Very few products excite us enough to request the manufacturer to provide us with an engineering sample or demo model. The Intel NUC category has been particularly interesting as it provides us with an insight into where the traditional casual / home use desktop market might end up.

The ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) for PCs was originally championed by VIA Technologies with their nano-ITX (12cm x 12cm) and pico-ITX (10 cm x 7.2cm) boards. Zotac was one of the first to design a custom UCFF motherboard (size between nano-ITX and pico-ITX) for the ZBOX nano XS AD11 based on AMD Brazos. The motherboard was approximately 10cm x 10cm. Intel made this motherboard size a 'standard' with the introduction of the Intel NUC boards in May 2012.

GIGABYTE took the NUC concept and designed their own board and chassis in the BRIX lineup. At Computex 2013, Ian talked to them and found out that an AMD Kabini based version was also in the works. Last month, at IDF, we had the official launch of the Haswell-based BRIX units. The interesting aspect of the Haswell BRIX is the fact that it has become available for purchase prior to the Intel Haswell NUC. We now have full pricing details for most of the models:

BRIX Model GB-BXi7-4500 GB-BXi5-4200 GB-BXi3-4010 GB-BXCE-2955
Intel Processor Intel® Core™ Intel® Core™  Intel® Core™ Intel® Celeron
i7-4500U i5-4200U i3-4010U 2955U
IGP Intel HD 4400 Intel HD 4400 Intel HD 4400 Intel HD
Cores 2 2 2 2
Threads 4 4 4 2
Clock Frequency 1.8GHz – 3.0GHz 1.6 GHz – 2.6GHz 1.7 GHz 1.4 GHz
Audio Codec Realtek ALC269 Realtek ALC269 Realtek ALC269 Realtek ALC269
Expansion 1x mSATA 1x mSATA 1x mSATA 1x mSATA
1x mPCIe (WiFi) 1x mPCIe (WiFi) 1x mPCIe (WiFi) 1x mPCIe (WiFi)
Memory 2 x SO-DIMM 2 x SO-DIMM 2 x SO-DIMM 2 x SO-DIMM
DDR3 1.35 V DDR3 1.35 V DDR3 1.35 V DDR3 1.35 V
LAN Realtek RTL8111G Realtek RTL8111G Realtek RTL8111G Realtek RTL8111G
Pricing $530 $390 $300 NA

We visited Gigabyte at IDF and requested a BRIX sample for a quick overview. They supplied us with their IDF demo model (design and components slightly different from the official SKUs that are already shipping ). Our review sample came with a Core i3-4100U (1.8 GHz) CPU, a 320 GB Western Digital Blue HDD [ WD3200LPVX ] and a single-band Realtek RTL8723 802.11n mPCI-e WLAN adapter.

The demo model has a slightly higher profile (height of 4.3cm compared to the 3cm for the standard BRIX). This configuration (with space for a 2.5" drive) will be sold as the BRIX s, and is slated to hit the shelves towards the end of November. Obviously, the system will be sold barebone (users can install their own 2.5" SSD), but the Realtek WLAN module (the shipping version will have a dual band version unlike what we currently have in the IDF demo model) will be bundled with the system.

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  • petes8k - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    I had some Realtek NICs not too long ago on a CentOS box. They couldn't support jumbo frames over 4 K. Hardware offloading didn't work well so a lot of stuff had to be done in software within the network stack which caused unnecessary CPU load. I don't have the board anymore. It got replaced with another board with Intel NICs instead.

    Going anything Realtek is really a hit or miss thing.
  • shiznit - Friday, November 1, 2013 - link

    reason for jumbo frames?
  • ZeDestructor - Friday, November 1, 2013 - link

    Lower CPU/NIC/switch load and less overhead. Enable it if you can, there's no real loss if you don't: most packet fragmentation is done in hardware by the Ethernet controller.
  • ghm3 - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    In my experience the opposite is true. In my first HTPC build a few years ago I used an integrated Realtek NIC. In short order all traffic over the NIC would completely stop every other day or so, requiring me to disable and re-enable the NIC to restore functionality. No amount of driver changes or tweaking had any effect on this.

    So I bought an Intel PCI NIC and it worked flawlessly 24/7/365 for the next 18 months or so I used the system.

    This is far from the only problem I've experienced with Realtek NICs, just the one that's affected my own personal machines the most. I'm not saying Realteks don't have a place for casual/cheap environments, but I'll never trust a Realtek NIC and don't want them in any of my systems, most especially tiny systems that don't have expansion support to let me replace it with something else.

    Putting an Intel NIC in these and bumping the retail cost by $5 or $10 is a no-brainer to me, if someone like Asus comes along and builds a similar system with an Intel I'd gladly pay a few more bucks for it.
  • Klimax - Friday, November 1, 2013 - link

    That first issue reminds me of Atheros. On two computers it behaved same way, during large load driver failed. Used used Intel NIC and all was well... :D
  • ZeDestructor - Friday, November 1, 2013 - link

    Interesting.. I haven't used a Realtek NIC in a 24/7 environment, so I have no idea how it performs there. The issue as you said is the utter lack of consistency, and the main reason I like Intel: they have consistently reliable and feature-filled controllers at all price levels.
  • monstercameron - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    what about kabini brix?
  • Shivansps - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    Pointless unless they sell for $200, Gigabyte has a Richland BRIX too, thats more interesting.
  • monstercameron - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    more pointless than an i3 or celeron brix?
  • Shivansps - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    Yes, because a I3-3227U is already better all around than a A4-5000, the A6-5200 is slightly better on CPU. It does not justify having to do another PCB just for the 5200, we dont know what will happen about the 2955U YET, but that one is just sharing the same PCB as the bigger models, so we get it as a side effect. Gigabyte did the right thing by choosing the Intel Haswell ULV lineup and also provide a AMD Richland model for higher IGP performance. There is just no point on Kabini here.

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