Seven Small (But Powerful) Mini-PCs, Reviewed

Gigabyte Brix GB-BXi7-4500

Gigabyte isn't the first company we think of when the conversation switches to small PCs, but the company is working hard to impress with its Brix product line. The goal appears to be to best Intel at its own game (even though we know that, in reality, both companies work closely together). The Brix is slightly smaller and significantly lighter than Intel's offering. Gigabyte further mixes things up with some interesting configuration options: the BXPi3-4010 features an integrated WVGA (864x480) projector, while the BXA8-5545 may be the closest thing to an AMD-based NUC, equipped with an A8-5545M APU with on-die Radeon 8510G graphics. We also have the Brix Pro in our lab, outfit with a Core i7-4770R that includes Iris Pro graphics 5200.

The model we're reviewing today is the BXi7-4500, featuring Intel's Haswell-based Core i7-4500U with 4 MB of shared L3 cache, a 1.8 GHz base clock rate, and a 3 GHz Turbo Boost ceiling. Somewhat disappointingly, the Core i7-4500U is equipped with HD Graphics 4400, rather than GT3/GT3e GPU. As a result, our expectations of graphics performance aren't very high.

The BXi7-4500 is currently available on Newegg for $530 as a barebones system. Adding Windows 8.1 Pro x64 OEM, Intel's SSD 525 180 GB, and 8 GB of Crucial DDR3 brings the price as tested to $954.98.

Bundle And First Impression

Bundled inside the box, you'll find the Brix mini-PC, a VESA mount, an AC adapter and power cable, documentation, and a driver CD. While Intel gives you the AC adapter with its NUC, you don't get a power cable (though in our meeting with Intel at CES this year, company representatives mentioned this is changing), so Gigabyte gets credit for its more complete kit. The VESA adapter plate is used to mount the Brix on a monitor, if you want it out of sight.

Gigabyte's styling looks a lot like Intel's design, with the added flair of a silver accent around the Brix's top edge. At 1.2" x 4.2" x 4.5" and 0.8 lbs, this is the smallest and lightest mini-PC in our round-up. In fact, it's only about 75% as heavy as the previous-gen Ivy Bridge-based NUC. 

The front of this Brix is kept fairly simple; there are two USB 3.0 ports, and a combo headphone and S/PDIF jack. You can also see the power button up top.

Around back, there's an AC power connector, HDMI output, mini-DP output, GbE jack, and two more USB 3.0 ports.

This is the bottom of the Brix. See the nub in the upper right-hand corner? That little handle makes it easier to pull off the bottom cover compared to Intel's NUC.

If it wasn't for the blue Gigabyte motherboard, you might assume you were looking inside Intel's mini-PC. The basic configuration is the same: there are two SO-DIMM slots for dual-channel DDR3 configurations, a mini-PCIe slot on the opposite end of the board, with an mSATA slot next to it. Although this is a barebones kit that requires memory and a hard drive, Gigabyte does give you a Wi-Fi/Bluetooth combo card. We're a little disappointed that it's a Realtek RTL8723AE-based controller limited to the 802.11n standard instead of ac, but at least Bluetooth 4.0 is supported.

Note that platforms based on mobile Haswell only support 1.35 V SO-DIMMs; your older 1.5 V DDR3 modules won't work. Check out Haswell And 1.35 V Memory: Three DDR3 SO-DIMM Kits, Tested for more information on performance at each data rate with Intel's newest architecture.

Special Features And Livability

It seems like Gigabyte's Brix is the company's attempt to improve on Intel's NUC while making it even smaller. Although the company's design tweaks are evident, they aren't particularly impactful, either. Having said that, the inclusion of a power cable, a bundled Wi-Fi/Bluetooth adapter, and the bottom cover handle earn the Brix favor, all else being equal. They're not, though. The $530 BXi7-4500 is more expensive than Intel's $375 Haswell-based NUC D54250WYK on Newegg. The BXi5-4200 at $390 is a closer match, though. Comparing those two sub-$400 competitors, the Brix has a higher base clock, while the NUC gives you HD Graphics 5000 (making gaming a much more viable possibility). Regardless of your choice, the match-up is much closer.

