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


View All Comments

  • jaydee - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    I was hoping for a bit more here from Intel. Looking at the encoding, compressing, encrypting benchmarks, almost nothing was gained performance-wise, or in terms of power consumption. Reply
  • Flunk - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    Broadwell is an incremental update so it's not a big surprise. Reply
  • gonchuki - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    Doesn't even look incremental, more like a step revision of Haswell (just a node shrink and nothing else). It's the same processor Intel launched in 2013, but on a 14nm node. Reply
  • Refuge - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    Tick Tock Tick Tock.

    Although I've noticed their "Tick Tock" Has been slightly off cadence since their "Mobile First" strategy.
  • quophog - Friday, January 30, 2015 - link

    No surprise really. No competition at all at the performance end. All their effort is going in to the ultra low power & cost end where ARM based architectures currently dominate. Very sad for everyone (except intel share holders) that AMD couldn't keep up with Intel R&D and fab spending.

    It's a long way off anyway, but I really hope Intel fab advantage doesn't let them eventually monopolise mobile procs too..
  • Haravikk - Friday, January 30, 2015 - link

    Is that really such a bad thing? Making a smaller, much more power efficient processor without sacrificing any performance is still a pretty big accomplishment. While it might not make existing machines much more exiting, the really interesting part is what new things it makes possible.

    It's for this reason I hate this new Brix machine; it's the same horrific chassis as before, the with the same anaemic cooling. It should be possible for this to be entirely passively cooled, particularly if they want for a smaller, flatter, aluminium design.
  • eanazag - Friday, January 30, 2015 - link

    Intel has done well, but with a competitive AMD we get better prices and more features. ARM has kept Intel moving, but look at the server market. Prices run from $200+ - north of $2000 for 2P systems. And Intel has the middle filled out too. Intel is charging whatever the hell they want there. Reply
  • eanazag - Friday, January 30, 2015 - link

    It does look incremental in some benches. In others it is on par. For this type of system I would be leaning towards the 4770R. I don't care for the gaming performance on the 5500U. It is fine at 1280x1024/1366x768. I'd rather have the option to take a step up. The 4770R can do decent in 1600x900/1600x1000. For $750+ I'd like to be doing better. Broadwell Iris Pro may be what I'm hoping for.

    Otherwise, I'm a 5500U with a mobile GPU built-in - pricing and features may see which way I lean. I'm not a HTPC user.
  • nathanddrews - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    I don't think we should jump to judgment based upon multiple platforms with vastly different components. The closest competitor in this review is the 4500U, which the 5500U decimates in half the benchmarks, while leading it by at least a small margin in the rest. I'm looking forward to a more controlled, thorough review of Broadwell.

    I know that the gaming tests are set in stone and you try not to change them, but can we please drop the 1280x1024 test and replace it with 1280x720? It's 30% less taxing for these weak GPUs and is much more likely to be used by gamers - either on HDTVs, notebook displays (768p), and widescreen monitors. Nearly all 360/PS3 games are 720p, so many people are comfortable with that resolution and it scales to 1080p, 1440p, and 4K. It's just more realistic. No one games at 1280x1024 anymore unless they like pillarboxing and letterboxing at the same time. 720p and 1080p are really the only meaningful resolutions for these GPUs. You can save yourself some time, too...
  • ATC9001 - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    +1 for 720p resolution. If possible atleast add this to existing HTPC benchmarking, and of course when the benchmark is revamped for it's next iteraion, drop 1280x1024 completely! Reply

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