ECS LIVA X2 Fanless Compact PC Review

When the ECS LIVA Windows Based Mini PC Kit came out in the summer of 2014 it was a pretty nifty little system that ran pretty good considering it only cost $135. Without breaking the bank you could purchase an ECS LIVA, assemble the included hardware and then put on the Windows copy that you wanted to run. It came with everything you needed to get up and running out of the box when it came to hardware, but the initial reviews and consumer feedback was that people wanted the units to be fully assembled and more powerful. ECS heard the feedback and answered with the ECS LIVA X 64GB Mini PC Kit just a few months later that was a larger, fully assembled system that just needed the OS installed. The ECS LIVA and LIVA X models are powered by the 22nm Intel Bay Trail-M SoC, which was a decent part when it came out, but those processors have been succeeded by the Intel 14nm Braswell SoC. Braswell is basically Bay Trail's die shrink and has some new features sprinkled in along with improved efficiency, better thermals and much better graphics thanks to the inclusion of Intel Generation 8 graphics technology. The ECS LIVA series aren't very powerful systems, so we are glad to see that ECS is staying current and putting Intel Braswell N3050 SoC's into the latest LIVA system, the ECS LIVA X2. liva x2 ECS has two different LIVA X2 models to choose from and then you have the ability to get it with or without Windows 8.1 w/ Bing pre-installed. This is the first time that ECS has offered a LIVA series PC that is fully assembled and with Windows already installed. If you choose a model without Windows 8.1 installed please keep in mind that only Windows 8/8.1/10 can be installed on the eMMC storage device due to driver limitations, but Windows 7/8/8.1/10 can be installed to the optional M.2 storage drive if you add one to the system. All of the LIVA X2 models feature an the Intel Celeron Processor N3050, a 14nm dual-core Braswell SoC with 2 MB of L2 cache, a 2.16 GHz top speed (processor base frequency is 1.6 GHz) and a 6 Watt TDP rating. The Intel HD Graphics inside the processor has 12 execution units that can range in frequency from 320 MHz to 600 MHz. windows 10 update It should also be noted that while some of the models have Windows 8.1 w/ Bing installed you can update them to Windows 10. When you first setup the Windows 8.1 w/ Bing installation and perform an update check, you'll be able to upgrade to Windows 10 for free and Windows 10 is fully supported on the LIVA X2 ECS LIVA X2 Mini PC The model that we were sent to review was the ECS LIVA X2 2GB/32GB Win 8.1 Bing Desktop model that runs $209.99 shipped. We are a bit skeptical about how a dual-core system will run with just 2GB of memory these days, but we'll have to see how it performs in the benchmarks. ECS LIVA X2 Bundle Inside the retail packaging you'll find the LIVA X2, power brick, VESA Mount w/ screws, quick installation guide (not pictured), user guide and finally the driver disk (not pictured). Please note that the 12v, 36W power adapter does come with US, EU and GB plugs and that we are just showing the US plug installed on the adapter. ECS LIVA X2 Front Along the front edge of the ECS LIVA X2 you have the power button, LED activity light and three USB 3.0 ports. The port on the far right has EZ Charger technology that allows you to charge mobile devices witht he system powered off. The overall dimensions for the LIVA X2 are 156 x 83 x 51 mm, so the white PC with a stylish chrome accent ring is fairly tiny. If you looked closely at the image above you might have noticed two small holes on the front of the enclosure. One is located directly below the power button and the other is located below the farthest to the right USB 3.0 port. These are the embedded microphones that allow the LIVA X2 to be operated by voice control with Cortana if you are using Windows 10 on this system. ECS LIVA X2 Back On the back of the LIVA X2 you'll find the 12V DC_IN port, HDMI port, Realtek RTL8168/8111 Gigabit Fast Ethernet port, Realtek ALC283 3.5mm combo audio jack (Line Out & Mic In w/ optional adapter) and finally the VGA/D-Sub port.  You also have the ability to run 5.1/7.1 audio over the HDMI port if you like, so there are a couple ways you can do audio on this system. Please not that due to hardware limitations the audio combo jacks microphone is only compatible with Apple iPhones. You can run two displays off the LIVA X if you wanted to, but chances are most won't with the HDMI/VGA (D-Sub) output configuration that comes on the LIVA X2. Many of the readers here on LR will likely never use the VGA header, but there are many PC around the world that still have VGA displays and this is a direct replacement for those machines. ECS also noted that a DVI connector wouldn’t fit with the PCB layout design they used for this system and it would have added to the production costs. wa-36a12-charger The included AC power adapter is made by Asian Power Devices Inc. and can output up to 36W of clean 12V / 3A DC power for the LIVA X2. The part number on the adapter is WA-36A12 and is the same power adapter that was used on the older LIVA X series. LIVA X2 Bottom Air ventilation holes are located on both sides with one also having a Kensington lock for those that want to make sure no one walks off with their PC. On the bottom of the LIVA X2 there are four Philips screws that can be removed and replaced with the standoffs for the VESA mounting bracket. They are also the screws that need to be removed if you need to get inside the system to install a M.2 SSD into the storage slot. There is a Kensington lock on one side of the LIVA X and there are air ventilation holes on both sides of the mini PC. Let’s move along and take a closer look at the ECS BSW-MINI motherboard that is the heart and soul of the LIVA X2 mini PC.

