdown


dirtshowdown

Dirt Showdown is a video game from Codemasters and is part of the Colin McRae Rally games revolving around a tour of events to compete in allowing you to win money and prizes to spend on new cars and upgrades as well as unlocking new events and races. The game uses high-resolution textures and AA settings to simulate dust particles, terrain and damage to the vehicles.

GB_BrixPro_Chart_DirtShowdown

Dirt gives us a similar performance result to Bioshock when using our standard benchmark settings. The slower frame rates becoming more notable at 1920 x 1080.

GB_BrixPro_Comp_Dirt

As soon as the graphics preset is dropped down to medium, the menus themselves even run a lot more smoothly, granted the image is by no means as clear as it is when running at Ultra settings and 4x MSAA, but it is playable all the same and the individual settings can be tweaked and tuned where necessary to improve things.

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Metro Last Light


MetroLastLightgpureviews

Metro: Last Light (formerly Metro 2034) is a first-person shooter and horror video game developed by Ukrainian studio 4A Games and published by Deep Silver.he game is set in a post-apocalyptic world and features a mixture of action-oriented and stealth gameplay. It utilises DirectX 11, Tessellation and heavy shadows.

GB_BrixPro_Chart_MetroLL

Metro: Last Light is up to its usual tricks once again and as it is one of the most strenuous tests that we put any system and graphics card through, it is not surprise to see single digit average frame rates.

GB_BrixPro_Comp_MetroLL

Once again a simple drop in the graphics settings to a lower level is all it takes to get the frame rates to jump right up to a playable level. 2560 x 1440 is still rather choppy, and 1920 x 1080 is just on the wrong side of running smooth, but almost double the performance across the resolution set is a good result in itself.

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Sleeping Dogs


sleepingdogs

Sleeping Dogs is a 2012 open world action-adventure game based around Wei Shen; a Chinese-American police officer going undercover. The game utilises DirectX 11 features as well as high quality intensive reflections and high-resolutions textures.

GB_BrixPro_Chart_SleepingDogs

Whilst watching this benchmark run, our standard settings actually looked fairly reasonable and during some of the benchmark scenes the image was fairly smooth. Obviously there are scenes where it is throttled back but overall the Brix Pro isn’t that bad.

GB_BrixPro_Comp_Sleeping

The high res textures are part of the reason why the standard settings are a struggle for the Iris GPU and as soon as these are disabled there is a notable difference in the performance. Reducing the preset down to the normal is required though to bring the overall performance up to an acceptable level.

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Tomb Raider


tombraider

Tomb Raider is a video game franchise which also includes comic books, novels, theme park rides and movies, centering around the adventures of the English archaeologist Lara Croft. Square Enix have rebooted the franchise with a DirectX 11 utilised game with Anti-Aliaising features and lighting effects.

GB_BrixPro_Chart_TRaider

Alongside Metro: Last Light, Tomb Raider is another game where I was really expecting the Iris Pro GPU to struggle. Surprisingly though even at the higher performance levels things are not that bad. Enabling Tres FX would not be advisable and to prove this I ran the benchmark again, the result being a set of single digit frame rates.

GB_BrixPro_Comp_TRaider

Surprisingly Tomb Raider ended up being one of the strongest games to run on the Brix Pro once the settings were dialled back. Pushing out nearly 40fps at 1680 x 1050 is well above what we regard as acceptable and overall this means that if you want to play a game on the Brix Pro, there is the capacity to do so.

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HD Video Playback


We opted for some Iron Man 2 to assist us with this test, utilising the 1080p HD MKV file to check on CPU utilisation. Running the movie using VLC Player and using a predefined action scene, we check the CPU usage to see how it fairs with HD video playback.

BrixPro_VLC_Usage

Intel’s 4th Generation processors have made themselves well know, especially when it comes to transcoding and playing back multimedia content. Playing back a full HD film didn’t even  cause the processor to break out in a sweat with little CPU time required.

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CPU Benchmarks


Cinebench

CINEBENCH is a real-world cross platform test suite that evaluates your computer’s performance capabilities. CINEBENCH is based on MAXON’s award-winning animation software CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more. CINEBENCH is the perfect tool to compare CPU and graphics performance across various systems and platforms (Windows and Mac OS X). And best of all: It’s completely free.

