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Gigabyte BRIX Pro SFF Powerhouse

The Gigabyte BRIX Pro is essentially a supercharged NUC sporting a high speed quad core Haswell CPU. While it offers similar performance to much larger machines, it’s also far from whisper quiet.

October 6, 2014 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Gigabyte BRIX Pro
GB-BX-i7-4770R
Barebones Mini PC
Manufacturer
Street Price
US$550~$600

Traditionally mini PCs have served as replacements for very basic desktops, a role that makes perfect sense given the limitations of smaller enclosures. In the past these systems were primarily powered by slow Atom CPUs and comparable entry-level AMD APUs as that was the most cost effective technology available at the time. Intel breathed some much needed life in the genre with the NUC line, leveraging the performance and energy efficiency of their recent processors, and utilizing a sleek and quiet design. Gigabyte has followed suit with enthusiasm, offering a selection of similar devices with their BRIX series. The range of SKUs is much wider though, with clearly defined low, midrange, and top tier SKUs. These include versions with Bay Trail Atoms, dual core Core i3/i5’s, but also quad core Core i5/i7’s with standard desktop clock speeds. They even have a series of gaming boxes with discrete graphics.

Specifications: Gigabyte BRIX Pro GB-BXi7-4770R
(from the
product web page
)
Dimension 62 x 111.4 x 114.4 mm ( 2.4” x 4.3” x 4.5”)
Motherboard 100 x 105 mm
CPU 4th generation Intel® Core™ i7-4770R 3.90 GHz
Chipset Intel® HM87 Chipset
Memory 2 x SO-DIMM DDR3L slots (DDR3 1.35V)
1333 / 1600 MHz
Max. 16GB
LAN Gigabit LAN (Realtek RTL8111G)
Audio Realtek ALC269
Graphics Intel® Iris™ Pro graphics 5200
Resolution (Max.) HDMI: 4096×2304 @ 24 Hz
Mini DP: 3840×2160 @ 60 Hz
Expansion Slots 1 x mSATA slot
1 x Half-size mini-PCIe slot occupied by the WiFi+BT card
1 x SATA slot
Front I/O 2 x USB 3.0
1 x head phone jack with SPDIF
Rear I/O 1 x HDMI
1 x Mini DisplayPort
2 x USB 3.0
1 x RJ45
1 x DC-In
1 x Kensington lock slot
Storage Supports 2.5” thickness 7.0/9.5mm Hard Drives (1 x 6Gbps SATA3)
Power Supply Input: AC 100-240V
Output: DC 19V
7.1A
VESA Bracket included
Supports 75 x 75 and 100 x 100 mm
Support OS WIN7 32/64bit
WIN8 32/64bit
WIN8.1 32/64bit
Environment System Environment Operating Temperature: 0°C to +35°C
System Storage Temperature: -20°C to +60°C
* The entire materials provided herein are for reference only. GIGABYTE reserves the right to modify or revise the content at anytime without prior notice.
* Advertised performance is based on maximum theoretical interface values from respective Chipset vendors or organization who defined the interface specification. Actual performance may vary by system configuration.
* All trademarks and logos are the properties of their respective holders.
* Due to standard PC architecture, a certain amount of memory is reserved for system usage and therefore the actual memory size is less than the stated amount.

Today we’re going to examine one of their high-end offerings, the top variant of the BRIX Pro, which emphasizes CPU power above all else. It features a Core i7-4770R, a Haswell quad core processor with a clock speed of 3.2 GHz (up to 3.9 GHz with TurboBoost). The “R” suffix denotes its status as a specialty chip with Intel’s highest level of integrated graphics, Iris Pro 5200, which features 128MB of dedicated eDRAM cache. It also has a lower TDP (65W) than the mainstream quad core desktop lineup. This is low considering the clock speeds and architecture, but for reference, the Core i5-4250U in the last NUC we tested is rated for a mere 15W.

On paper, it’s easily the fastest SFF PC we’ve ever seen but cooling will undoubtedly be a considerable challenge. The rest of the machine is very much like a larger NUC with a pair of DDR3 SODIMM slots (1.35V SODIMMs only), 4K-capable HDMI and mini DisplayPort outputs, both mSATA and standard SATA (2.5 inch) storage options, gigabit ethernet, and they’ve thrown in wireless 802.11n/Bluetooth capability in the form of a mini PCI-E card.

According to the Gigabyte, this model is “ideally suited to CPU-intensive applications like image design and video editing, the superior graphics performance of the BRIX Pro means it’s also great for 3D gaming.” The CPU is certainly up to the task for photo and video manipulation but real professionals may not be satisfied with the maximum allowable 16GB of RAM and the current largest notebook hard drive capacity of 2TB. And while Iris Pro 5200 may be the creme de la creme of integrated graphics, for serious gamers, there’s no substitute for a proper discrete graphics. After all, if it were truly “great for 3D gaming,” there would be no need for their BRIX Gaming line.