Gigabyte Brix GB-BXi7-4500
Intel HM87 Express
Intel Core i7-4500U, Dual-Core, Hyper-Threaded, 1.8 GHz (3.0 GHz Peak Turbo Boost), 4 MB Shared L3 Cache
Intel HD Graphics 4400, 200 MHz - 1.1 GHz
Shared with system memory
Not Included
Hard Drive
Not Included
Optical Drive
Operating System
Not Included
Included Peripherals
Not Included
Internal Interfaces
Memory Support
Dual-Channel, 2 x DDR3L SO-DIMM slots, 1.35 V, 1333/1600 MT/s, 16 GB Max
One slot (occupied by bundled wireless card)
One slot
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA
1 x mSATA 6Gb/s
I/O Panel Connectors
Not Included
Not Included
1 (mini-DP)
Not Included
MHSL Input
Not Included
4 x USB 3.0
Memory Card Reader
Not Included
Not Included
Digital Audio out
Analog Audio
1 front
IR Sensor
Not Included
Ethernet & Wireless
Integrated Gigabit
1T1R Single Band, Realtek RTL8723AE 802.11n, mini-PCIe card
Integrated Bluetooth 4.0, Realtek RTL8723AE Wi-Fi Combo card)
HD Audio Codec
Analog and S/PDIF: Realtek ALC269
HDMI: Intel Display Audio
Audio Channels
2+2 Channel HD Audio Codec
Physical Specifications
29.9 x 107.6 x 114.4 mm
(1.18" x 4.24" x 4.5")
371 g (0.82 lbs)
As tested $954.98 (with Windows 8.1 Pro x64, Intel SSD 525 180 GB SSD, and 2 x 4 GB Crucial DDR3 SO-DIMMs
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  • outlw6669
    Not a single AMD based SFF PC?
    I am disappoint, this would be a great area for AMD to show their competitiveness.
  • ta152h
    @outlw6669I built one based on the A6 5200, and it's perfect for what I need it for. It's low power, more than fast enough for what 99% of the people do, quiet, and inexpensive. I'm a little surprised they didn't choose something based on the Jaguar for that reason, but it might just be a situation where nothing with one was sent to them for review. Certainly this is a poor representation, without both Jaguar and Bay Trail missing. I got to the first page, read what they had, looked at the cases, and moved on. Reading about different versions of Ivy Bridge and Haswell and how they compare to each other is profoundly uninteresting.
  • m32
    I wouldn't mind having a small system like this. Maybe Mid-Year when everyone's CPU/APUs are out, I'll have the chance to make a smart buy. Thanks for the article. :)
  • blackmagnum
    Buy a laptop and hook a screen to it; no compromises.
  • mesab66
    It is interesting that by going slightly larger with the enclosure space (still keeping within cube/rectangle/media player shape) opens up the possibility of so much more power....dedicated gfx, full cpu, etc etc., and, can be cheaper to build - depending on the users requirements.......of course, at the cost of power requirements, etc. I'm thinking most folk would ideally chose a slightly larger form factor for living room/media pc duties.On the other hand, if constraints are tight (form factor in this article) and the end user's requirements match, then these options are worth considering.
  • mesab66
    Maybe Tom's could do some options on Media PC/HTPC builds for a future article?
  • s997863
    Power. I don't care about no power. Where's the love for the old games? If I want to play some of the classics which just don't emulate properly, I have to hunt for a heavy old Pentium3 box and try to get it working. How about a cheap mini PC with miniaturized legacy hardware for full compatibility to dual-boot win98 & XP, with gameports, VGA & S-Video, PS/2 & USB, IDE & SATA external ribbon & power connectors, & a turbo button for choosing between 2 processors 200MHz & 3GHz?
  • elgranchuchu
    this was exactly was i was looking for deploying php software
  • vertexx
    I am a huge fan of compact systems. Almost everything I have built has been ITX. But I've had a hard time with the NUC form factor. As a desktop, I think it's actually too small. One of those boxes would get lost on my desk, continuously being pushed around by other clutter. Now, if I had a hutch with an optimally sized cubby, that might be a different story.

