Gigabyte steams ahead of the competition.
Whenever one of the myriad systems based on Intel’s Next Unit of Computing (NUC) concept comes into the labs we see so much potential. But we have also encountered frustrating roadblocks to the dream of tiny computing, be it the whiny fan noise experienced by most, or the stubborn insistence that early models had to use mSATA drives.
While there is still one major caveat, namely price, the BRIX gaming from Gigabyte is by far the most impressive NUC that we have seen. It packs not only a Core i5-4200H CPU clocked at 2.8GHz but it also sports an Nvidia GeForce GTX 760 mobile GPU. All you need to do is populate the SODIMM memory slots and add a drive.
Thankfully it has space for both an mSATA and a 2.5in hard drive, which gives a degree of flexibility needed for such a gaming box - if you really want to maximise performance and storage you could opt for an mSATA boot SSD and a bulk storage drive, for example.
The unit is slightly larger and much heavier than other models, and it doesn’t take long to work out why. Gigabyte has paid close attention to the design of the thermals in the BRIX gaming, working it into the green Nvidia logo-inspired design with black mesh panelling on the sides. This has enabled them to use two fans pushing air straight through the system, most importantly over the source of the unit’s heft - a copper heatsink designed to ensure that the GPU runs at optimum levels.
All of this results in a fantastic little gaming box, capable of pumping out decent looking titles at 1080p. In our Standard Crysis benchmark the unit managed a very respectable 52fps at High detail, although this performance dropped to unplayable at Very High. Though that is the compromise you make by reducing size and moving to a mobile GPU. It is still leaps and bounds ahead of what either Intel or AMD pump out from their integrated graphics units though.
It is worth also noting that this is a system where Nvidia’s GeForce Experience software really shines, taking the tricky work out of deciding on the best settings for games. Most of the time it opted for 1920x1080 resolution with medium to high settings, which in recent games like Wolfenstein: The New Order and Wildstar looked quite spiffy indeed, competitive with what the Next Gen consoles are capable of.
Where the real potential of the BRIX series lies (and thankfully this is something that Gigabyte has clearly worked out, unlike some of its competitors) is in the upcoming category of Steam Machines. Thanks to its use of Intel CPU and NVIDIA GPU it is a prime candidate for SteamOS, though for those who want to use the software’s ability to stream games from a desktop PC this is overkill, and the lower end models of BRIX will be much better suited to that.
Despite the fact that the BRIX gaming is by far the most accomplished NUC design that we have encountered, we do worry that it is hampered by its pricetag. At the time of writing we didn’t have a local price, but it was selling in the States for around US$950. While there is little that can be done by Gigabyte to reduce this and still retain the performance of the unit, you can build a pretty powerful Mini-ITX box for that, especially when you factor in the lack of memory and a drive in the standard BRIX Gaming package. That said, if you absolutely must have the best tiniest system on the market, this is it.