Over the past year, there’s been plenty of talk about the concept of Steam Boxes: small, portable PCs that can seamlessly stream entertainment media while handling the graphics and memory loads of some of the more ambitious games available. While Valve has been discussing it for a while (and is no doubt inching closer as it announces sharing functionality in Steam) and the PS Vita TV will offer comparable services for PlayStation fans in Japan, the integration of new Intel technology makes Gigabyte’s new PC, the Brix II, one to watch.
The first thing to note is its size. At 4.5 inches on each side, the bare-bones PC is easily portable and can fit in the palm of the hand. Gigabyte has been playing around with this form factor since the emergence of Intel’s Ivy Bridge processors, and the Brix II follows in that tradition. It’s minimalistic and black, standing wider than the Ouya but small compared to a console like the PS4 or Xbox One — much less a standard high-performance PC gaming rig.
But what’s more exciting is what’s under the hood. The Brix II is updated with Haswell processors, and the highest-end model has Intel’s Iris Pro integrated graphics. According to The Verge, the PC was able to seamlessly play 2009 rally racing game Dirt II in High Definition with no trouble, and noted that an Intel rep claimed graphics-chewing 2013 shooter Crysis 3 could manage (somewhat). The company’s press release even boasts 4K compatibility.
Matching size and speed is particularly difficult to do — Moore’s Law hasn’t quite advanced to the point where a tiny console can match the power of a big one. But the performance assurances of the Brix indicates that it’ll handle most games that people want to play, and do so in HD quality.
The Brix system is designed to be bare-BONES on purpose for DIY building, so the potential cost of $499.99 is a bit misleading. Even more, it can hardly be categorized as “affordable,” given that it is on par with the Xbox One. But, after a new hard drive, a massive piece of memory and some OS massaging, the system could basically run for any gaming purpose. There’s no firm date on the product, but if Gigabyte can roll out the consoles with haste, the company will have the opportunity to really take a shot at the Steam Box concept.