ECS LIVA Mini PC Kit - World's Smallest Windows Based Mini PCECS ELITEGROUP has been around for nearly three decades and over that period of time the company has become one of the leading OEM corporations, but they also have a consumer side of the product line where they make mostly motherboards along with other items like All-In-One PCs and even tiny little mini PCs. Legit Reviews recently got a chance to sit down with ECS and was able to discuss a recent internal changes, learn where the company is headed and take a look at some of the recently released products along with some brand new ones. We learned that ECS did some fairly significant restructuring due to the fact that the glory days of motherboards is gone and that they need to diversify beyond just motherboards. ECS was late to market with Intel Z97 based motherboards and has no immediate plans to release any Intel X99 boards, so read into that as you like. ECS noted that PCs are still here and still being used as people still need a computing machine, but needs have changed. In June 2014 ECS introduced the LIVA Mini PC Kit, which is being marketed as being the world’s smallest Windows based mini PC kit and is the system that we are reviewing today. ECS also has launched a renewed focus on channel branding and is going to make a push to make ECS known as the company with the ‘best cost versus performance’ products. One of the products that ECS hopes to take off is the LIVA MINI PC Kit. People love miniature PCs and the Intel NUC and Gigabyte BRIX series has been selling like hot cakes with thousands of units shipping a month. ECS saw this as an emerging market with potential and wanted to come out with an affordable build-it-yourself mini PC that still has enough power to do what you want to do when you are on the PC without breaking the bank. That is no easy task, but it looks like ECS did a fairly good job on the hardware and configured the system with an Intel BayTrail-M SoC (Intel Celeron Processor N2807), 2GB 1333MHz DDR3L memory, 32GB or 64GB of eMMC memory and a M.2 form factor combo wireless card that supports 802.11b/g/n wireless and Bluetooth 4.0. All the hardware you need to install Windows 8.1 or Linux comes with the kit, so you just need to assemble the pieces and slap on the OS. It should be noted that no driver support is available for any other Windows OS due to fact there is no storage driver available for the SanDisk eMMC storage solution for Windows 7. The ECS LIVA 32GB model runs $164.99 shipped on Newegg, but right now it is just $132 with a special promo code. When it comes to pricing it looks like ECS has taken a pretty aggressive approach as the vast majority of tiny Intel Bay Trail-M mini PCs cost more and come without memory and the storage drive. For example the Intel has the NUC DE3815TYBE board by itself with a less powerful Intel Atom E3815 1.46GHz processor and 4GB of eMMC memory, which is good for just OpenELEC or Linux and they are asking just under $145 shipped. ECS is giving you a better processor and eight times the storage capacity along with the DRAM, case and power adapter. Today we’ll be taking a look at the ECS LIVA MINI PC KIT with 32GB of eMMC for storage needs. ECS is currently using the Intel Celeron N2807 22nm dual-core processor, which has a base clock of 1.58GHz and a turbo clock of 2.16 GHz for this kit. This processor just came out in Q1 2014 and is a solid little 4.3W TDP processor with Intel HD Graphics that can support dual displays and even Intel Quick Sync Video. When the ECS LIVA MINI PC Kit came out just two months ago it was powered by the Intel Celeron N2806, which is 10MHz slower on the CPU, has slower 1066MHz DDR3L memory support and didn’t have Intel Quick Sync Video support. If you are looking at reviews of the ECS LIVA MINI PC please keep that in mind as the ones written in June, July and early August all were likely powered by a slightly different processor. The ECS retail packaging it well-crafted and made from environmentally friendly materials with soy ink used for the color. When you open up the box you’ll find a somewhat odd inner flap that explains how ECS came up with the name LIVA for this product. It looks like ECS combined the words ‘living’ and ‘life (Viva)’ to come up with LIVA and hopes that this product will help you live a better life. When you lift up all the flaps you’ll quickly remember that the ECS LIVA Mini PC Kit is a kit that you have to assemble. ECS includes everything needed inside the box, minus the Operating System. For this review we’ll be installing Windows 8.1 x64, but you can install Linux, OpenELEC or whatever else you’d like. ECS designed the LIVA for Windows 8.1 x64, so we highly suggest using the OS that this platform was designed to run on for the very best user experience possible. Here are all the hardware pieces that you’ll find inside the retail box. There are eight pieces that you must assemble together and a small Philips screwdriver is needed to tighten down the Wi-Fi card. ECS claims that you can assemble the LIVA in 40 seconds. Certainly you could, but we suggest taking your time as you don’t want to break anything and the two wireless antenna connectors are extremely small and need to be carefully connects. That said, we feel confident saying that most anyone could assemble the LIVA and do is successfully in just a few minutes. The most difficult thing is attaching the wireless antennas to the inside of the case with the double sided tape and connecting them to the actual wireless card. The motherboard is held in with plastic tabs, so you just mount the antennas, hold the wires aside, pop the ECS BAT-MINI board in and then install the wireless card and connect the antennas. Simple right? Why didn’t ECS do this at the factory? ECS said they felt people would want to have the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) experience, but we think it comes down to money and that by doing it this way ECS doesn’t have to pay employees to assemble it. Let’s move along and take a closer look at the ECS BAT-MINI motherboard that is the heart and soul of this mini PC.
