After reaching out to Gigabyte on Twitter, I was sent one of their brand new Gigabyte Brix GB-BPCE-3350C barebones units for review and general testing in my expanding homelab setup (kudos to Andrew@Gigabyte for sorting this out)
The GB-BPCE-3350C is a brand new Apollo Lake version of the Brix and despite it being at the lower end of the hardware performance spectrum I am keen to put it through its paces in a variety of scenarios within my current setup.
The kit that was supplied for review from Gigabyte is as follows:
- 1 x Gigabyte Brix GB-BPCE-3350C bare bones kit
- 1 x 8GB Kingston DDR3L SO-DIMM memory module
I also added the following out of my own collection of spare parts to round out the Brix ready for review:
- 1 x 120GB Kingston SSD
Lets have a look at the hardware..
Contents for Gigabyte Brix GB-BPCE-3350C HomeLab Review
- 1 Gigabyte Brix GB-BPCE-3350C Hardware Overview
- 2 Software Overview
- 2.0.1 Running Windows Server on the Gigabyte Brix
- 2.0.2 The Gigabyte Brix NAS?
- 2.0.3 Gigabyte Brix XPEnology performance
- 2.0.4 Gigabyte Brix and ESXi
- 3 Does the Gigabyte Brix have a space in the home lab?
Gigabyte Brix GB-BPCE-3350C Hardware Overview
The embedded Celeron is an Apollo Lake N3350 clocked at 1.1Ghz. This two core, two thread CPU has a TDP of just 6W and a burst speed of upto 2.5Ghz, should the standard clock speed not be sufficient.
The Brix has plenty in the way of external ports, with the usual microphone and headphone jacks present as well as a healthy 4 USB3.0 ports for connecting external devices.
Video output is well taken care of with full size HDMI and more unusually on on mini pc this small, a standard VGA port. This really increases your range of display options without the need for specialist external adaptors such as HDMI to VGA, which can be hit and miss in compatibility.
The list of external ports is rounded out with a standard Gigabit ethernet port and a power jack.
Because of the number of ports on the Brix, Gigabyte have taken the understandable route of having ports on the right side of the unit as well as the back. In theory this shouldn’t be an issue, but I can see that it may lead to untidy cabling situations should both video outputs be required at the same time and the Brix be desk based.
This won’t be an issue if the Brix is attached to a monitor using the supplied VESA mount. I think that this is how the Brix has been designed to be used.
The 5th Gen Intel NUC that I use as my works daily driver doesn’t have the cabling issue as all the ports are at the back of the unit – but it does feature a frustrating combo of mini-display port and mini-HDMI outputs meaning the back of my desk is adaptors galore.
Internally there’s not much to look at – the bottom of the Brix contains a mini drive cage for a single 2.5inch SSD or HDD – the drive simply sits in the groove and is secured by two screws. Other internal options are a pre-populated Wifi/Bluetooth module and a single empty DDR3 SO-DIMM slot for upto 8GB memory.
Anyway, enough with a boring overview – let’s chuck some software at it and see what sticks.
Running Windows Server on the Gigabyte Brix
While this is not the real reason I wanted to have a play with a Gigabyte Brix, while I had it on the test bench I just couldn’t help myself, I had to do a couple of Server installs, one of Windows Server 2012 R2 and one of Windows Server 2016.
Windows Server 2012 R2
I’d planned on using a freshly built easy2boot pen drive for my Server installs, however for some reason it refused to boot up from the generic USB3 pen drive that I was using. I’m not sure if this is a weird USB3 controller issue or if it was just a compatibility problem but I ended up using my trusty Zalman drive for the install.
I’ve installed countless copies of Server 2012 over the years and installing it on the GB-BPCE-3350C was no different. It installed exactly as expected. After a couple of reboots I was sat at the login prompt within 15 minutes ready to go.
Windows Server 2016
Like the 2012R2 install, the Server 2016 install went without a hitch from my Zalman drive.
Setup was nice and easy – as before the SSD and 8GB memory really eased the process. I was sat at the login screen within 15 minutes.
Thoughts on Windows Server on the Brix
In both cases the majority of drivers were found and installed automatically included the onboard NIC (thats a huge plus from me). I ran both installs through the standard set of Windows updates and every driver was found except the combined Wifi & Bluetooth board.
I wasn’t overly bothered that this didn’t auto install as I’d more than likely remove this card from a “production” Brix anyway.
