Gigabyte offers an interesting lineup of miniature PCs that are not very different from the Intel NUCs. I chose this particular Gigabyte BRIX model for review because I feel that it fits an obvious gap in the Intel’s NUC lineup. The Gigabyte product that hides behind the long product name GB-BXCEH-2955 runs an Intel Haswell Celeron 2955U processor – something that is not available for an Intel NUC.
The unit is nicely packaged and after opening the package the first thing you will see after opening the cover is the tiny BRIX PC. While not as tiny as the Intel Haswell NUCs without a slot for a 2.5″ drive it still is really small. The pictures don’t do it justice. Considering this BRIX does give you the option of installing a single 2.5″ SSD or hard disk drive the dimensions really are impressive. This BRIX is 42.8 mm high and Intel’s i3 NUC with similar specs (the CPU notwithstanding) is 49.5 mm high. That’s about 15% more. The figures width and depth are similar. Due to the nature of the product, we can’t help comparing this with Intel’s NUC products.
Ok, let’s look at the specs. The highlights are listed below.
- Intel Celeron 2955U Processor (dual-core, base frequency 1.4GHz, 15W TDP)
- Intel HD Graphics integrated display adapter, max. frequency 1GHz, 10 execution units
- 2 SODIMM DDR3L slots, max. memory 16GB
- Slot for a single 2.5″ drive, max. thickness 9.5 mm
- mSATA slot for SSD storage
- 802.11b/g/n WiFi + BlueTooth 4.0 adapter
- HDMI and Mini DisplayPort connectors (supports 2 displays)
- 4 USB3.0 ports
- Gigabit Ethernet interface
The specification seem good to me. This BRIX sells for less than $180 / €160 making it only marginally more expensive than the Bay Trail NUC, which comes with much lower speed CPU and GPU, less USB ports and no mSATA slot.
Look around the Celeron BRIX
The top of the BRIX contains just the power button. There’s no HDD LED on top here like on the Intel NUCs. It’s very glossy and prone to fingerprints and scratches – just like the NUC!
On the front we have two USB3.0 ports and a combined headphone/SPDIF jack. The chassis is made of aluminum that’s painted black. Even my wife commented that she likes the BRIX better than the NUC and I tend to agree. One thing to note here is that there is no inbuilt infrared receiver for remote controllers like the NUCs do have.
The first thing on the left side of the back panel is the power connector. The BRIX does not have an internal power supply, but there’s an external power brick that is similar to what most of the laptops come with these days. There’s a full-size HDMI connector which supports the HDMI 1.4a specification and a Mini DisplayPort connector version 1.2a. Next to the DisplayPort connector there is your usual RJ-45 connector for the inbuilt Realtek GigabitEthernet adapter. Finally, you have two more USB3.0 ports.
Assembling the Gigabyte BRIX
Before using the BRIX, you need to install some memory modules inside the unit as well as some form of storage. I chose to install a 2.5″ hard disk that I had lying around, but I definitely recommend using SSD drives instead – no matter what you intend to do with your BRIX. It does not really matter if you get an SSD drive that fits the mSATA slot or the 2.5″ drive slot. The performance and price are pretty similar these days for both.
The bottom cover of the BRIX contains also the drive holder for the 2.5″ drive. The SATA cables as well as the screws for attaching the drive are included, so you don’t need to get additional ones.
Under the cover you’ll find two SODIMM slots for memory (at the bottom of the picture) that take only 1.35V modules. This is important as many of the modules are 1.5V. Here the SATA cable is still taped to mainboard, but if you install a 2.5″ drive you will pull the tape off. There’s a half-size Mini PCIe slot that is prepopulated with a WiFi/BlueTooth adapter. The antennas are preconnected to the WiFi card as well. Above the half-size slot there’s a full-size slot as well that can support mSATA devices.
Installing the Operating System
I decided to install the popular Ubuntu Linux operating system on the BRIX to see how well it is supported by Linux. To be exact, I downloaded Ubuntu Desktop 14.04.1 LTS and copied it on a USB stick.
I briefly had a look around the BIOS of the BRIX.
After the impressive Visual BIOS that the Intel NUCs do have, the BIOS of the BRIX feels a bit archaic. However, all basic functionality is present and an average user is unlikely to ever venture deeper into the BIOS. I enabled booting from the USB (it does support for example PXE boot or wake-on-LAN) and restarted the BRIX.
It’s worth noting that the automatic management of fan rotating speed keeps the fans running at rather low speed. They’re barely audible for me, at least when not fully loaded.
The Ubuntu installer recognized all the components and the installation was a breeze. Even the WiFi adapter was detected and the latest updates were downloaded during the installation. I was a bit unsure if the WiFi adapter would be supported out-of-the-box in Linux, but was happy to find it works ok (driver rtl8723ae). After booting up Ubuntu I also verified that the Gigabit Ethernet worked fine (driver r8169). Even the BlueTooth was automatically supported.
I did not attempt to do much more than play around with the typically office applications and web browser, but the system seemed to respond very nicely. I’d expect that this miniature PC could replace much larger ones at many desktops where not too much processing power is needed. For Windows users Gigabyte provides the drivers for Windows 7, 8 and 8.1. I would recommend installing 8 gigabytes of memory and an SSD drive if going forward with Windows.
Make the BRIX Your Media Center
As many of my regular readers know, I have a passion for HTPCs. Obviously one of the things I immediately had to try was the OpenELEC media center operating system. My expectations were high. The lower end NUCs DE3815TYKHE and DN2820FYKH have issues with upscaling and deinterlacing as they simply lack the horsepower required for that. The higher end Core i3 NUC costs twice as much as the lower end ones and has more than enough performance. This BRIX should sit nicely between the Bay Trail NUC DN2820FYKH and the Core i3 NUC D34010WYK.
Luckily, I was not disappointed. The installation was smooth, the menus were running smoothly, both WiFi and the wired Ethernet connection were detected and supported automatically and sound worked fine via the HDMI. I streamed the jell.yfish.us samples over the Gigabit Ethernet connection and even the 120 Mbps sample video ran without issues. Note that most of the users will never see anything even close to 120 Mbps in practical use!
When I’m evaluating a system for media center use, I have the following questions in mind.
- Does it support proper 23.976 Hz refresh rate? Yes
- Can it decode full HD video at high bitrates? Yes
- Can it upscale SD video using lanczos3 algorhitm? Yes
- Can it deinterlace SD and HD video using Yadif method? Yes
- Does it run heavier skins like Aeon MQ5 ok? Yes
The Haswell Celeron BRIX get a check mark in all of the boxes.
I would say this is currently the ideal budget miniature computer for OpenELEC. However, don’t take just my word for it – have a look at the video below. Nevermind the graininess, that’s caused by my camera. The video on the screen looked perfect.
The Gigabyte BRIX with the Celeron 2955U CPU sits very nicely between the Intel Bay Trail and Core i3 NUCs and fills that gap. It provides good value, lively performance, good expandability, nice Linux support and it makes a very nice HTPC platform.
- Compact size
- Slots for both 2.5″ and mSATA drives
- WiFi and BlueTooth 4.0 adapter included
- 2 display connectors
- Performance as a HTPC
- No built-in infrared receiver
- Text-based BIOS
If you are interested in one, have a look at what a complete Gigabyte BRIX system would look like with the NUC Guru. It will recommend you compatible parts and help you build the a whole system that works well together.