R11.5

BrixPro_Cinebench11-5

R15

BrixPro_Cinebench15

Systems Comparison

GB_BrixPro_Chart_CB115

GB_BrixPro_Chart_CB15

With a full spread of logical processors on offer from the 4770R, both Cinebench R11.5 and R15 have quick run times; only the slower clock speed holds the 4770R from matching its faster sibling.

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CPU Benchmarks Continued


Super PI

Super PI is a computer program that calculates pi to a specified number of digits after the decimal point—up to a maximum of 32 million. It uses Gauss–Legendre algorithm and is a Windows port of the program used by Yasumasa Kanada in 1995 to compute pi to 232 digits.

BrixPro_SuperPI

Systems Comparison

GB_BrixPro_Chart_SuperPI

The slightly reduced clock speed is also reflected by a 32M PI calculation time of 8 minutes 20 seconds – around a minute slower than the faster clocked k series chips.

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Memory Benchmarks


AIDA64 Memory Bandwidth

AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a streamlined Windows diagnostic and benchmarking software for home users. AIDA64 Extreme Edition provides a wide range of features to assist in overclocking, hardware error diagnosis, stress testing, and sensor monitoring. It has unique capabilities to assess the performance of the processor, system memory, and disk drives. AIDA64 is compatible with all current 32-bit and 64-bit Microsoft Windows operating systems, including Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

BrixPro_AIDA_Memory

Systems Comparison

GB_BrixPro_Chart_AIDA_Memory

On the memory front, the performance that you will get is obviously directly related to the SODIMM kit that you choose. Performance kits will attract higher levels of bandwidth, but beware as the price for a comparable kit can rocket quite quickly instead of selecting a more modest mid range option.

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SSD Performance


AIDA64 Storage

AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a streamlined Windows diagnostic and benchmarking software for home users. AIDA64 Extreme Edition provides a wide range of features to assist in overclocking, hardware error diagnosis, stress testing, and sensor monitoring. It has unique capabilities to assess the performance of the processor, system memory, and disk drives. AIDA64 is compatible with all current 32-bit and 64-bit Microsoft Windows operating systems, including Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

BrixPro_AIDA_SDD

CrystalDiskMark

CrystalDiskMark is a small HDD benchmark utility for your hard drive that enables you to rapidly measure sequential and random read/write speeds.

Here are some key features of “CrystalDiskMark”:

  • Sequential reads/writes
  • Random 4KB/512KB reads/writes
  • Text copy
  • Change dialog design
  • internationalization (i18n)

BrixPro_CDM_SSD

Systems Comparison

GB_BrixPro_Chart_CDM_SSD

Like the memory performance the SSD performance is directly related to what drive you chose to install into the Brix Pro. Remember also at this point that you have the option of going for a cheaper 2.5″ SATA drive, but this leaves you with only a single volume to work with. Opting for a mSATA drive will boost your storage potential, but remember that this will bump up your overall purchase cost.

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Hard Drive Performance


AIDA64 Storage

AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a streamlined Windows diagnostic and benchmarking software for home users. AIDA64 Extreme Edition provides a wide range of features to assist in overclocking, hardware error diagnosis, stress testing, and sensor monitoring. It has unique capabilities to assess the performance of the processor, system memory, and disk drives. AIDA64 is compatible with all current 32-bit and 64-bit Microsoft Windows operating systems, including Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

BrixPro_AIDA_HDD

CrystalDiskMark

CrystalDiskMark is a small HDD benchmark utility for your hard drive that enables you to rapidly measure sequential and random read/write speeds.

Here are some key features of “CrystalDiskMark”:

  • Sequential reads/writes
  • Random 4KB/512KB reads/writes
  • Text copy
  • Change dialog design
  • internationalization (i18n)

BrixPro_CDM_HDD

Systems Comparison

GB_BrixPro_Chart_CDM_HDD

2.5″ hard drives are inherently slower than a full fat 3.5″ drive as we already know and on the SATA header there doesn’t appear to be any performance bottle necks with our WD Red drive.

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USB 3.0 Performance


AIDA64 USB 3.0 Storage

AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a streamlined Windows diagnostic and benchmarking software for home users. AIDA64 Extreme Edition provides a wide range of features to assist in overclocking, hardware error diagnosis, stress testing, and sensor monitoring. It has unique capabilities to assess the performance of the processor, system memory, and disk drives. AIDA64 is compatible with all current 32-bit and 64-bit Microsoft Windows operating systems, including Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

BrixPro_AIDA_USB

CrystalDiskMark

CrystalDiskMark is a small HDD benchmark utility for your hard drive that enables you to rapidly measure sequential and random read/write speeds.

