The emergence of power-efficient high-performance processors has created a bright spot in the desktop PC market. The ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) heralded by the Intel NUCs has experienced rapid growth over the past few years. GIGABYTE, with their BRIX lineup, was one of the first vendors to introduce NUC clones. They went beyond the traditional Intel models and provided plenty of choices to the end users. GIGABYTE has also kept up with Intel's release cadence and updated the BRIX lineup after the launch of new U-series CPUs. Today, we are taking a look at the GB-BKi7HA-7500 - a BRIX based on the Kaby Lake Core i7-7500U, with support for a 2.5" drive, and sporting an ASMedia bridge chip for USB 3.1 Gen 2 support.

Introduction

The Kaby Lake-U platform for mini-PCs has proved to be a simple one for OEMs with existing Skylake-U mini-PCs in their lineup. Given the pin compatibility, the vendors only needed to put in some BIOS support before swapping the Skylake-U package for a Kaby Lake-U one. We have already covered the advantages of Kaby Lake over Skylake for mini-PCs (such as 4K Netflix and improved perf/Watt) in earlier reviews.

A look at the GIGABYTE BRIX listings shows more than 20 different Skylake-U units (models starting with GB-BS). Given that Kaby Lake doesn't provide a great deal of benefit over Skylake for many use-cases, GIGABYTE has decided to only selectively update the comprehensive lineup. Each barebones Skylake BRIX SKU has a model number fitting the following format:

GB-BS<CoreSeriesIdentifier-01>(H)(T|A)(L|C)-<CoreSeriesIdentifier-02>

The format changes for Kaby Lake, with the BS being replaced by BK. The CPU in the SKU can be determined using the CoreSeriesIdentifier. For example, our review sample, the GB-BK<i7>HA-<7500> has the Intel Core i7-7500U. The other parts of the model number are optional. For example, in the Skylake series, we have the GB-BSi7-6500, which is essentially a Skylake-U NUC clone with no bells and whistles, but, just sporting a CPU option that the Intel NUC lineup doesn't provide.

The optional components indicate the presence of the following features:

  • H = 2.5" drive support
  • T = Thunderbolt 3 / USB 3.1 Gen 2 using the Alpine Ridge chipset
  • A = Dual USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports (1x Type-A and 1x Type-C) using the ASMedia 1142 USB 3.1 Gen 2 controller
  • L = Dual RJ-45 gigabit LAN ports
  • C = COM (RS-232) port (RJ-45 slot similar to the L SKU, and a RJ-45 to COM cable bundled)

As part of the Kaby Lake update, GIGABYTE has introduced ten models, with a choice of Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7, with or without support for a 2.5" drive, and a Thunderbolt (no ASMedia USB 3.1 Gen 2) or non-Thunderbolt (but, with ASMedia USB 3.1 Gen 2) option.

GIGABYTE sampled us the barebones version of the GB-BKi7HA-7500. We completed the configuration using a Samsung SSD 950 PRO 512GB M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD and 2x16 GB Crucial Ballistix Sport LT DDR SODIMMs. Though the SODIMMs are capable of operating at 2400 MHz, the BRIX set it to operate at 2133 MHz. The specifications of our review configuration are summarized below.

GIGABYTE GB-BKi7HA-7500 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-7500U
Kaby Lake, 2C/4T, 2.7 GHz (Turbo to 3.5 GHz), 14nm PLUS, 4MB L2, 15W TDP
Memory Crucial Ballistix Sport LT BLS16G4S240FSD.16FAD DDR4
15-15-15-35 @ 2133 MHz
2x16 GB
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 620
Disk Drive(s) Samsung SSD 950 PRO
(512 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe; 40nm; MLC V-NAND)
Networking Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3168
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Intel Gigabit Ethernet Connection I219-LM
Audio 3.5mm Headphone Jack
Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Display 1x HDMI 2.0 (HDCP 2.2 / 4Kp60-capable)
1x mini-DisplayPort 1.2
Miscellaneous I/O Ports 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C
1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A
2x USB 3.0
Operating System Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 10 Pro x64
Pricing (As configured) $500 ($1074)
Full Specifications GIGABYTE GB-BKi7HA-7500 Specifications

The GB-BKi7HA-7500 come with a CD and a read-only USB key containing Windows drivers. 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 with a US power connector, a VESA mount (along with the necessary screws), a driver CD and USB key, and a quick-start guide.

The unit also supports a 2.5" drive. The appropriate SATA cable (data and power together in the typical notebook form factor) is pre-installed inside the main unit (as can be seen in the gallery below).