    VESA mounted on the back of a monitor, these look really clunky, and I'd rather go with an AIO kit using the thin mini-ITX form factor where I have more control over processor choice.

    I'd be more excited if this technology and form factor were applied in a more interchangeable system with a standardized GPU socket. I really like what ASRock and Gigabyte have done with their compact systems. They're not as compact, but having something a little more substantial on my desk is a good thing, and they pack a lot of punch. I just wish the standards were developed to allow builders to replicate that feat - pipe dream, I know.

    One thing is for sure, AMD needs to develop it's own equivalent of the NUC and thin Mini-ITX. The success of it's Kaveri line I think would be helped out by innovation in form factor.
  • axehead15
    I think you should compare the Mac Mini to these, that way we can see how it adds up.
  • Onus
    It would take a unique set of requirements for any of these devices to make sense, particularly compared to competition. With the possible exception of the ASRock unit, the price is outrageous. If you don't have room by your TV for a [much more powerful and versatile] mini-ITX system, for the difference in cost you can replace your TV stand or component rack instead.

    These are essentially for gadget-freaks with more money than sense.
  • bloodroses75
    Interesting concept for these machines, price to performance is not worth it yet though. Buying an Inwin (or other brand) mini-itx case with power supply and building your own machine from the ground up is a much better deal.As with Intel, the i7s are only dual core? I'd be personally upset if I bought one and realized that after plugging it in. They should have kept a standard with their naming, like on their desktops:Pentium= dual core, no HTi3= dual core, HTi5= quad core, no HTi7= quad core, HTand yes, I realize Intel did release an i5 that was only dual core with HT and thought it was a complete rip-off too.
  • MajinCry
    Why did people vote down s997863? I'd kill for a mini pc that could actually play NWN 1 and/or the horde of DOS games.
  • cleeve
    Anonymous said:
    Why did people vote down s997863? I'd kill for a mini pc that could actually play NWN 1 and/or the horde of DOS games.

    I'm pretty sure any of these will fit the bill for old windows games like NWN 1.

    DOS based stuff has its own challenges, I don't know enough about dosbox emulators but I suspect these are more than powerful enough.
  • Bolts Romano
    Thank you for the article, at least now I know some other brands never heard before. It is quite a surprise the price is hitting the same level as a notebook or mac mini price range or lower (remember this mini pc does not come w OS)
  • burkhartmj
    these devices are super cool, but it's hard to ignore the fact that one can generally get better performance out of a fully configurable and upgradable ITX form factor for the same price. For niche use cases, these would be incredibly helpful, but I don't see them becoming particularly mainstream.
  • MajinCry
    Anonymous said:

    I'm pretty sure any of these will fit the bill for old windows games like NWN 1.

    DOS based stuff has its own challenges, I don't know enough about dosbox emulators but I suspect these are more than powerful enough.

    On the contrary, there are plenty of performance issues with old games when using new hardware. My 6670 and 7850 play NWN 1 piss-poorly with my 965 BE, por ejemplo.

    Intel's IGPUs fare no better nor do NVidia's GPUs. Speaking from experience.
  • lockhrt999
    Why some i7 are dual cores?
  • Croc Ography
    Huge fail for the ASRock... Tom's Hardware is not reading their own listed specs:"Audio Channels: 7.1+2 Channel HD Audio Codec with Content Protection and DTS Connect support" -- this means that if you burn your own Blurays or DVD's to PLEX or BMC and any of them have Cinavia on them you will not be able to play them from this HTPC.Therefore this device is useless.
  • tntom
    Great article! Thank you! Thank you! I hope this segment becomes more competitive and brings the prices down. Right now the prices are too inflated. All of these have more than enough CPU but except for the Asrock are lacking in GPU performance.Please update with the Brix A8 APU and Iris Pro 5200 when you finish testing them out.