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
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  • gonchuki - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    Please define "decimates". In non-OpenCL and non-GPU bound tests, it's a 5-7% win at most, which can be easily explained by the 33% higher base clock of the CPU cores, plus the die shrink that allows for better thermals (more headroom for higher bins of turbo boost).

    All of the test results point to Broadwell having the exact same IPC as Haswell in all situations. If anything improved it can only be because of the new stepping that might have fixed some errata.
  • nathanddrews - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    Agreed, the word "decimates" is a bit extreme - but I consider anything in the 10-20% range to be significantly better.
  • Refuge - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    These days I agree, long gone are the days of Sandybridge... Tis a shame, they were fun.
  • Laststop311 - Friday, January 30, 2015 - link

    I'm glad some 1 else noticed this. In the benchmarks that strictly use only the cpu, broadwells haswell equivalent is barely and i mean barely any faster. Sure the gpu is a pretty decent improvement but who cares about intels integrated gpu's? Anyone that relies heavily on an integrated gpu is going to get an apu from amd. The only reason the gpu is so much better is its such a poor performing part to begin with, it's a lot easier to improve lower performing things than things that are already highly optimized like the cpu.

    This is bad news for people using desktops with discrete gpu's and were hoping broadwell would be a decent boost. In those situations the iGPU means nothing so big deal it got better. This also means broadwell-e is going to rly suck and be basically identical to haswell-e almost no reason to even bother designing broadwell-e chips since they dont even use iGPU there is no performance increase at all to talk about in those.

    The silver lining though is we get to save money another year. With intel having no pressure on them we get to save our money till there is a real performance boost. Basically anyone with an i7-920 or higher doesn't have to spend money on a pc upgrade till maybe skylake/skylake-e MAYBE, intel has put out underwhelming tocks lately as well. My x58 i7-980x system still has no cpu bottleneck. This allowed me to buy a 55" LG OLED tv as normally i was buying a new pc every 2-3 years before the core i7 series started then all the sudden performance upgrades became pathetic, my new pc fund built up and i found the oled tv for 3000 and figured why not i can easily go another couple years with the same pc. So thanks intel for making no progress i got a new oled tv.
  • BrokenCrayons - Friday, January 30, 2015 - link

    I care about iGPU benchmarks and the computer I use for gaming has an Intel HD3000 and probably will do so for at least another year or more before even thinking about an upgrade. Having dedicated graphics in my laptop seems pointless when I can just wait 5-7 years or so to play a game after it's fully patched and usually avaiable with all of it's DLC for very little cost plus runs well on something that doesn't need a higher end graphics processor. So yes, for serious gaming, iGPUs are fine if you manage expectations and play things your computer can easily handle.
  • purerice - Saturday, January 31, 2015 - link

    BrokenCrayons, agreed 100%!! I recently upgraded from Merom to Ivy Bridge myself.

    There are tons of games now selling for $5-$10 that wouldn't run on Merom when the games cost $40-$60. In addition to being patched and DLC'd, guides and walkthroughs exist to get through any of the "less awesome" parts. More money saved for real life and less frustration to interrupt gaming. Patience pays indeed.

    Seeing the ~20% boost over 4500U in Ice Storm and Cinebench Open GL was actually exciting, even if it represents performance below 90% of other Anandtech users' current levels.
  • DrMrLordX - Tuesday, February 3, 2015 - link

    Decimates means to destroy something by 10% of its whole. All things considered, I'd rather be decimated than . . . you know, devastated, or annihilated.
  • DanNeely - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    While I agree that replacing 1280x1024 is past due; I disagree with picking 1280x720. Back when it was picked 1280x1024 was the most common resolution on low end monitors. Today the default low end resolution is 1366x768 (26.65% on steam); it's also the second most commonly used one (after 1080p).
  • Oxford Guy - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    Agreed. It's pretty silly to "replace" a higher resolution with a lower one.
  • frozentundra123456 - Saturday, January 31, 2015 - link

    I would disagree. It is quite reasonable, because many laptops use 768p, as well as cheap TVs.

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