The box.


Package contents.


The Gigabyte BRIX Pro.

The BRIX Pro ships with a large power adapter and cable, a VESA mounting bracket, screws, and a driver disc. The enclosure has a boxy shape and a black plastic exterior with a glossy finish and angled lines at the front and right side to give it some much needed character. The power button is located on the top cover and at the front reside a pair of USB 3.0 ports and a combined headphone/S/PDIF connector. It measures 6.2 x 11.1 x 11.4 cm (H x W x D) so the footprint is similar to the NUC series though it’s quite a bit taller as the larger NUC versions with 2.5 inch drive support measure just 5.1 cm from top to bottom. The extra height is understandable, allowing for a larger cooling solution for a high-end CPU. And while the NUC has very limited airflow, the BRIX Pro has a large vent occupying at one corner, obviously a necessity for the 65W chip inside. The larger, more open chassis will obviously help but we can’t imagine it can operate at peak speed without creating a ton of noise.

PHYSICAL DETAILS & ASSEMBLY

The Gigabyte BRIX Pro measures 6.2 x 11.1 x 11.4 cm or 2.4 x 4.4 x 4.5 inches (H x W x D), giving it a similar footprint to the NUC. The internal components are accessible by pulling out the bottom. As a barebones system, memory and storage has to be added to make it operational.


To access the interior, four bolts inside the rubber feet need to be removed. The odd looking pillar in the corner offers something convenient to pull so you won’t break a nail trying to dig around the edges. Like a notebook, there is a series of ventilation slits located in the vicinity of the memory slots inside.


The main exhaust port is located at the top/rear of the case. From this angle you can catch a glimpse of a copper heatsink which presumably takes up most of the top third.


The rear ports include a Kensington security slot, DC power jack, HDMI and mini DisplayPort connectors, RJ45 and a pair of USB 3.0 ports.


With a quad core desktop processor at the heart of the machine, it has a beefier power source than most systems of this size. It’s a 19V power adapter manufactured by FSP with a total output of 135W and a class V efficiency rating.


A 2.5 inch drive bay is located underneath the bottom section of the case. It supports drives up to 9.5 mm in height (sorry, VelociRaptor fans).


The motherboard is a Gigabyte M4HM87P which has two SODIMM slots, a half-sized mini PCI-E slot (occupied by a AzureWave wireless adapter with a Realtek chipset), and an mSATA slot. A sleeved black connector is used to power and connect a standard 2.5 inch SATA drive.


We tested the BRIX Pro with a Kingston SSDNow mS200 mSATA SSD and 2 x 4GB of Kingston ValueRAM DDR3-1600 1.35V SODIMMs, A WD Red 1TB notebook drive was also used briefly to ascertain its effect on the machine’s heat and noise output.

System Configuration:

  • Intel Core i7-4770R processor
    – 2.4 GHz, octa-core, 22nm, 20W
  • Gigabyte M4HM87P motherboard
  • Kingston ValueRAM SO-DIMM memory– 2x4GB, DDR3-1600, 1.35V
  • Kingston SSDNow mS200
    solid state drive – mSATA, 120GB
  • Western Digital Red
    hard drive – 2.5 inch, SATA 6 Gbps, 1TB
  • FSP Group PSP135-RSEBN2 DC power supply – 19V, 135W
  • Microsoft
    Windows 7 Ultimate
    operating system, 64-bit


Test configuration device listing.

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Timed CPU Benchmark Test Details

  • Adobe Photoshop: Image manipulation using a variety of filters, a derivation
    of Driver Heaven’s Photoshop
    Benchmark V3
    (test image resized to 4500×3499).
  • Eset NOD32: In-depth virus scan of a folder containing 32 files of varying
    size with many RAR and ZIP archives.
  • WinRAR: RAR archive creation with a folder containing 68 files of varying
    size (less than 50MB).
  • iTunes: Conversion of an MP3 file to AAC.
  • TMPGEnc Xpress: Encoding a XVID AVI file with VC-1.
  • HandBrake: Encoding a XVID AVI file with H.264.

3D Performance Benchmarks

Testing Procedures

Our main test procedure involves and recording the various temperatures and fan speeds, power consumption, and noise level, with the system in various states as we deemed appropriate. This includes idle, H.264 and Flash playback, video encoding with TMPGEnc, and full CPU and GPU load using Prime95/CPUBurn and FurMark. This is followed by a series of both CPU (timed tests of real-world applications) and GPU-centric (gaming tests and synthetics) benchmarks.

