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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  • toshz - Friday, January 30, 2015 - link

    Does anyone know what's the difference between the AC7260 and AC7265 wireless adapters?
    I was looking into purchasing the AC7260 to update my ultrabook (currently using AC3160) and then I saw the AC7265. Couldn't find any difference between them on Intel's site.

  • kevith - Friday, January 30, 2015 - link

    Nice review, but why have you stopped opening the cases? I would be interested in one of these, but changing/adding cooling is a must.
  • jrs77 - Friday, January 30, 2015 - link

    Allthough I very much like the idea of the smallest PC possible, the NUC or the BRIX (or anything else in this formfactor) is still too expensive compared to a more powerful and better customizable mITX-system.
    I can build a low-powered mITX-system for $600 (i5-4590T, H97 board, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 20x20x8cm case incl 90W PSU), which leaves me with money for the Win8.1 license (the one you didn't include in your price there!). Such a system, has much more value and can be strapped to the back of your screen not using anymore space than the NUC or BRIX.
  • zodiacfml - Friday, January 30, 2015 - link

    I agree. That's what I thought of this review. The processor is just too pricey.
    Someone could buy a notebook with an i5-Haswell with a AMD/Nvidia GPU near that price.
  • piasabird - Friday, January 30, 2015 - link

    If most of what you plan on doing viewing video an i3 with 4 megs of cache will work just fine.
  • deathwombat - Friday, January 30, 2015 - link

    Does the top of the box actually say "Supports 2.5" Hard Drivers"? At least have someone proofread your packaging!
  • eanazag - Friday, January 30, 2015 - link

    I agree on the networking. 2x2 Wifi would be better and Intel NIC. I dislike the Realtek NICs. With an Intel NIC there are more options from the software side, like a tiny VM server.
  • vision33r - Saturday, January 31, 2015 - link

    Intel has no pressure to improve performance.
  • Mikad - Tuesday, February 3, 2015 - link

    This is just a small thing, but it has bothered me much lately: Many of the new articles have a quite bad "featured image". For example this one: Just a picture of the box with a bad lightning. The product itself is interesting but the picture is a turn off. IMHO it would be great if you could put more effort into these pictures.
  • Teknobug - Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - link

    Looks like gaming is out of the question, at least at 1920x1080. May as well go with an i3 or N2940 and play via Steam stream from a gaming PC.

    Otherwise everything else about this is awesome.

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