In the past I have taken a look at a nice variety of small form factor PCs. Out of all of them I was most impressed with the NUC. Not only did it have the smallest form factor, but it also performed extremely well. It really opened up my eyes to the possibility that only gamers and enthusiasts will be sporting full or mid-sized PCs in the future. We already see a lot of people moving to just using a laptop or even a tablet. So beyond the NUC I was really curious about other NUC like PCs like the Brix from Gigabyte. Well today I have the chance to check out the Brix GB-BXA8-5557, an AMD based PC that has a similar footprint to Intel’s NUC. Let’s see what it is all about and find out if it can hold its own in the performance benchmarks compared to the others.
Product Name: Gigabyte Brix GB-BXA8-5557
Review Sample Provided by: Gigabyte
Written by: Wes
Pictures by: Wes
Amazon link: HERE
|Dimension||0.88L (59.6 X 128 x 115.4 mm)|
|Motherboard Size||100 x 105 mm|
|CPU||AMD Richland Processor A8-5557M 2.1G/3.1G|
|Chipset||AMD Bolton M3|
|Graphics||Radeon™ HD 8550G|
2 x SO-DIMM DDR3L slots (DDR3 1.35V)
|LAN||Gigabit LAN (Realtek RTL8111G)|
|HDMI Resolution (Max.)||1920 x 1080 @60Hz|
|Mini DP Resolution (Max.)||4096 x 2160 @30Hz|
1 x mSATA slot
1 x Half-size mini-PCIe slot occupied by the WiFi IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac + Bluetooth 4.0 combo half mini card
1 X SATA slot
2 x USB 3.0
1 x head phone jack
1 x HDMI
1 x Mini DisplayPort
2 x USB 3.0
1 x RJ45
1 x DC-In
1 x Kensington lock slot
|Storage||Supports 2.5” thickness 7.0/9.5mm Hard Drives (1 x 6Gbps SATA3)|
Input: AC 100-240V
Output: DC 19V
Supports 75 x 75 and 100 x 100 mm
System Environment Operating Temperature: 0°C to +35°C
System Storage Temperature: -20°C to +60°C
The first thing I noticed when I got my hands on the Brix was this box was deceptively heavy. I mean it really feels like they just put a brick inside. The box itself though is all black and on the front they have a nice photo of the red Brix. Up top you have a small Gigabyte logo but the main focus is on the photo and on the large gold Gigabyte Brix logo. They slipped a small AMD A8 logo in as well. It’s weird they would include Gigabyte in the name as well as put their logo on it, but oh well. Around on the back we have a little more information. Here we have multiple photos of the Brix, basically from every angle including inside. They have a few features highlighted and they also list the parts you will need to finish building the kit as well. To me this is the most important thing to see, it would suck to get home only to find out that you need RAM and an SSD still. As for the specific model information, all of that along with a short part breakdown is on the sticker up on top of the box.
Inside the Brix is right up on top but it is wrapped it a padded bag and then sitting in a cardboard cutout as well. Up under the Brix we do have all of the included accessories and documentation. The power supply is split up into two parts and each has its own door under the Brix. Beyond that you get a VESA TV mount as well as screws for both the VESA mount as well as the 2.5 inch drive bay. You get a CD with all of the drivers on it as well as a small quick start guide to walk you through getting the Brix up and running.
Photos and Features
Well with the Brix GB-BXA8-5557 Gigabyte went with a full AMD theme both inside of the PC and outside. For the CPU they went with an AMD Richland Processor A8-5557M, this is where the A8-5557 in the model name came from. For the GPU they used a Radeon HD 8550G. All of that is packed into acase that has the same footprint as a standard Intel NUC but is about ¾ of an inch taller. The Brix has a black plastic top with the power button just like the NUC but the rest of the case is both red and black.
The black plastic top has a glossy finish that is going to attract fingerprints and dirt. Putting the power button in the middle of all of that isn’t going to help things as well, but I don’t think it will be to big of a deal. The chrome finished power button does have a backlit power logo that lights up when on as well.
The front of the Brix has two USB 3.0 ports along with a single headphone plug. The black trim on the front is a combination of a plastic around the USB ports and a metal mesh over on the right side. With all of the black the red really has an aggressive swoopy design going on as well.
The metal mesh on the right side of the front extends around on the right side of the Brix. We can also see that this mesh is completely functional, giving us a peek of the hardware inside while also letting everything breath. The left side of the Brix is almost completely covered in the mesh and behind that we can see the PCs two intake fans.
Really the only place that has a lot going on is the rear of the Brix. Here we have the rear I/O connections as well as additional vents above and below the I/O panel. They also slipped in a kensington lock hole up in the top right corner to help you lock the Brix to a table or cart if this is used in a public place. So for connections the first one on the far left is for the power cable. Then we have a full sized HDMI port as well as a Mini-DisplayPort as well for display connection options. From there you have the gig Ethernet and then an additional two USB 3.0 ports. This gives the Brix a total of 4 USB connections that are all USB 3.0.