Certain services and features like Superfetch and System Restore are disabled
to prevent them from affecting our results.
We also make note if energy saving features like Cool’n’Quiet and SpeedStep
do not function properly.

TEST RESULTS

Acoustics & Thermals

System Measurements (mSATA SSD only)
System State
Idle
MPC-HC H.264 Playback
Resident Evil 5 Benchmark Demo
TMPGEnc Video Encoding
CPU Temp
50°C
53°C
87°C
89°C
MB Temp
50°C
53°C
72°C
70°C
SSD Temp
51°C
53°C
61°C
65°C
Ext. Temp*
32°C
32°C
37°C
39°C
CPU Fan Speed
1260 RPM
~2770 RPM
~3080 RPM
SPL@0.6m
18 dBA
37 dBA
40 dBA
System Power (AC)
16W
19W
62W
61W
*measured at the hottest point on the top of the machine
Ambient temperature: 20°C.

When only lightly taxed, the BRIX Pro ran a bit warm with the the internal components measuring 50~53°C, not hot enough to kick the CPU fan into overdrive. When idling and playing HD video, the fan spun at a modest 1260 RPM, producing an SPL of just 18 dBA at 0.6 meters (the distance defined as the ISO 7779 seated user position). For our load tests we used the Resident Evil 5 benchmark demo which runs a continuous loop of automated gameplay and TMPGEnc to re-encode a lengthy video. These demanding tasks took a heavy toll on the system, generating a lot of heat and noise. During video encoding the CPU temperature flirted with the 90°C mark and both the motherboard and SSD warmed up considerably as well while the outside of the casing remained cool enough to touch.

The thermal conditions inside were unsettling but the resulting noise level was our main concern. Both load tests made the system incredibly loud, with the TMPGEnc test cracking the 40 dBA level, and Resident Evil 5 not far behind. The machine can be VESA-mounted behind a monitor to limit the overall noise output somewhat, but ultimately the BRIX Pro is impossible to muffle when it’s doing any kind of heavy work. None of this noise was unnecessary either, rather the unfortunate result of a small fan tasked with expelling a ridiculous amount of heat from a small, confined space. The fan speed spun just fast enough to prevent the processor from throttling.

System Measurements (mSATA SSD + SATA HDD)
System State
Idle
MPC-HC H.264 Playback
Resident Evil 5 Benchmark Demo
TMPGEnc Video Encoding
CPU Temp
52°C
56°C
87°C
89°C
MB Temp
52°C
55°C
74°C
70°C
SSD Temp
54°C
58°C
65°C
67°C
HD Temp
40°C
41°C
42°C
41°C
Ext. Temp
32°C
32°C
40°C
38°C
CPU Fan Speed
1260 RPM
~2800 RPM
~3120 RPM
SPL@0.6m
22~23 dBA
38 dBA
40~41 dBA
System Power (AC)
17W
20W
63W
62W
Ambient temperature: 20°C.

We also tested the BRIX Pro with a notebook hard drive installed in the open hard drive bay to ascertain the effect of additional storage. The drive didn’t block any ventilation ports but the heat it generated on its own created extra thermal load. Moderate temperature increases were observed for all the internal components, but from a noise perspective, it was only really louder in the idle and video playback states. Despite being one of the quieter notebook drives on the market, the WD Red 1TB raised the SPL by 4~5 dB. On load, the higher temperatures forced the fan to speed up slightly more but the actual sound of the drive itself was obviously completely drowned out.

The acoustic profile of the BRIX Pro was similar to most SFF PCs and notebooks. The system’s only fan emits a soft whooshing type sound when the machine is idle but when stressed, it turns into a mini blow dryer with soft turbulence and an underlying high pitched whine. Honestly, the quality of the fan noise is unimportant when put on a heavy load as the sheer volume produced is completely overwhelming. No fan can sound good emitting ~40 dBA

System Measurements: Gigabyte BRIX Pro vs. Intel NUC D54250WYK
System
Brix Pro (i7-4770R)
NUC (i5-4250U)
System State
Idle
TMPGEnc Video Encoding
Idle
TMPGEnc Video Encoding
CPU Temp
50°C
89°C
37°C
68°C
SSD Temp
51°C
65°C
31°C
41°C
Ext. Temp*
32°C
39°C
37°C
40°C
SPL@0.6m
18 dBA
40 dBA
11 dBA
16 dBA
System Power (AC)
16W
61W
6W
20W
*measured at the hottest point on the top of the machine
Results adjusted for ambient temperature of 20°C.

Compared to the last NUC we tested, the difference is staggering. On load, the BRIX Pro’s internal temperatures were more than 20°C higher and the noise level was greater by several orders of magnitude.