ECS LIVA - The BAT Mini MotherboardThe ECS LIVA uses the BAT-MINI motherboard, which is only available with the LIVA kit for the time being. Later this year, think October, you’ll be able to buy just the board if you’d like. The board is very small! ECS went with a passive cooling solution, which means this system is silent thanks to the modest orange heatsink that ECS designed for the LIVA. The heatsink is attached with a pair of screws and there is thermal interface material between the SoC and heatsink to help transfer the heat away from processor. On the rear I/O panel of the ECS BAT-MINI you’ll find HDMI and D-SUB (VGA) when it comes to video outputs. Most of our readers are more than likely cringing at the sight of a VGA header, but ECS wanted to ensure they were able to fulfill the needs of emerging markets where VGA is still a popular connector being used and ECS also noted that the DVI connector wouldn’t exactly fit with the layout design they came up with. Next up we have the Realtek RTL8168/8111 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet port that is connected to the Intel Celeron N2807 SoC with the one of the motherboards four PCI Express Gen 2 lanes. Below that you’ll find the boards only USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports. The Intel SoC is capable of supporting four USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 headers, so ECS has the ability to add more USB support, but made the decision not to. We have a number of wide USB 3.0 Flash drives and we can safely say that they won’t in the USB 3.0 port on the ECS LIVA with the power cable and HDMI cable hooked up. Other tiny PC makers often use two USB ports on the back and then a USB port on the front of the board to remedy this issue. It also leaves a port open as most people have a USB keyboard and mouse and will use both of these USB headers. If you look closely you’ll see that ECS went with a micro-USB power connector to power this board. That caught us off guard, but they did that to save space, the connector is cost effective to all the millions of phones and tablets that use them and you can run the ECS LIVA from a portable battery power pack. Yes, you read that right. ECS designed the LIVA to run off a portable battery pack and it actually works. ECS rates the LIVA as having 4 Watts of power consumption and at most 14.9 Watts when both the CPU and GPU are being heavily used. We aren't sure why you'd want to run this off a portable battery, but you can if you ever had the desire to do so. On the other side of the board you’ll find the power button, power LED, a 4-pin debug header (Internal use only) and finally a 3.5mm combo audio header that supports both Stereo Out and MIC IN functionality, similar to the jack found on many tablets and smartphones. One of the usage scenarios we see for the ECS LIVA is a home theater PC (HTPC), but there is no RF or IR receiver/blaster to be had on this board. The bad news is that ECS does not include the splitter/adapter, so you’ll need to go out and by a $5 adapter like the one shown above that ECS was using on a LIVA demo system that we were shown. We suggested to ECS that they consider including this adapter in the future to improve the out of box functionality of the LIVA as many consumers want to have speakers plugged in and will need to use a microphone for Skype or for gaming. Sure, this isn’t a gaming box by any means, but you can still play some lite indie game titles and non-graphics intensive game titles. On the back of the board you can see the system battery and the M.2 (NGFF) socket that is used for the wireless card. The M.2 slot is wired to the Secure Digital Input Output (SDIO) interface instead of PCIe, so this slot can only be used for non-storage purposes. There aren’t too many Wi-Fi modules using the M.2 interface, so if you wanted to switch to something other than the included 802.11b/g/n card it will be tough. We found that Intel makes a M.2 wireless card called the Intel 7260.NGWWB Wireless Adapter that supports 802.11ac (867Mbps) although ECS couldn’t confirm to us that this specific card would be able to work on the ECS BAT-MINI. We discovered four SKhynix 1333MHz DDR3L memory IC’s with part number H5TC4G63AFR made up the ECS LIVA’s 2GB of integrated memory. When it comes to the Wi-Fi module, ECS includes the AzureWave AW-NB136NF 802.11b/g/n M.2 solution. The AW-NB136NF is also Bluetooth 4.0 compliant. This card is powered by the Broadcom BCM43142 combo chip, if you are curious what SoC is powering this module. How will wireless performance be with this specific solution? You are looking at a dual-band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz network) single stream solution, so we could see up to 150 Mbps in our testing. Let's build this system and move along to testing!