Here are some key features of “CrystalDiskMark”:

  • Sequential reads/writes
  • Random 4KB/512KB reads/writes
  • Text copy
  • Change dialog design
  • internationalization (i18n)

BrixPro_CDM_USB

Systems Comparison

GB_BrixPro_Chart_CDM_USB

Unlike the internal storage options, USB performance is more focussed on the host controller and whilst we get a good read speed from our Patriot Magnum flash drive, the write speeds are a little crippled and I put this down to the trimmed M87 chipset.

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Network Performance


The PassMark Advanced Network Test is designed to test the data transfer rate between two computers. One of the systems acts as the server and will sit waiting for a connection whilst the other computer acts as a client. The client connects to the server and sends data to it for the duration of the test.

The network benchmark test will work with any type of TCP/IP connection. Including Ethernet, dial up modems, ADSL, cable modems, local area networks (LAN), Wide area networks (WAN) and wireless networking (WiFi). The software has been optimized to use a minimum amount of CPU time, allowing even high speed gigabit Ethernet connections to be benchmarked.

Users have the ability to change the following test parameters.

  • The IP address of the machine acting as the server and the port number used for the test to help with firewall issues.
  • The size of the data block used for each send request. It is also possible to select variable sized blocks to measure performance deltas as block size increases or decreases.
  • The duration of the test.
  • The protocol, either TCP or UDP. The TCP protocol is when data integrity is important (Errors are corrected using data re-transmission). UDP is used with applications that are tolerant to data loss such as video streaming.

The Advanced Network Test is part of the PerformanceTest suite which can be found on the PassMark website.

PassMark_NetworkTest

In each of our test configurations, the wireless adaptor is tested at three different ranges, the first running within 10ft of the access point(s) and with a direct line of sight. After this the laptop is moved into another room around 20ft away without a direct line of sight. Moving even further away the adaptor is placed at a range of over 40ft to push the adaptors range much further. In all situations, the adaptor is tested in an environment where the building has solid brick walls and on a segregated access point to eliminate any other wireless clients from saturating the wireless channel.

In each of the test charts, red indicates the furthest test, green the mid-range test and blue the direct line of sight. Where applicable the adaptor is tested on both the 2.4GHz band at 802.11n speeds and on the 5GHz band at 802.11ac speeds where available.

Ethernet Baseline Performance

GB_BrixPro_Network_LAN

GB_BrixPro_Chart_LAN

 

2.4GHz 802.11n Wireless Performance

GB_BrixPro_Network_2-4GHz-n

GB_BrixPro_Chart_2-4GHz_n

 

5GHz 802.11ac Wireless Performance

GB_BrixPro_Network_5GHz-ac

GB_BrixPro_Chart_5GHz_ac

With more and more systems and motherboards these days offering up wireless connectivity, it’s only fit that we test to see how each system performs when placed out in the field. With our Brix Pro only having a small set of wireless antennae we are not expecting to get blistering connection speeds and consequent throughput speeds, but overall the AzureWave wireless NIC is more than acceptable for the purpose. With the range between the Brix Pro and the wireless access point we do see a gradual drop in performance but not as much as expected.

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Acoustics


Noise is generally the bain of most consumers lives and in the hope of finding the quietest operation, we feel it’s necessary to show you the audio level of components. Typically with a desktop system we would fit a

GB_BrixPro_Chart_Acoustics

Compared to a typical case fan that we find inside a desktop system, blower type fans are not quite as quiet and this is simply down to the fact that they need to shift a large volume of air through a small confined space – this means ramping up the speed that the fan runs at and thus the noise levels inherently rise as well. Whilst at full idle the fan on our Brix powered down, reducing the system to a 0dBA output. This is, however, until we start to run a CPU or GPU intensive application. At this point the fan appears to go crazy and the noise level shoots up to above 60dBA – much louder than some of the high performance graphics cards that we have pushed to the limit.