Energy Efficiency Comparison (DC-DC powered systems)

On light loads, the BRIX Pro had similar energy efficiency to a thin mini-ITX build we put together with a Gigabyte H77TN board and Pentium G2120 (55W) processor. Power consumption was almost double that of the most powerful NUC we reviewed, but substantially lower than a desktop AMD combination with a 45W Kaveri chip.

On heavy load, the BRIX Pro became the most power hungry mini PC we’ve encountered, coming close to drawing 100W from the wall when running synthetic stress tests. However, it was actually more frugal than the A8-7600 combination when given the real world test of video encoding, showcasing the excellent efficiency of Intel’s low voltage Haswell chips.

CPU Performance

The CPU is so fast, there was no point comparing its performance with many of the previously tested mini PCs; It simply blows all the Atom and entry-level APU based machines out of the water. Furthermore, the BRIX Pro was substantially faster than the i5-4250U powered NUC.

Compared to the Core i7-4770K, a high-end desktop chip, the i7-4770R has the same maximum Turbo Boost speed (3.9 GHz) but a lower base frequency (3.2 GHz vs. 3.5 GHz), so the results were quite similar. The BRIX Pro trailed slightly in most of the tests (except it somehow inexplicably won the Photoshop test), most likely because the thermal controls kept it on a shorter leash. This was notable during the multi-threaded HandBrake test as the CPU clock speed never exceeded 3.2 GHz.

GPU Performance

The i7-4770R is also equipped with high-end integrated graphics, dubbed Iris Pro 5200, which in synthetic tests, outstripped the best integrated solutions we’ve tested thus far, and even a low-end discrete video card in the Radeon HD 6570.

In actual game benchmark demo tests, it was about on par with the HD 6570, producing playable framerates at the 1600×900 resolution level with medium to high detail settings. For less demanding and older titles, you can probably get a passable experience at 1920×1080.

For more dedicated gamers, Gigabyte has a gaming line of BRIX systems with either a Radeon R9 M275X or GeForce GTX 760 video card, but we can only imagine how loud they get considering the earsplitting output of our Iris Pro 5200 powered review unit.

Wireless Performance

Pit against a couple of desktop boards and notebooks, the BRIX Pro’s Realtek-based wireless adapter was a bit of a disappointment. Transfer speeds over 802.11n were much faster downstream, but the overall result was underwhelming. It would be probably beneficial for Gigabyte to have included external antennae.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR’s own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to
LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no
audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent
a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 5~10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don’t change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The BRIX Pro is an audaciously powerful mini PC, the likes of which we’ve never seen. Gigabyte deserves credit simply for having the gumption to squeeze an i7-4770R into such a petite form. The CPU is an absolute beast, a high frequency quad core chip with a modest 65W thermal envelope that easily competes with the mainstream Haswell CPUs found in much larger desktops. The Iris Pro 5200 is impressive as well, a capable integrated graphics solution that makes entry level discrete video cards redundant.

It’s much faster than any of Intel’s NUCs and it shows in the acoustics. The more modest Core i5-4250U powered NUC was very quiet when executing even the most stressful real world tasks. The BRIX Pro is louder than that when doing absolutely nothing, and the heat generated by stressful applications causes the fan to wail like a banshee being chased by bigger, even scarier banshee. Its noise output is so high when doing heavy work, we wouldn’t keep it on our desk, even VESA-mounted behind a monitor. The system’s single fan is hopelessly overburdened even though the fan control is relatively lax, allowing the internal components to heat up so much that the CPU comes close to throttling. Its an unfortunate consequence of the physics involved, and impossible to avoid without an extravagant cooling solution.

If you’re looking for a compact desktop with serious speed and the ability to do some casual gaming, the BRIX Pro should be considered as long as you can tolerate the noise. It’s only quiet when it doesn’t have a lot to do, but for that usage pattern something simpler would be more appropriate like a NUC, or one of the many lower tier BRIX units offered by Gigabyte. More serious gamers should take note of the BRIX Gaming series which features midrange discrete graphics.

The i7-4770R version of the BRIX Pro is currently selling at around the US$600 level with some retailers also throwing in a US$50 mail-in rebate. This sounds expensive but a custom thin-ITX configuration with similar components would be in the same ballpark but the case would be much larger and it would be lacking in the graphics department as Iris Pro 5200 is rather exclusive and not available with any socketed CPU.

Our thanks to Gigabyte
for the BRIX Pro sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Haswell comes to NUC
Logic Supply LGX ML300 Fanless NUC
Gigabyte GA-H77TN Thin Mini-ITX Motherboard
Intel Next Unit of Computing Kit DC3217BY
Intel Core i7-4770K Haswell Processor

* * *

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