It used to be difficult to find a computer that could play games and still fit underneath your TV. Now, devices like the Alienware X51, Falcon Northwest Tiki, and Digital Storm Bolt can handily fill that role. But what if you want a gaming PC that can fit in your hand? That's where the Gigabyte Brix II comes in: it's both cute and powerful. Earlier this year, the company introduced the Brix lineup of tiny barebones computers that fit potent laptop processors in incredibly small cases, just 4.5 inches on a side. Now, the company's updating the lineup with new Haswell processors — and one with Intel's Iris Pro graphics inside.
Iris Pro: redefining the game cube
As we've explained, Iris is Intel's new integrated graphics brand, but it's a good bit more advanced than the lackluster integrated graphics you've probably used before, and the particular 65W chips Gigabyte is using include the very best Iris Pro graphics that Intel has to offer. The company likes to say they're on par with Nvidia's GeForce GT 650M discrete graphics chip, and while we can't definitively test that claim, it means that Gigabyte's managed to squeeze a pretty incredible amount of power into a tiny package. We tried out Dirt II at the 2013 Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco this week, running on Gigabyte's diminutive cube, and it looked and played fantastic at 1080p. According to an Intel rep, the system can even play Crysis 3 to some degree. Just don't expect it to be on par with a system housing a beefy GPU.
For somewhere in the $499–$599 range, the Brix II comes with HDMI and Mini DisplayPort output, four USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, built in Wi-Fi, and a 3.5mm audio jack in the front. But here's the catch: since it's a bare-bones system, you have to supply your own memory, 2.5-inch hard drive, and operating system before you can obtain a Steam Box worthy of the designation. Intel says the system should ship this December.
If you like the Brix form factor but don't need potent graphics, the company has a whole lineup of similarly sized Brix computers on tap, starting at just $199. There are versions that offer solid-state storage, fanless models that are basically a hefty aluminum heatsink, and even a version with a built-in projector for $699. See them in our gallery above.