As expected the bottom of the brix has a few large stickers with all of the required CE and FCC logos. The second sticker has the UPC, model number, and also the serial number. Basically everything you need for an RMA in the future if there is a problem. Also on the bottom are the four rubber feet. The Brix also supports VEGA mounting via the included mount. The way the mount works is it hangs from the hook built into the base and then there are two screw holes for the mount to be locked into place. Gigabyte even lets you know what direction should be facing up if it wasn’t obvious as well.
Being a kit not a full PC we do need to get inside of the Brix to install our RAM and SSD as well as take a peek inside to see what Gigabyte packed in it. To do that each of the four feet on the bottom also have a small screw in them. You will need a smaller headed screwdriver to get them but once you pull them out the base comes right out giving us access to the motherboard.
Once I got into the Brix I could finally see exactly why it weighed so much. Gigabyte make this brix with a very unique design. There looks to be two motherboards but really the top PCB is the motherboard and the PCB all the way at the bottom is the GPU PCB. The motherboard has all of our connections on one side then on the underside is the CPU. This design means the GPU and the CPU can share the same cooling but they have enough room to get it done. In between the two PCBs are two thick heatsinks. This is where most of that weight came from. The GPU side does have a few heatpipes as well. The design keeps the footprint small but does add to the height of the PC. To keep that to a minimum though the USB and Ethernet connections on the rear I/O are actually cut out of the PCB and installed lower.
Being such a small PC it’s no surprise that Gigabyte kept the power supply out. The power supply that comes with the Brix is made by FSP, specifically the fsp135-rsebn2. This is a 135 watt external power supply, the exact same model that Intel uses on some of their AIO Mini-ITX products as well. FSP makes great power supplies so no worries here. Size wise it is a little under an inch thick but it is a little larger than most new laptops will have (other than gaming laptops).
So to get the brix up and running I reached out to our good friend over at Kingston and they were happy to send over SODIMM RAM and a mSATA SSD as well to complete the PC. What exactly am I installing? Well for the RAM we have a KVR16LS11/8 8 Gig SODIMM. For the SSD they sent a 240 GB mSATA drive. We will see how well they perform when we get into testing, but as always we know with them being Kingston they should hold up well. So a big thanks for their support!
Before I could get installing windows I did have to get the Kingston RAM and SSD installed. We already have the Brix opened up so getting going was easy. The RAM installed like any other SODIMM, if you haven’t installed one before you put the RAM into the slot then tilt it over until it snaps into place. The key is making sure that both metal clips locks in place though, you don’t want the ram to come loose later on. For the SSD I did have to get out our screw driver. The mSATA drive installed over top of the included Wireless and Bluetooth adapter. It goes into the slot and tilts over just like the SODIMM but this time you have to make sure you remove the tiny screw before you install the drive then when you have it in place you screw the SSD into place.
Part of the reason the Brix is taller than the NUC is the mount on the inside of the bottom panel. On top of the mSATA SSD option you can also mount and install a 2.5 inch drive as well. The data and power is provided from a short cable already mounted to the motherboard. In fact to even be able to get into everything I had to remove the tape from the cable to move it out of the way. For our build I’m going to leave this open to give us the expansion room in the future.
So to get an idea of how the Brix will perform I ran it through our SFF PC test suite. None of the tests are especially demanding but they do help see how well the PC will perform day to day, in games, cooling performance, power usage, and also how well the storage works. To start things off I ran a general benchmark, PCMark 8. Here we get an overview of gaming, CPU, and storage performance all in one result. The AMD A8-5557 powered Brix powered though PCMark 8 and actually gave us results close to what I saw with our older modeled i3 NUC. This is actually a great sign because the NUC has been a great performer. The AMD Brix did perform noticeably better when using the OpenCL Accelerated test but this is to be expected as AMD’s normally do excel in OpenCL.
The next test was wPrime, a CPU specific test that we also use in our CPU benchmark suite as well. Here the lower the number the better the performance. While the numbers don’t look as good when compared to the Nightblade and our Lunchbox 3, both of those PCs are much larger and running the fastest i7 desktop CPUs you can buy. CPUs that cost about what our entire Brix costs. So the best comparison is with the Intel NUC with the i3 and the Asus ROG GR8 with the i7. The Brix out performed our NUC and while there is still a big gap between it and the GR8 I still think it performed well.
Next I tested using Passmarks complete test. This is similar to PCMark 8 in the way that it tests all of the subsystems, CPU, GPU, and storage performance. The main difference though is PCMark 8 uses real world tests and Passmark uses synthetic tests for each. Suprisingly here the Brix was just slightly lower than the GR8 and the NUC was the fastest of the three. That said the difference between all three was minimal.