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Power Consumption


To test power consumption, we monitor the overall power of the system through a plug-in electricity usage monitor at an idle and load state. This allows us to show the fluctuation between how much power draw the graphics card takes at idle and at load. By monitoring the overall usage of the whole system, it gives an easy comparison if you wish to do the same yourself as opposed to buying very expensive individual testing equipment.

GB_BrixPro_Chart_Power

As mentioned during the introduction, part of the advantage of Intel’s NUC is the ultra low power consumption. The Brix Pro is no exception to this with an idle draw of just over 17w and a full load draw of over 83W. What is notable is the fact that the 4770R has a TDP of 65W, this is almost 20W below the maximum consumption the recorded on our power meter. Naturally extra power will be needed for the SSD / HDD / Memory and so on, but 20W is a little higher than expected. The extra power though is consumed by the Iris Pro graphics. Although the 4770R and the Iris dies are on the same chip, the 65W TDP relates to the processor itself as opposed to the overall TDP of the package.

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Temperatures


Measuring temperatures is all about being consistent therefore we keep a steady eye on monitoring the ambient room temperature to make sure that it stays the same. While this is constantly being monitored, we measure the idle temperature of the card using HWMonitor over a 15 minute period. Once this has been recorded, we set FurMark into motion for 15 minutes and record the results again.

GB_BrixPro_Chart_Temps

With the overall power draw of the system as a whole higher than the 65W TDP design of the processor, we can now see why the fan speeds are so high. At idle the 4770R idles at a whopping 56 Celsius and once put under full load the temperature rockets to around 90 Celsius. So why is this? When the heatsink and fan was designed, Gigabyte refer to the TDP of the CPU, in this case 65W and consequently they build a cooler to suit. With the Iris core also packing out heat as well as the chipset – all into the same heatsink, we soon find that it is working overtime to try to keep the system temperature down. At this point the processor will start to throttle itself to keep itself from reaching its temperature threshold before the system shuts down. Simply put, the heatsink is not man enough in my eyes for this system at all.

–~~~~~~~~~~~~–

Final Thoughts


Pricing

Unlike a laptop or pre-built desktop system, the Brix Pro comes in a barebones format as mentioned previously. This therefore means that in addition to the base system itself, you will need to select a storage medium – be it a SATA SSD or HDD or a mSATA SSD with a HDD for additional storage. On top of this you will need to get some RAM and finally an operating system, be it Linux or Windows. As it stands without an operating system, the setup that I’ve used in this review will set you back around £880, of which £484.66 is for the Brix Pro (available from Scan), whilst the 240GB Intel 525 mSATA SSD, 1TB WD Red 2.5″ HDD and 8GB of Kingston ValueRAM make up the remaining £400 or so. US pricing is along the same relative price line with a bare Brix Pro setting you back $649.99 at Newegg.com and the same add-in components costing around $430 – all in all this gives a total price of just under $1100. Either way the Brix Pro once setup is getting its feet into the territory of full-fat. mid-range desktop systems.

GB_BrixPro_Chart_Price

Overview

Since its launch, Intel’s NUC has been remodelling the way in which we think about our computers and what can be done with such a small package; the Brix family of systems follows in the exact same footsteps. If I was to have been shown this system a few years ago and told that the performance that it has on tap is on par with that of a mid-range desktop counterpart, to be honest I would have laughed at the thought that such a thing was possible. After all at that time we was watching the size of graphics cards go up as the performance levels grew larger and the power consumption was not that far behind. The Brix Pro simply goes to show that we should expect the unexpected and if this is the way that things are moving forward, then I dare to think about where things are going to be in another five years.

On the face of it the Brix Pro has got everything flowing in its favour. On the outside it has a minute foot print; barely larger than that of a VESA 100 bracket and the glossy grey paint finish breaks away from the typically matte chassis that we see on our desktop systems. Inside the flexibility to select your own storage mediums and memory opens up the field to a massive number of final specifications and potential uses. In one fashion the system can be packed to the helm with high performance memory and the latest mSATA SSD to make a pocket-sized gaming system that is easy to take away to LAN parties in a rucksack. This is the reason why the Brix Pro has been showed into the limelight with the upcoming pcmasterrace generation of Steam Box gaming systems, although I will make a timely reminder that you shouldn’t be expecting the game graphics performance that one would get from a mid-to high end gaming counterpart.