Building The ECS LIVA Mini PCECS says you can assemble the LIVA in just 40 seconds with a Philips screwdriver, but it will likely take you a little longer than that as we couldn't even do it in 40 seconds. We don't feel bad as the ECS quick installation video is edited with cuts and is nearly two minutes along and is worth a quick look below. As you can see assembly is very simple, so we'll just give you a very high overview on what needs to be done. The first think you need to do is install the Wi-Fi module, which just pops in the board and is held down with the included Philips screw. You then need to lay out the wireless antennas and the two plastic halves of the PC enclosure. You need to install the antennas in the right spot as they are both different lengths and go in different locations in the case housing. Once you figure out where they go by reading the included installation manual you just need to remove the protective backing on the adhesive on the backside of each antenna and install them. Once you have those installed you need to route both wires through some little routing paths there were made in the plastic cover. We rotated the antenna with the white lead as the wire appeared to lay better in the case. Once you get those run you just need to install the ECS BAT-MINI motherboard, which is held in with a pair of plastic clips on each side of the enclosure. You might have to finesse it in, but it fits. Once that it in you just need to attach the two antennas on the wireless module and you are all set. Notice that the wireless card has black and white designators on the label, so you know exactly where to run the white and black antenna leads. You'll need to slide back the protective plastic cover in order to attach the antennas. Be careful here as the wires are thin and if you aren't gentle you could rip of the ends! Once that is done you can gently route the wires our of the way and you are ready to put the case together. For that you just need to line up the two case halve and snap them together. It goes together fairly easy, but it is tough to get back apart without a flat head screw driver. We wish ECS would have designed a pry spot in the injection molded case halves, but they didn't. Once the case halves are together you have a completed ECS LIVA Mini PC kit! It is entirely plastic and very light weight, but it should do the trick. Here is a shot at the side of the ECS LIVE and the rear ports. The case feet on the ECS LIVA are hard plastic with nothing to keep it from sliding around. The square legs have holes in them, so it appears at one point in time ECS might have been considering putting some pads on the feet. This can easily be done by later as a mod, but we just wanted to point it out. [gallery ids="149145,149144,149143,149142,149140"] When we first turned on the ECS LIVA we went into the BIOS and found there wasn't too much that could be tinkered with. ECS is using an American Megatrends BIOS and you can go in and adjust things like how much memory the Intel HD Graphics has access to and enable/disable a fairly decent amount of items. There is a menu called 'tweak' that got us excited, but there are no editable options under that tab. There is only a boot option for Windows 8, which makes sense as that is the only Microsoft OS supported by the ECS LIVA. It should be noted that we were unable to get back into the BIOS after we installed Microsoft Windows 8.1 with all the updates. We contacted ECS about the issue and this is what they had to say:
"There are new steps to go to the BIOS for Windows 8.1. Since they are designed to start the system in a faster speed, they don’t accept any inputs from keyboard while the system is turning on. To go to the BIOS, please refer to the following website for more information: http://windows.wonderhowto.com/how-to/access-boot-menu-and-bios-windows-8-0139059/" - ECS Technical SupportThat trick works, but we've used dozens of motherboards on Windows 8.1 and we have yet to need to do that in order to get into the BIOS/UEFI. Just a friendly heads up and/or tip in the event you need to get into the BIOS and can't with your ECS LIVA. After installing Windows 8.1 with Update 1 and all available updates we were left with 10.5GB of free space with 18GB being used. That doesn't leave you with much space, but there are ways to free up space with Windows tricks and hacks if you really wanted to do so. Now that we got the ECS LIVA built and working with Windows 8.1 installed we can finally get around to benchmarking!
