|Introduction & Specifications|
|These are the days of form factors. The PC market is changing rapidly as tablets supplant some laptops, new players such as the Chromebook disrupt the old WIntel model, and innovations in processors and graphics allow for ever-smaller PCs such as Intel’s NUC. Here’s a new one for you: a tiny NUC-style PC that doubles as a video projector.
It's an interesting combination and that’s we have for you today with the Gigabyte Brix Projector. The little PC ships as a barebones unit without storage or memory, but it actually has some solid specs under that diminutive hood and capabilities not found in virtually any PC product on the market to date.
There’s also a Gigabit LAN port, Realtek ALC269 audio, and WiFi with BT provided by an included half-size mini-PCIe card. As mentioned above, the Brix Projector doesn’t ship with storage or RAM, so our friends at Kingston hooked us up with some just for this review. Kingston sent a pair of SO-DIMMS (HyperX DDR3-1866MHz, 16GB total, $175.74) as well as a 120GB mSATA SSD (Kingston SSDNow mS200 mSATA [6Gbps], $94.61). Take these items into consideration when evaluating benchmark scores. To get the same numbers, you’d need to purchase the same memory kit and mSATA SSD Kingston sent us.
The system's DLP (LED backlight) projector itself offers a resolution of 864x480 with an aspect ratio of 16:9 and a purported image size of 7-85 inches. It promises 75 ANSI lumen brightness, a contrast ratio of around 900, and 3LED (RGB) technology.
You can plug in a number of other devices to the projector with the mini HDMI in port, and there are 1.5W built-in speakers, to boot.
|Design & Functionality|
|The Brix Projector, being a NUC form factor device, is tiny. As a PC, that means you can stash it anywhere you need it to be, and as a projector that means you can bring it with you anywhere you need it. The thing will fit just about anywhere, being just a few inches (almost) square and not even two inches tall, and because it has a built-in projector, you don’t necessarily need to be able to plug it into a monitor.
Brix Projector, so you have to have a USB mouse and keyboard along, too.
In that sense, the Brix Projector is versatile and convenient. However, it’s not without its shortcomings.
Primarily, the display resolution for the projector itself is just 864x480, which is a nightmare if you’re using Windows 7 (which the device just happens to run). For example, if you’re installing software or even looking at a web page, the projector won’t display every part of the window. Thus, you’re left unable to see what you’re doing all too often.
When connected to an external display the issues are hardly noticeable, but we did find that connecting the Brix Projector to a smart TV still required too much fiddling with display resolution to get everything looking right.
And what of the projector itself? Gigabyte says that its projected image size is 7 inches to 85 inches, but we found that we could get a bit smaller. On the “big” side, we ran out of wall space, but the image could easily extend beyond 12 feet on the diagonal. There’s a focus ring on the side of the Brix Projector, and it glides easily enough although you’ll need a steady hand if you want to keep from jostling the image.
We noticed that the projector starts up with almost no lag, which is a nice touch. The onboard 1.5W speakers aren’t particularly impressive, but they’ll get you loud-enough audio in a quiet room if need be. The Brix Projector is a 75 lumen DLP (LED backlit) device, and it offers a 16:9 aspect ratio with a 900:1 contrast ratio.
Because this is an inexpensive mini projector that’s tacked onto a PC, we didn’t expect much in terms of quality, but the little guy is rather impressive all things considered. The image is not all that bright--you can see that even relatively dim light will wash out the picture (the projector is positioned about five feet from the wall here)--but with the lights off in a home theater room (or outside at night), the Brix Projector does just fine. The projector's black levels are decent, for what you’re paying for, as well.
You can set the Brix Projector on any flat or slightly inclined surface as you would any other projector, but Gigabyte also included a tiny tripod with adjustable, flexible legs that screws into the bottom of the unit that you can use, too. It’s a handy feature to have available, but note that it’s extremely difficult to get a completely straight picture when you’re fiddling with those legs.
Let’s dig into some benchmark tests to see how this tiny machine performs.
|General Performance & Use Experience|
|Having a small footprint is one thing, but does the Gigabyte Brix Projector have the chops to serve as full-funcitoning PC? To help us evaluation this, we benchmarked the Toshiba hard drive and tested video playback performance. Here's what we found out.
One distinct advantage our Brix Projector has compared to some other tiny PCs is its SSD. Remember, this is a barebones kit that does not include the memory and storage, so the Kingston components in this particular machine are not necessarily standard equipment.
That said, should you choose to outfit your Brix Projector in the same way, you’ll note that the thing really hums when it comes to general responsiveness. Once it got humming in ATTO, this system sustained (and its Kingston SSD) upwards 500MBps read/write speeds.
We found that during movie playback, CPU utilization remained rather low. The 1% you see in the image above was common, although there were plenty of spikes that went up past 20%. However, most of the time it remained very, very low.
|Test System Configuration Notes: We rounded up previous mini PC and HTPC configurations we've reviewed in the past and compared their scores to that of the Gigabyte Brix Projector. Not all of these systems fall into the same performance category, but as a whole, the benchmarks give you an idea of what kind of performance gains (or losses) you can expect out of the Brix Projector compared to other systems on the market.
To kick things off we fired up Futuremark's system performance benchmark, PCMark Vantage. This synthetic benchmark suite simulates a range of real-world scenarios and workloads and stresses various system subsets in the process. Everything you'd want to do with your PC -- watching HD movies, music compression, image editing, gaming, and so forth -- is represented here. Also, most of the tests are multi-threaded, making this a good indicator of all-around performance.