In an alternative setup, the Brix Pro could earn its place as a minimalist, yet powerful video and image editing package where the users mind is in a clean an open environment, where bulky desktop systems are an eye-sore to the open mind and hiding everything away is just the ticket.  On the other hand though you could easily chuck in a small SSD and a couple of gig’s of RAM for an easy to place media centre, where no space is wasted with features that would otherwise go to waste. All-in-all it appeals to a far greater audience than I first imagined.

The Iris Pro 5200 series graphics have to be the most significant part of the Brix Pro’s specification. For quite some time I have shuddered and walked away when I’ve seen a system listed as only having Intel’s onboard HD graphics set and before I read into what Iris is capable of, I was very close to doing the same thing here. It goes to show that we shouldn’t always make our pre-judgements on a new feature, based on the other products that we have seen and used from the same manufacturer. OK, so we don’t get the same pixel pushing performance and texture ripping frame rates that AMD and NVIDIA GPUs are capable of, but in all honesty, it’s worlds apart from the HD4000 graphics that come on a 4770k.

The system is not without its faults though and over and above everything else, I can’t ignore the cooling situation. When running at full whack, during a gaming session for example, both the Iris Pro graphics and the i7 processor are working like crazy to deliver you the best they can and due the understated cooler, the temperatures rise to alarming levels. Even though there is a fan inside to get the air flowing, it is crying out in pain as it frantically tries to keep everything cool. Basically what is needed is a far better design of heatsink, with a larger surface area and a more efficient fan to get as much air in as possible to bring those temperatures back down to earth. This is not only going to benefit the system whilst running, it will also prolong the life of the components in the long run; not forgetting the fact that you won’t hear it crying for mercy.

Another thing to note is that if you are considering going down the path of mounting the Brix Pro to the rear of your monitor, make sure that the monitor stand is not attached to the back of the panel via the VESA bracket. Typically if your monitor has height adjustment and/or can rotate, or if you use an arm to raise it off the desktop then the chance of you mounting this to the back of that panel is virtually zero – that’s unless you want to fashion up a custom bracket to do just that. Perhaps this could be an idea for a separate accessory for the Brix family – a factory made VESA mounting plate that bolts inbetween the monitors stand and main body, providing an offset mounting point for the system, thus giving the best of both worlds.

Everything considered, I am pleasantly surprised and contempt with what the Brix Pro has to offer and if you’ve read this review to see if it is actually any good, then don’t be fooled by its modest size and appearance. It’s almost like a ticking bomb waiting to blow entry-level desktops back to where they once came.

Pros

  • Ultra small form factor
  • Low power consumption
  • VESA mountable
  • Barebones design gives flexibility on storage and memory
  • Gaming is within reach when the settings are dialled back a bit.

Cons

  • Temperature levels are of a real concern
  • No analogue mic/line input
  • Slow USB3.0 write performance
  • Loud fan as a result of the high temperatures under load

“Gigabyte’s first generation of Brix products were a great introduction into what the future holds for compact system design and where technology is going as we move deeper into the 21st century. As technology develops and computing gets even more advanced, we are now seeing the true potential that these systems have to offer. With gaming grade performance from Intel’s Iris graphics and the sheer grunt from the quad-core i7 processor, the Brix Pro simply blows the first generation systems out of the water. Desktop grade performance is now available in a pocket-sized format.”

Gigabyte Brix Pro GB-BXi7-4770R Ultra Compact Barebones System

Gigabyte Brix Pro GB-BXi7-4770R Ultra Compact Barebones System

Thanks to Gigabyte & Intel for providing this review sample.

Article Index

  1. Introduction
  2. A Closer Look
  3. Test Procedure
  4. PCMark 7
  5. PCMark 8
  6. 3DMark
  7. 3DMark 11
  8. Unigine Heaven 4.0
  9. Unigine Valley 1.0
  10. Bioshock Infinite
  11. Dirt Showdown
  12. Metro Last Light
  13. Sleeping Dogs
  14. Tomb Raider
  15. HD Video Playback
  16. CPU Benchmarks
  17. CPU Benchmarks Continued
  18. Memory Benchmarks
  19. SSD Performance
  20. Hard Drive Performance
  21. USB3.0 Performance
  22. Network Performance
  23. Acoustics
  24. Power Consumption
  25. Temperatures
  26. Final Thoughts
  27. View All

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