ECS LIVA Mini PC Performance TestingIn the latest build of 3DMark we found scores of 13,945 in Ice Storm, 1,122 in Cloud Gate and 482 in the new Sky Driver test suite. 3DMark First Strike wouldn't run due to an error due to what looks like the 2GB of memory filling up and the benchmark was unable to run. These scores are pretty solid as the Intel NUC DN2820FYKH with the Intel Celeron N2820 processor scored 13,890 in Ice Storm and 1,114 in Cloud Gate.
Moving along to Cinebench R11.5 we found the ECS LIVA with the Intel Celeron 2807 processor scored 5.90 FPS on the OpenGL benchmark and then 0.79 points on the multi-core CPU test and 0.41pts on the single CPU test.
A quick run of CrystalDiskMark v3.0.3b showed the sequential read speed to be around 105 MB/s and the sequential write speed was right around 42MB/s! The Random 4K read speed was 9MB/s and the 4K random write speed was 3.9MB/s. Not bad scores for the fixed 32GB of eMMC memory by SanDisk, but nothing to write home about either. When it comes to wireless performance the we used LAN Speed Test to check the performance of the included the included AzureWave AW-NB136NF 802.11n Wireless Card. This is an entry level dual-band single stream Wi-Fi card with a theoretical peak speed rating of 150 Mbps. This card won't be breaking any speed records, but it is a budget card in a budget machine. We used a desktop with Gigabit Ethernet to run LAN Speed Server that was hard connected to the ASUS RT-AC68U 802.11AC wireless router on the 2.4GHz band and moved it 15-feet away from the ECS LIVA mini PT kit to check out performance with both 1MB and 100MB packets. We ran LAN Speed Test on the ECS LIVA and found the wireless card throughput to be roughly 60Mbps (7.5MB/s) average write speeds and 100Mbps (12.5MB/s) average read speeds. Next we ran the LAN Speed test again on the same ASUS RT-AC68U 802.11AC wireless router, but this time we did so on the 5GHz band with both 1MB and 100MB packets. The throughput was now 60Mbps (7.5MB/s) average write speeds and 107-131Mbps (13-16MB/s) average read speeds. The last performance test that we wanted to run was Bootracer 4.7 to see how fast the system is able to boot Windows 8.1 64-bit. We found that it takes 8 seconds to get to the logon screen and it took a total of 24.750 seconds to get up and running on the desktop! Let's take a look at power consumption and CPU temperatures on the ECS LIVA.
Power Consumption and CPU TemperaturesThe ECS LIVA is said to be very energy efficient, so we figured we'd take a look and see how much power the system uses. With the ECS LIVA w/ 32GB of eMMC running Windows 8.1 the entire system was consuming just 2.8 Watts of power from the wall outlet! When surfing the web we topped out at 5.7 Watts of power and when gaming we found the system used up to 9.3 Watts of power. We also ran Prime 95 and found that we hit 6.6 with the blended workload and if we fired up Furmark when Prime 95 was running we peaked at 11.6 Watts of power. This is less that your average light bulb in terms of power consumption, so we'd consider this a very energy efficient system that could off you big power savings if you need a basic office PC or a system for general web surfing, data entry or something like that. The only software that appeared to read the temperature correctly on this particular Bay Trail-M powered system was AIDA64. AIDA64 reported that the Intel Celeron 2807 processor idled at 0.390V with a core temperature of 51C. With the built-in AIDA64 stress test we found that we got up to 65C on the two CPU cores at 0.750V with the standard stress test and then managed to get it up to 74C by adding in the local disk and GPU to the test. We fired up Prime95 64-bit along with Furmark to put a load on both the GPU and CPU under extreme load and we were able to take ECS LIVA up to 96C (205F) on the cores in under ten minutes. This is an extremely heavy workload that is a worst case scenario. The temperature was still rising when we hit 96C, but we started to hear some crackling and noise from the system. From the sounds of it the heat sink was expanding due to the heat and making some noise, which made us worry a bit and abort the test as we didn't want to blow anything up. This test shows that the ECS LIVA can handle a fair bit of abuse, but if you put everything at load you'll certainly find yourself looking at 100C temperatures.
