Introduction and Setup Impressions

Over the last couple of years, the ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) has emerged as one of the bright spots in the troubled PC market. Intel's NUC and GIGABYTE's BRIX are the most popular lineups in this category. Intel's 14nm Broadwell family was introduced into the market with the fanless Core M-based systems. The excellent performance of units based on Core-M has evoked interest in the performance of the upcoming NUC and BRIX units based on Broadwell-U. Intel is taking its time bringing the NUCs to market after officially announcing them at CES 2015. However, GIGABYTE sent over their premium Broadwell BRIX s SKU, the GB-BXi7H-5500, earlier this week. In this piece, we present results from putting the unit through our mini-PC evaluation routine.

We covered the launch of the Broadwell BRIX units at CES. Similar to the Haswell-based lineup at the time of introduction, we have two chassis designs - one with support for a 2.5" drive slot as well as a mSATA port, and the other with a smaller height supporting only a mSATA port. The GB-BXi7H-5500 belongs to the former category and is part of the BRIX s family. The unit comes with a Core i7-5500U Broadwell-U processor and is the flagship SKU in the introductory lineup. Befitting its premium status, it is the only BRIX s model to come with NFC capabilities.

Similar to the BRIX units of the previous generation, the GB-BXi7H-5500 is also a barebones PC. The storage subsystem, DRAM and OS choices are all left to the end user. We opted for a powerful build, choosing the highest end Corsair Vengeance DDR3L memory SKU and a 120 GB Samsung SSD 840 EVO.

The GB-BXi7H-5500 will have a suggested retail price of $509, a very slight premium over the introductory price of the premium Haswell GB-BXi7-4500 model. Our high-end choices pushed the build cost upwards of $750. However, it is possible to bring down the cost with a judicious choice of DRAM and SSD. The specifications of our review configuration are summarized in the table below.

GIGABYTE GB-BXi7H-5500 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-5500U
(2C/4T x 2.40 GHz, 14nm, 4MB L2, 15W TDP)
Memory 2x 8GB DDR3L-1866
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 5500
Disk Drive(s) Samsung SSD 840 EVO 120GB 2.5" SSD
Networking 1x Realtek RTL8111 GbE, 1x1 Intel AC3160 802.11ac Wi-Fi
Audio Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Operating System Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 8.1 Pro x64
Pricing (As configured) $786
Full Specifications GIGABYTE GB-BXi7H-5500 Specifications

The GIGABYTE GB-BXi7H-5500 kit doesn't come with any pre-installed OS, but does come with a DVD containing the drivers. The read-only USB keys that came with some of the BRIX models last year seem to be missing this time around. In any case, we ended up installing the latest drivers downloaded off GIGABYTE's product support page. In addition to the main unit, the other components of the package include a 65 W (19V @ 3.42A) adapter, a US power cord, a VESA mount (along with the necessary screws), a driver DVD, screws for the installation of a 2.5" drive and a NFC tag. The gallery below takes us around the packaging and the hardware.

We had installed DDR3L sticks supporting overclocking up to 2133 MHz. Naturally curious about what rate the memory was running at actually, and in order to take a look at the various configuration options, we navigated into the BIOS. The gallery below shows some screenshots indicating the available BIOS options.

The system was able to configure itself without any intervention to run the memory at 1866 MHz. Considering that Intel only officially supports up to DDR3L-1600, this is pretty good. We modified a couple of other options - one related to the OS that we planned to install - Windows 8.x instead of the default Windows 7, and another related to the memory allocated to the iGPU. By default, the iGPU gets only 128 MB. Since the unit was built with 16 GB of memory, we decided to allocate the maximum possible memory to the iGPU in the BIOS - 2 GB. Within Windows, though, hardware monitoring tools reported only 1 GB of VRAM.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the GIGABYTE GB-BXi7H-5500 against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. The relevant configuration details of the machines are provided so that readers have an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are skewed for or against the GIGABYTE GB-BXi7H-5500 when we come to those sections. The most important of these PCs is the GIGABYTE GB-BXi7-4500 - they are at similar price points, and the comparison will give us an idea of what Broadwell brings to the table when compared to Haswell.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect GIGABYTE GB-BXi7H-5500
CPU Intel Core i7-5500U Intel Core i7-5500U
GPU Intel HD Graphics 5500 (Broadwell-U GT2) Intel HD Graphics 5500 (Broadwell-U GT2)
RAM Corsair Vengeance CMSX16GX3M2B2133C11
10-10-10-29 @ 1866 MHz
2x8 GB
Corsair Vengeance CMSX16GX3M2B2133C11
10-10-10-29 @ 1866 MHz
2x8 GB
Storage Samsung SSD 840 EVO
(120 GB; 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s; 19nm; TLC)
Samsung SSD 840 EVO
(120 GB; 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s; 19nm; TLC)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $786 $786
Performance Metrics - I
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  • kgh00007 - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    No mention of the i7-5500U turbo speeds?

    3GHz single core turbo and 2.9GHz dual core turbo, source notebookcheck.
  • voicequal - Saturday, February 7, 2015 - link

    These were provided in a previous article.
  • Shadowmaster625 - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    The only people who would pay that much money for so little performance already gave their money to apple.
  • gr8pcguy - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    Doesn't it bother anyone that the box is printed with the statement "Supports 2.5" Hard Drivers"? Obviously Gigabyte needs to do a bit of QA on their package production line!
  • Refuge - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    Ha! I noticed this to when I first clicked the link.

    Hopefully they fix the typo before full production for consumers. :P
  • skifiddle - Saturday, January 31, 2015 - link

  • Refuge - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    The Brix, now supports 2.5" Hard "Drivers"

    Is this some kind of new, super strong drivers for our HDD's?

    And yes, this is me being sarcastic :P
  • tspacie - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    The huge iGPU BIOS carve-out intrigues me. Does the iGPU not handle allocations in shared system memory (in 4K pages) ?
  • Pissedoffyouth - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    Nah, neither does AMD APUs. You lose whatever you allocate.
  • rootheday3 - Friday, January 30, 2015 - link

    the BIOS carve out is not necessary. The bios reserves a little (~32mb) for some internal data structures used by the driver (graphics page tables, memory for content protection, auxilary buffer for display frame buffer compression). Otherwise, the driver gets allocations out of system memory from the OS to map into the graphics page tables.

    the DVMT pre-Allocated is a hold over from Windows XP driver model and is no longer meaningful since Vista. In fact, if the OS comes under memory pressure and starts asking the driver to stick data into that "dedicated" segment, the PCI aperture copy/swizzle process used to load the data is slower than if the driver simply used OS allocations. Likewise, on standby/hibernate the OS "pages out" all the data from dedicated segment to "normal" memory which is slow... whereas for normal system allocations on iGPU, the pages are just "there" - no extra copy required.

    The sole exception is a handful of games that are incorrectly coded to look for "Dedicated" graphics memory from OS API call and then make bogus decisions based on that (e.g. refuse to run=>PES, restrict available game resolution/settings =>SW:TOR, older Total War games, render incorrectly because they think they don't have room to load textures =>GTA IV). For this small set of games, having the BIOS option to preallocate memory (which the driver won't actually use) is a workaround to fool them into running correctly.

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