GIGABYTE BRIX Review; A Mini Powerhouse?
Conclusion; Challenges but Kaby Lake Shines Through
There are two different aspects of this particular review: one of which showed how the BRIX performs in baseline applications and the other which highlights what kind of performance Intel was able to bake into Kaby Lake. The latter of those is likely the most impressive since in a true apples to apples comparison, the i7-7500U showed noticeable improvements over its direct predecessor, the i7-6500U. As for the BRIX, well let’s get to that before diving into the capabilities of Kaby Lake’s low voltage lineup.
Some may consider Gigabyte’s BRIX lineup to be one of the most faithful recreations of Intel’s NUC initiative. These mini-me desktops are compact, quiet and extremely capable but a certain amount of expectation management is necessary as well. It isn’t going to blow your socks off or -due to the integrated Intel graphics- allow you to play anything but the most basic game. However, as a basic media box, or simple PC for a student it succeeds in leaps and bounds.
Think of the BRIX as an ultra compact desktop with the performance of a high end thin and light notebook. And therein lies the problem. Due to the price it is only normal that we focus on what the BRIX can’t do rather than what it does well. If it came fully equipped with Windows, memory and an integrated storage drive for $599 I could see there being widespread acceptance. Instead, this version of the BRIX barely remains under a grand once all of the necessary components are added. Any perceived value is lost at that point. For $850 you could grab a notebook like Dell’s Inspiron 7000 Gaming or Acer’s VX15 and get a much more versatile solution which also packs a dedicated GTX 1050 GPU.
With the advent of compute sticks and basic Android-based set top boxes for streaming media consumption it is becoming increasingly hard to see the benefits in these relatively expensive small form factor PCs. They occupy a grey area for retail-focused clients but could prove to be beneficial in an office environment. I’d even argue that for home users something like NVIDIA’s SHIELD could accomplish 95% of what the BRIX can for a fraction of the cost.
Moving past the BRIX brings us to the Skylake versus Kaby Lake comparison. While many readers of our desktop-focused Kaby Lake 7700K review failed to see the benefits of Intel’s refreshed microarchitecture, the notebook / SFF PC segment allows it to shine. The i7-7500U’s lower TDP leads to higher continual clock speeds while slight revisions in its caching hierarchy and Turbo Boost Max algorithms push performance even further afield. All of this has been accomplished while reducing the overall power consumption footprint. The notebook market stands the most to gain since this combination will lead to improved battery life as well.
Another thing that can’t be overlooked is Kaby Lake’s updated video engine now has native support support for 4K HEVC encoding/decoding at 10-bit depths and also decoding of VP9 video streams. Whereas Skylake simply accelerated HEVC 1080P content, the move to hardware acceleration for 4K is a game changer for anyone who wants to use their small PC’s for seamless UHD Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and other online video services.
So there you have it; the BRIX does indeed highlight the best of what Kaby Lake has to offer but I struggled to find usage scenarios where a notebook or low cost Android-based system couldn’t take over the majority of its duties. Now if Gigabyte decided to take a page from the notebook market and add a dedicated GTX 1050 to the BRIX, then we’d certainly sit up and take notice.