Gigabyte Brix Pro: You don't need no steenkin' Xbox... when you have 4K-ing amazing graphics
Right? Core i7 paperweight with Intel Iris Pro 5200 graphics
Lucy tells me the Brix Pro did start to give off a whiff like it was overheating, but she was trying to murder it with hours of high settings gameplay, but then again, isn't that its raison d'être? At one point I did get a brief waft of the acrid tang of sizzling circuit board, but on the whole – even during the more arduous benchmarking tasks – the Brix Pro kept any smells to itself, although it could get quite noisy.
For barebones buyers, undo four screws and you're in
Since Lucy’s gaming tests, Intel has released an Iris Pro update which deals with some artefacts experienced although none of the games that she ran were mentioned in the revision history, but no doubt some fixes are covered there. Lest we forget the tweaks available from the Iris Graphics Control Panel. This could involve a fair bit of trial and error to deal with quirks, but you might get lucky.
This is all well and good if you’re running Windows, but those installing Linux are catered for too. SteamOS is based on Debian (Linux kernel) and Intel is certainly keen to see the Steam Machine market flourish and with it, demand for its compact chippery. Incidentally, AMD also features on the approved Steam Machine hardware list. Over to Lucy...
Gigabit Ethernet, but for wireless users 802.11ac is supported along with Bluetooth 4.0
On opening the box I can't believe the size of the Brix Pro – it's so petite I can't fathom how this tiny box holds a desktop Core i7. My rig has a Core i7 too, but with a fan larger than this ultra compact PC.
Starting it up, I saw the operating system installed was Windows 8.1 and my heart sank, but soon enough I had loaded Steam onto it, so I could install Rome 2 and Men of War: Assault Squad 2 (MoW AS2) as I intended to give it an RTS workout. I also installed The Elder Scrolls Online (ESOL), as it's the game I'm burning hours in at the moment. You can run as many benchmarks as you want but all I needed to know was whether it would play my favourite games as well as I wanted it to. The answer is: yes, but some things could be better.
The pre-loaded Brix Pro has a tamper strip to show who's been fiddling
Consoles can't run RTS games like Rome 2 so this was a baptism of fire. The fan started going doolally immediately and I swear after two minutes I can smell the Core i7 CPU burning, but everything looks good on high settings running at a constant 30fps. Preparing for battle in a beautiful snowscape, the only erroneous artefacts are some strange polygons on the trees as I zoom past my troops.
Still in beta as I write, MoW AS2 looks handsome and runs surprisingly well on high settings with no anti-aliasing at 40-50fps. I am almost immersed by the smell and heat of blowing up tanks on the fields of Normandy when I realise, oh no, that's the Brix about to explode like my very own doodlebug. Gratefully, there were no strange looking artefacts in this game, unlike almost all of the others I tried.
I am in love with the aesthetic of The Elder Scrolls and the world of Tamiril and it is rendered beautifully at medium to high settings running at 30fps. The lush landscape and water all stay visually true to form and the only erroneous artefact is a strange pinprick dissolve as objects move past each other which was not visible on the other two machines I have previously played on.
Don't Starve is among the titles tested showing some image artefacts
Don't Starve: Reign of Giants looked the strangest of all, with the background and the loading screens looking terribly pixelated but the characters looking razor-sharp, all the better to see my Werebeaver in action.
Evidently, the Brix Pro seems to have some inconsistent image quality issues, but that said, the Intel Iris Pro 5200 is pretty fast as frame times are adequate and relatively consistent. Indeed, the Brix Pro does a commendable job on the latest games but in doing so sounds like a outboard motor as soon as it's put under any stress. This wouldn't be so bad if it was keeping the processor cool but it's not. I almost expected to see it glowing as Brix Pro's Core i7-4770R hit 100°C.