Gutting the Brix Pro
More often than not, miniaturization hampers upgradability. Taking apart a phone or a laptop is usually trickier than cracking open a desktop PC. Happily, though, the Brix Pro is quite straightforward to disassemble.
Four Philips-head screws hold the bottom panel in place. Undo the screws, and the panel comes off, granting access to all of the Brix Pro's internal slots and ports. (More on those in a second.) The bottom of the panel has an empty drive cage with room for a single 2.5" drive, either solid-state or mechanical. If I were buying the Brix Pro for myself, I probably wouldn't think twice about strapping in a 1TB mass-storage mechanical drive, like this one for 60 bucks. I need space for my music collection and other downloads.
Here's a closer view of the Brix Pro's expansion area. See that piece of Scotch tape? It holds down a lone Serial ATA power and data connector, which is meant for whatever drive winds up in that 2.5" cage we talked about. I assume the connector was taped down to prevent it from rattling about, since our sample didn't ship with a 2.5" drive.
This part of the motherboard plays host to a couple of SO-DIMM slots (both filled by 4GB modules), an mSATA slot (populated by a 240GB Intel SSD), and a Mini PCIe slot (which accommodates the system's Wi-Fi and Bluetooth module). It's hard to see in this picture, but the Mini-PCIe slot sits below the mSATA one. The only sign of it here is a black antenna wire snaking below the solid-state drive.
The Brix Pro can be taken apart further, but that requires a few more steps. First, one must slide out the panel that covers the rear I/O ports. Then, one must remove the SSD and unhook the two antenna wires from the wireless card below. Finally, a couple extra Philips-head screws must be undone. The screws sits on either side of the I/O port cluster. Once all that is taken care of, the motherboard and everything still fastened to it will come out of the machine without resistance.
Yep. That's all of it (and my ugly mitt for scale). I've left the SSD unplugged in order to reveal the Mini PCIe wireless controller. Even with it installed, the Brix Pro's innards are impressively small considering the desktop-class processor they house.
Speaking of which...
The top of the board accommodates all the expansion and connectivity; the bottom, pictured here, is where the processor and chipset live. I was too chicken to remove the cooling apparatus, but there wouldn't be much point. It's not like you can throw in a Thermaltake Frio in there—or any other desktop-style cooler, for that matter.
The lack of support for desktop CPU coolers makes sense, of course, but that sliver of copper still looks awfully slim for a 65W chip. So does the blower fan. Generally, there are only two ways to prevent overheating with an inadequate heatsink surface area: spin up the fan like crazy or throttle the processor's clock speed. Neither option is exactly ideal.
We'll see how the Brix Pro fares under a heavy system load in a minute. First, though, let's have a look at gaming performance.