The metal frame on the inside of the bottom lid (which holds the 2.5" drive in place) also has a thermal pad positioned to aid in the dissipation of heat from any M.2 SSD used in the system.

The high-speed I/O lane distribution in the GB-BKi7HA-7500 is similar to what we saw in the Skylake BRIX. The PCIe lanes are distributed as below:

  • PCI-E 3.0 x2 port #1      In Use @ x2 (ASMedia ASM1142 USB 3.1 xHCI Controller)
  • PCI-E 3.0 x1 port #6      In Use @ x1 (Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3168 AC HMC WiFi Adapter)
  • PCI-E 3.0 x4 port #9      In Use @ x4 (Samsung SSD 950 PRO NVMe Drive)

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the GIGABYTE GB-BKi7HA-7500 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-BKi7HA-7500 when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect GIGABYTE GB-BKi7HA-7500
CPU Intel Core i7-7500U Intel Core i7-7500U
GPU Intel HD Graphics 620 Intel HD Graphics 620
RAM Crucial Ballistix Sport LT BLS16G4S240FSD.16FAD DDR4
15-15-15-35 @ 2133 MHz
2x16 GB
Crucial Ballistix Sport LT BLS16G4S240FSD.16FAD DDR4
15-15-15-35 @ 2133 MHz
2x16 GB
Storage Samsung SSD 950 PRO
(512 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe; 40nm; MLC V-NAND)
Samsung SSD 950 PRO
(512 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe; 40nm; MLC V-NAND)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3168
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3168
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $500 (barebones)
$1074 (as configured)
$500 (barebones)
$1074 (as configured)
Performance Metrics - I
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  • HomeworldFound - Friday, March 17, 2017 - link

    I wish 3D were better, I was one of those people that couldn't see the effect. The moment I looked at a 3D screen my eyes would hurt and my brain just felt like I'd been hit in the face. Reply
  • mooninite - Thursday, March 16, 2017 - link

    Intel is so cheap in that they don't want to pay for the HDMI 2 license... What will it take for them to bite the bullet and do it? Even AMD's APUs support HDMI 2... SAD! Reply
  • faiakes - Thursday, March 16, 2017 - link

    The HTPC playback tables are somewhat misleading.

    Surely the MPC-HC results are with MadVR enhancements enabled, while the Kodi one is simple playback.

    You're giving the impression that MPC-HC is less capable of upscaling than Kodi is.
    Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Thursday, March 16, 2017 - link

    I really like the idea of the NUC form factor. For non-gaming or very casual gaming, they're really a nice form factor. Low power consumption is always a bonus and, specifically the BRIX, passing AT's pretty demanding thermal testing is good too. I just wish they were a little less expensive. The same dollars can purchase a pretty powerful desktop in a MicroATX case that really isn't _that_ much bigger. Reply
  • Stochastic - Thursday, March 16, 2017 - link

    Yeah, high price is the Achilles' heel that would keep me from buying one.

    Also, for my purposes I find Chromecast/Chromecast TV to be sufficient for my TV watching needs, so I couldn't justify purchasing an HTPC.
    Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    You can easily fit 10+ NUCs into a single MicroATX case. Calling it "not that much bigger" is like saying a semi truck is only a bit bigger then a ford fiesta. Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    You're right, of course. I was viewing it relative to a desk and the typical number of cubic feet/meters in an office or a bedroom. On those scales, the difference is minimal, but if you just compare them to one another without factoring in the size of a human or the interior rooms a human occupies, it does seem a lot bigger. Though maybe adding the external power supply into consideration to be completely fair (mATX PSUs are internal after all) would reduce the NUC to mATX number to ~5-6. Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Thursday, March 16, 2017 - link

    Why is the Cubi2 so much more efficient? Reply
  • MrSpadge - Thursday, March 16, 2017 - link

    "Netflix streaming evaluation was done using the Windows 10 Netflix app. Manual stream selection is available (Ctrl-Alt-Shift-S) and debug information / statistics can also be viewed (Ctrl-Alt-Shift-D)"

    ... when "Ctrl+S" just doesn't cut it! Remindes me of emacs and its weird many-key shortcuts.
    Reply
  • bryanb - Thursday, March 16, 2017 - link

    Two things I wished these NUC-form-factor devices would fix:

    1) Integrate the power brick. Just look at the picture of this box next to its power adapter - you always end up with a tangle of cords and small boxes that take *more* room than an equivalent integrated device. Apple was able to do this on their Mac mini, so I know it is possible.
    2) Ditch these loud blower fans that exhaust out a tiny hole in the side and just put a nice big 80mm-120mm fan on the top. Heck, the entire top surface can be a perforated. Plus, the large fan will likely be much slower moving and quieter.
    Reply

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