Final Thoughts and ConclusionsThe ECS LIVA MINI PC Kit is a first generation product and with all first generation products there are issues that need to be worked out. The LIVA isn’t a bad product by any means, but there are several things we aren’t a fan of. More importantly we are having a tough time figuring out who ECS is targeting with this product. Who is the ideal customer when it comes to the LIVA? It doesn’t have the power for frequently run CPU intensive applications, it doesn’t have the graphics power to be a gaming system and it lacks remote functionality that HTPC users crave. So, from what we gather the LIVA doesn’t really cover any one specific niche, but we do find it being the smallest and possibly the lowest cost Windows 8.1 ready mini PC on the market. The million dollar question is though, are there enough people looking for something like that and are they willing to pay for it to make it successful? Overall performance of the ECS LIVA was right where we expected it to be and it was similar to the Intel NUC DN2820 that we reviewed earlier this year with the older and now discontinued Intel Celeron N2806 processor. It is able to do normal web surfing, light gaming and general office productivity tasks with the LIVA and we’d classify it as an everyday system for the average person. If you are concerned about power consumption and want an energy efficient system that sips power, the ECS LIVA does just that. At just 3 Watts idle and at most 12 Watts at load we must admit that we love the power characteristics of this system. ECS says that the LIVA uses less power than your average light bulb and they would be correct. It is also pretty neat to power the ECS LIVA with a portable battery pack, but don’t see too many users utilizing that feature in the future. When it comes to temperatures the Intel Celeron N2807 has a tJunction rating of 105C. We were pushing 96C on our test system when it was put under heavy load thanks to Prime95 and Furmark, when we called it good enough. The little passive cooler does a very good job at keeping the system cool for general tasks and most people should see temperatures higher than 70C, which is acceptable. The ECS LIVA is currently available with 32GB of eMMC memory with a black enclosure. ECS has plans to bring out a 64GB version in your choice of black or white in September. The price on the 32GB model at this time is $164.99 shipped, which isn’t too bad considering what you get in terms of hardware. ECS just started a week long promotion where you can get an extra $33 off, which brings the price down to just $131.99 shipped after the promotion rebate. The Intel Celeron N2807 Processor alone has a suggested list price of $107, so ECS certainly isn’t making a fortune by selling these at $165, let alone $132! ECS plans to come out with an assembled version of the white 64GB LIVA later this year, but they don’t have pricing set on it. There are no plans to include Microsoft Windows 8.1 on the system, but we hope that ECS or one of their customers look into it. Big corporations can get Windows 8.1 licenses for about $15-$20, so if ECS could come out with this model assembled and with Windows 8.1 installed for right around $200 that would be pretty amazing. If you need to go out and buy a Windows 8.1 license on your own you are looking at spending another $100 and that drastically increases the total cost of ownership. So, would we run out and buy the ECS LIVA? If the ECS LIVA looks like it will work for your specific application then we see no reason why it wouldn’t be a great solution. The things we dislike about the ECS LIVA Mini PC Kit is fairly long, but are any deal breakers for you?
- It comes un-assembled and the case can be tricky to get back apart
- It only works with Microsoft Windows 8.1 or you can try the Beta Linux drivers
- The lower USB 3.0 port won’t work with wide USB Flash Drives due to the power and HDMI ports being so close
- Only has two total USB ports
- No VESA Mounting Solution
- No Kengston lock
- Inability to increase the memory or storage drive sizes
- Limited M.2 SDIO wireless cards for those wanting to upgrade to 802.11ac
- No adapter included for simultaneous audio in/out