In the end both server OS’s installed exactly as expected and performance was adequate for a low end unit.
The Gigabyte Brix NAS?
Now this is more like it.. I’ve recently become a massive fan of the XPEnology Project. This project takes the Synology NAS source code and ports it to standard x86 and x64 bit hardware allowing you to design your own NAS from the ground up.
I’ve recently been playing around with running XPEnology on a Mac Mini, so lets see if and how it runs on a Gigabyte Brix.
Installing Synology on Gigabyte Brix GB-BPCE-3350C
I’ve previously written a rather long guide on how to install the fantastic Synology DSM onto 3rd party hardware so i’m not going to repeat myself – needless to say the process was very easy (almost seamless in fact). If you’d like more info please check out Building a DIY Synology NAS on the blog
The screenshots below were from my generic XPEnology build guide but the process is *exactly* the same.
Gigabyte Brix XPEnology performance
After running the Brix as a headless NAS box for a few days, I think i’ve got a decent grip on the performance of the unit and I’d describe the performance as “ok”.
Please note, i’m not “hating” on this little PC – I fully accept the fact that I’m using this Brix in a way that it was never designed for. Primarily it’s designed for low end desktop work (browsing, word processing etc), digital signage, home theatre applications etc, and not as network attached storage.
The overall performance was comparable to the generic XPEnology build I created. The DSM software was snappy in daily use – its optimised for very low end hardware in the first place so the Celeron N3350 is a good fit. Disk transfer speeds were slightly slower, mainly due to the fact that its only capable of running a single SSD – and they capped out at around 50Mbs.
This transfer speed is ok for general everyday server use – especially if you are accessing the fileserver via a wireless connection. Its not however ideal in a homelab environment – the transfer speeds are far to slow for use with iSCSI.
Gigabyte Brix and ESXi
I’d planned on trying to get ESXi running on the GB-BPCE-3350C but in the end I thought better of it. I think that the Celeron N3350 is just too weedy to get any level of satisfactory performance.
If I were to pick up a faster Brix in the future I think it would be a great contender for an ultra small EXSi host. Wether it would perform better than a similarly specced NUC is anyones guess.
Does the Gigabyte Brix have a space in the home lab?
To be honest, yes and no.
I think that the form factor of the Brix is fantastic for a home lab setup, especially one that is limited on space. In the same footprint of one of my Mac Mini servers you can easily get 4 of the Brix units.
The extra full size display options also make setup easier as you are not running around looking for specialised adaptor just to get the OS installed (I’m looking at you Intel NUC!) however once installed and running headless this will be less of a consideration.
I wouldn’t however pick this particular Brix as a permanent addition to my lab. While the N3350 CPU is more than adequate for a bit of web surfing, online banking or word processing it’s really not up to the job of running a server OS or acting as a VM host.
The fanless design didn’t help in this regard. Installing an OS onto the hardware caused the unit to run a little on the warm side with the plastic casing hot to touch. I wouldn’t have a lot of confidence running any extended workload on the unit as the thermals would likely throttle the CPU.
Am I being a little harsh on the Brix, I probably am. For a general light use second or third PC in the home I think this is ideal and I’d happily recommend it for those type of duties.
For home lab use i’d recommend one of its more powerful siblings, such as the GB-BKi5T-7200.
Not only does the GB-BKi5T-7200 have a far more powerful CPU it also has 2 memory slots and an M2 connector for an additional SSD which makes it far more useful in most homelab scenarios (a bodged together VSAN for example).
The actively cooled design on the GB-BKi5T-7200 also means that while a little noisier, especially under full load, the Brix will be able to keep up with whatever workload to chuck at it.
Overall the Brix does lack the pure performance that I need for an ESXi or HyperV host. Its single memory slot and maximum 8GB RAM is also a limiting factor but I’d be more than happy to pick up a Gigabyte Brix GB-BPCE-3350C for light computer work around the home. This would either be as a second PC or something for the kids to use. It would also be great in a more industrial application such as digital signage.
- Gigabyte Brix GB-BPCE-3350C value rating (as a general use home PC) – 4/5
- Gigabyte Brix GB-BPCE-3350C value rating (for home lab use) – 2/5
Although Gigabyte did supply a loan GB-BPCE-3350C unit for review this isn’t sponsored by them. Some of the links in this review are affiliate links with the likes of Amazon which may pay me a commission should you make any purchases through them – this commission comes from Amazon and doesn’t affect the buy price.