Next I tested using Unigine’s Heaven Benchmark 4.0. This is a synthetic gaming benchmark that runs you through 26 different in game situations. It is based on an engine that a lot of games use so it is barely synthetic but I consider it synthetic because it isn’t a real game. That said the Brix fell completely on its face in this test with an average FPS of 2.9. We do the test using the extreme setting but even then I expected a little better performance. Sadly I don’t have a NUC result to compare it too but I expect it to be close as well as the GR8 with its GTX 750 Ti didn’t even manage a true playable result.
Next I ran through the latest 3DMark in both the performance and extreme settings. This basically tests at 1080p and then at 1440p as well. When I ran this on the NUC it actually would fail in the extreme test so I was very happy to see the Brix make it through. That said in the performance test the Brix still came in just below the NUC with a score of 504 to the NUCs 605.
Next using CrystalDiscMark I tested the storage performance. Typically this test is used to see just how well the storage included with a PC will perform like how the GR8 fell on its face but this does give us a chance to check out the performance of that Kingston mSATA that they were nice enough to send over. For read speed the mSATA drive performed very well with a read speed of 415.8. The write speeds were a little low but still looked good against the competition tested with a write speed of 222MB/s.
It might seem trivial in a standard PC but when you get into form factors as small as the Brix heat can really become an issue. Hell I have fought with it in my Mini-ITX builds before even. So for the Brix heat testing I do the most extreme situation, running prime95 to see how well it keeps the CPU cool. In this case things did get a lot warmer than what I saw with our i3 NUC. 83 degrees isn’t great but I was happy that even in an extreme situation that you shouldn’t see in everyday use the PC didn’t overheat.
In these small form factor builds power usage is also important. A lot of people who pick up a small build like this might be using it in a situation where it runs all of the time like an office, HTPC, or even for advertising. Over time power usage does mean more money. So to test this I use a Kill-A-Watt and test the idle power draw as well as the peak wattage when running Heaven Benchmark. At idle the 14 watts pulled isn’t bad, putting it below the GR8 but still a little more than it should be above the NUC but Intel CPUs have made huge improvements in idle power draw over the past few years. Under load I saw 41 watts at peak. This is almost spot on with the 38 watts that a 24 inch monitor pulls to put it into perspective!
So overall how did the Brix perform? Well I’ll be honest I was expecting a little more in gaming performance with this including its own GPU. But with that said it basically stayed on par with our older i3 NUC across the board. This means you can expect a good user experience and enough GPU power to do and play a few things at lower settings, basically what your everyday PC can handle. But the difference is this is a tiny PC that can mount to the back of your monitor if you want. The newer NUCs will obviously out perform this but if you are an AMD fan this is still a great option.
Overall and Final Verdict
I am completely in love with the idea of the Brix and other super small form factor PCs like the NUC. Looking back to past HTPC builds they are just ungodly huge compared to something like this. I’ve been using our NUC as a small server for our LAN Teamspeak for a while now in addition to other roles. So getting the chance to check out one of Gigabyte’s Brix models was exciting, especially an all AMD model. So how does it compare? Well Performance wise the Brix A8-5557 performed basically on par with our slightly older i3 NUC. I would obviously prefer to see it out perform it but the model Gigabyte sent is an older model. What is exciting though is our NUC is great to work on and with the Brix performing on par with that means you shouldn’t expect any issues using this for standard computing, watching movies, and playing some lighter games. Really that is all you need unless you are a hardcore gamer anyhow.
The Brix was a little larger than our NUC but the taller design did make room for an additional 2.5 inch drive bay where the NUC only supports a single mSATA drive. This means you can install a nice SSD in the Brix and then a decent 1.5 inch hard drive to store all of your movies and TV shows if using this as an HTPC. The built in/included VESA mount is also a nice option letting you mount your PC to the back of your monitor or your HTPC to the back of your TV.
There were a few downsides. The biggest being the cooling performance. Given the size of the heatsink I was expecting it to run cooler but when pushed I was able to heat it up to 83 degrees Celsius. The large heatsink also makes the Brix a surprisingly heavy tiny little box. I was a little concerned about VESA mounting but I realized that your monitors/TVs hang from the same mounts and they weigh more so it shouldn’t be an issue.
So where does the Brix A8-5557 pan out in the end? Well I really like the price point. At under $250 it comes in less than a lot of the Mini PCs available especially when compared to Gigabyte’s Intel models and Intel’s NUCs. With 8 gigs of ram and a decent sized SSD you can be rolling at just over $370 assuming you have a copy of windows to use. That isn’t bad for a full PC for HTPC use or as a tiny PC that won’t get in the way for your parents. I know we will be putting the Brix to use with our projectors at the LANs, the tiny form factor and good performance are a perfect fit.
Amazon link: HERE