The Brix Projector started strong out of the gate with an impressive showing in PCMark Vantage, leaving nearly the whole field behind in the dust. The Zotac Zbox ID89 Plus posted competitive Communications and TV & Movies scores, but the Brix Projector next-gen CPU and integrated graphics delivered unequivocally top notch scores. Its snappy SSD didn’t exactly hurt, either.
PCMark 7 runs through the types of tasks your PC is likely to encounter during ordinary home and office use. It tests the system’s graphics capabilities as well, but it isn’t meant to test the limits of high-end, discrete graphics card. Look at the two PCMark benchmarks as an indicator of a system’s general usage performance.
This is a very solid PCMark 7 score and shows what this little guy can do.
|Cinebench & 3D Mark|
|Cinebench R11.5 is a tile-based rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by 3D animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others. It's very demanding of system processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput.
This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The rate at which each test system was able to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below.
The Brix Projector’s CPU score was nothing much to cheer about, although its toughest competition was a Core i5 processor and a Core i7 chip. More notable is that this system’s OpenGL score was so strong. Note that it essentially delivered the same score as a system with a discrete GPU.
3DMark Vantage's built-in CPU tests are multi-threaded DirectX gaming metrics that are useful for comparing relative performance between similarly-equipped systems. This tests consists of two different 3D scenes that are processed with a software renderer that is dependent on the host CPU's performance. Calculations that are normally reserved for the 3D accelerator are instead sent to the CPU for processing and rendering. The system's performance in each test is used to determine the final score.
Despite some strong performances elsewhere, the Brix Projector choked a bit in 3DMark Vantage with a middling score of 6465. To be fair, it lost out to systems with better processors or GPUs and somewhat larger form factors as well that offer more thermal headroom.
|For our next set of tests, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with Left 4 Dead 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. When testing low-power platforms with L4D2 or ET:QW, we dialed the image quality settings down to medium quality settings and tested at various resolutions. Since these are more entry-level game tests running on relatively low-power platforms or platforms equipped with mobile parts, we left anti-aliasing turned off and image quality settings set from moderate to high levels where possible.
This little rig wasn’t designed with gaming in mind, but the integrated Intel HD 4400 graphics put up a reasonably strong performance. It beat out all the other rigs with integrated graphics and posted more than playable framerates at each of the (relatively low) resolutions we tested.
|Power Consumption & Noise|
|Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power our test systems consumed using a power meter. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power the base platform configuration used while idling and while under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the processors alone.
In terms of power consumption, the Brix Projector was somewhere in the middle of the pack when the projector was running along with the PC at 18W idle and 40.8W under load. However, with the projector switched off and using an external monitor with the PC, the Brix Projector offered some of the most efficient power usage in our test bank. Pulling 10.5W at idle is ridiculously low for any machine.
Running at idle, the Brix Projector emits a rather low hum and it doesn’t crank up too much even when under a full load--if you’re not using the projector function. However, the projector substantially increases the noise level even at idle and whether or not the system is under load doesn’t affect the projector’s noise level. This is to be expected of course. With the sort of light output required, thermal management and some fan noise is part of the deal.
|Performance Summary & Conclusion|
|Performance Summary: The Gigabyte Brix Projector posted some strong benchmark scores in many of our tests, including excellent frame rates in some older games, even though it’s by no means built specifically for gaming. However, we must be abundantly clear that although the Intel Core i3-4010U chip and integrated Intel HD 4400 graphics are the basis for this system’s performance, the test scores were helped out quite a bit by the Kingston SSD and 16GB of HyperX RAM--which you'll need to provide yourself. This is a barebones rig, so if you want to see the same performance we did, be sure to load the Brix Projector similarly and you won't be disappointed.
As far as the projector itself goes, although it didn’t have the greatest black levels and didn’t prove to be particularly bright--even relatively low light in a room will wash out the projected image a bit--the color was consistent and the range of the projected image was excellent. The system was also not terribly loud, which is a feat. For a projector built into a pocket-size PC, you’ll be pleased with what you get.
Put simply, the Gigabyte Brix Projector is an odd duck but a clever, useful device in a lot of ways. It’s a clever idea to bake a projector into a NUC, and to be sure, there are scenarios where that configuration would be a lifesaver (if not at the least utterly convenient). On the other hand, you can’t really use the projected image for much beyond watching video, some light gaming or presentation/signage display, as the resolution it supports is so low that the Windows experience is diminished significantly.
That said, as a standalone PC, the Brix Projector is an impressive little thing. It fits just about anywhere, it’s relatively quiet for home theater applications, and it boasts solid performance across the board. It’s ideal for a home theater PC, with a satisfactory array of ports and connectors with an Ethernet port as well a built-in WiFi card for easy wireless connectivity. And with its ample USB port configuration, you can hook up a wireless Bluetooth mouse and keyboard combo and still be able to connect an external storage device.
The Brix Projector isn’t necessarily a great solution for everybody, but for some folks it’s probably just what they need.
The sticking point may be the price. You can pick up a modestly-spec’d NUC for a few hundred bucks, and even the powerful Gigabyte Brix Pro that we recently reviewed goes for just $449 to $599. The Brix Projector costs between $535 and $675 online, and that’s without the storage and RAM.
Thus, average users will be better off with a different NUC, but again, if you want a PC/projector combo for myriad (and more or less portable) applications, you’d no doubt be happy to pay for the utility and performance of a Brix Projector.