Build your own inexpensive BRIX media server

by | Dec 25, 2015 | Blog | 0 comments

Mostly we use Macbook Pros to run our shows. But more and more we have gigs that require a fast computer that can be left unattended, setup with automation, or exceed the performance capabilities of our trusty MBPs.

We encountered such a dilemma during pre-production for our week-long stint with YouTube at SXSW 2015. We needed a machine:

  • with heavy firepower to handle lots of layers of content playback
  • to run for multiple days in a row
  • capable of driving 3+ full HD outputs
  • un-enticing to a casual thief (i.e. not a shiny Macbook)
  • affordable, at least more so than a tricked-out Mac Pro trashcan
  • small enough for carry-on luggage

MAC MINI?

My initial thought was a Mac Mini. They have a pretty decent bang-for-the-buck and would keep us in the OSX ecosystem.

But the graphics card in a Mac Mini is underpowered compared to a Macbook Pro, and it’s not user-upgradeable (or at least not very easily, and we had limited prep time).  Plus they are fairly spendy once you load them up with RAM and a fast SSD.

This is especially troublesome when you’re using GPU-heavy codecs like DXV (Resolume). No matter how fast the CPU is, the performance will still lag with an underpowered GPU.

IT’S A BRIX HOUSE

Enter the Gigabyte BRIX line. These are mini barebone PCs that have some outstanding graphics card options. Add an OS, system drive, and some RAM – you’ve got yourself a smoking fast machine that’s actually smaller than a Mac Mini.

The model we purchased ships with a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 GPU, which is a big step up from the Intel HD Graphics 5000 or Intel Iris Graphics options that come with the Mac Mini.

Although I prefer OSX to Windows, the benefit of Windows (Win8 in this case) is that it has better native support for external touch displays.

SPECS OF OUR BRIX MEDIA SERVER:

  • Intel Core i7-4710HQ 2.5GHz
  • 3.50 GHz NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 with dedicated 3GB of DDR5 graphics RAM
  • 16gb of RAM in 2 x 204Pin SO-DIMM DDR3L 1600/1333
  • 480gb solid state system drive on mSATA
  • 3 video outs: 1x mini-displayport + 2x mini-HDMI. The HDMI outs can handle 4k output (3840×2160 @ 30 Hz), so hypothetically this system could be packaged with a Datapath x4 and give you FOUR full HD 1080p30 outputs (via one of the HDMI outputs) plus TWO full HD 1080p30 outputs for control panels and system (via the other mini-HDMI + mini-DP)
  • 4 USB3 ports
  • Ethernet port
  • No thunderbolt
  • Built-in WIFI
  • VERY IMPORTANT & AWESOME: There is still an entire open/free 2.5″ SATA space available in the machine at this point. So in addition to the 480gb mSATA system drive, we could have an entire SSD dedicated to content.

Total assembly time is about an hour – including installing Windows and performing the requisite updates.

HERE ARE THE COMPONENTS WE USED WITH PRICES:

  1. Gigabyte BRIX GB-BXi7G3-760 mini-gaming PC – $760
  2. 16gb of DDR3 RAM – $70
  3. 480gb mSATA for system drive – $260
  4. Microsoft Windows 8.1 – $150 or so
  5. 15.6″ slim touch screen – $400
  6. Touch screen VESA kit – $50
  7. VESA mount adapter – $35
  8. Manfrotto Magic Arm as a monitor mount – $153
  9. Keyboard – any basic USB keyboard will do
  10. Mouse – I prefer basic USB mice to Bluetooth – no batteries to expire, no connection to randomly drop mid-show (I learned the hard way that, yes, this happens)
  11. 2-pack mini HDMI to HDMI – $7

Total Price: $1885

OTHER NOTES

We bought a Pelican-like hard plastic case from monoprice that fits our entire system. Great for local gigs or lightweight plane-travel gigs, but when we have more intense projects that require air travel, we disassemble all the pieces into an even more compact spread between a backpack and trusty Pelican 1510 carryon.

The form-factor of the BRIX is so small it’s designed to be mounted on the back of a TV. Although we just set it on a flat surface, this could be handy in the case of an installation.

Save a bunch of money by skipping the touch screen. It’s a useful tool but not at all necessary. Ditto to the entire display mounting system. We like this configuration because it travels easily and can mount damn near anywhere. Very handy for shoehorning onto an existing LED-wall processor rack or tucking into your FOH footprint when you don’t have room for yet another laptop.

TL;DR

Buy the following components and build your own inexpensive, fast, tiny, Win8-based media server for Resolume or other applications: barebones PCRAMmSATA cardoperating system. Use existing keyboard, mouse, and LCD monitor for the biggest savings and most bang-for-the-buck.

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