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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  • arno1 - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    Realtek LANs? Pass.
  • ghm3 - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    This was my reaction as well. Give it an Intel NIC and the BRIX s would be a fantastic little HTPC/seedbox.
  • HisDivineOrder - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    So close... yet so far away.

    Realtec anything? Only dual core? No Iris Pro?

    Gigabyte, you were close, but then you skimped. Tsk, tsk. They should have paid a little more for Intel quality LAN's, quad-cores, and the high end graphics at the high end since you can't upgrade these things.

    Then maybe they'd have an impact. Alas, no.
  • Samus - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    I don't understand, isn't the network layer embedded in the H81/H87 chipset. So they just need to use an Intel PHY. That's like $2.
  • ZeDestructor - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    I wonder the same every time I see a non-intel implementation....
  • tomd2 - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    So you're saying GIGABYTE is charging more money for crappier components. Looking at their motherboards with H81/H87 chipsets, they mostly have Realtek NICs. I wonder why.
  • ZeDestructor - Friday, November 1, 2013 - link

    Well, take a quick look at all the Z87 boards with 32-bit PCI slots. Z87 has no support whatsoever for PCI, so EACH of those PCI ports go to a PCI-to-PCIe bridge of some sort... and yet an all PCIe board costs more....

    Pricing... it's messed up...
  • Daniel Egger - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    Agree. Unfortunately my no-Realtek helped me end up with a POS Lenovo X121e laptop because that was the only light, powerful and affordable laptop at the time not having Realtek LAN. Next time I'd definitely take Realtek over anything that comes from Lenovo.
  • ZeDestructor - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    Realtek WLAN? run away

    Realtak 8111 LAN? unless you have serious issues, its OK for client workloads, so stuff like torrents and HTPC will be fine. I used one variant a while ago (HP tm2 convertible tablet, Penryn era) and it took 9K jumbo frames with over 950Mbit/s speeds just fine...
  • ZeDestructor - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    Oh, and for the WLAN, if I got one (the i3 looks particularly nice to me), I'd just drop in an Intel 7260AC (not even a BCM4352, linux drivers are crap afaik) card instead of whatever's bundled. Thankfully WLAN cards are still swappable across all machines...

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