Inside The ECS LIVA X2 - The BWS-Mini Motherboard

ECS LIVA X2 Bottom The bottom of the ECS LIVA X2 has rubber feet to keep it from moving around on any surface. There are four Philips screws that can be loosened to remove the bottom plate.  The only reason you need to really enter the LIVA X2 is in the event that you need to add a m.2 SSD for expanded storage. The two screw holes recessed into the middle of the case are for the VESA mounting bracket. The ECS LIVA X2 supports 75mm and 100mm VESA mounts. ECS LIVA X2 Heatsink With the lower plate removed from the LIVA X2 you can see that there is a large passive heatsink with two heatpipes that spans the entire width of the enclosure to keep the Intel Braswell CPU cool. Since no fans are needed to cool the LIVA X2 it means that this is a silent 0dB mini PC! ECS LIVA X2 Heat Sink The heasink is held down four additional screws, but once that is removed you can take off the heatsink assembly. The two copper heatpipes are crossed to form an 'X' shape and there is a copper baseplate that makes contact with the Intel Celeron NIntel Celeron N3050 SoC. Liva X2 Board Here is a look inside the ECS LIVA X2 with the cooler removed from the top down.  Note that there are still some wires taped down to the motherboard, so don't just go yanking on the board trying to remove it from the enclosure. You still need to remove the VGA standoffs as well as a metal bracket and Wi-Fi antenna cables skhynix ddr3 We discovered four SKhynix 1600MHz single channel DDR3L memory IC’s with part number H5TC4G63AMR that make up the ECS LIVA X2’s 2GB of integrated memory. These are 4Gb low power DDRIII synchronous DRAM chips that use 1.35V of power. ECS set the timings on the embedded memory at 11-11-11-28. liva-x2-80211ac When it comes to the Wi-Fi module, ECS went with a Realtek 8821AE Wireless 802.11ac adapter. This 1x1 half size mini PCIe wireless solution is speed rated at up to 433 Mbps and it is the first 802.11ac card that we've seen ECS use in the LIVA series. The old ECS LIVA X used a AzureWave AW-NB087H-LE 1x1 802.11n solution that topped out at just 150 Mbps, so ECS is finally improving their wireless soluition. ECS BWS MINI The unoccupied m.2 slot is found on the other side of the board. This means it's a pain in the ass to get to as you basically need to strip down the entire system in order to gain access to the M.2 interface. It would have been nice of ECS to make the top plastic cover removable as you could just pop the top cover off and screw in a drive. The systems eMMC chip is located under the battery and the battery is glued down to the top of the chip. The 32GB of Embedded Memory (eMMC) is handled by a Toshiba NAND Flash Memory chip labeled THGBMBG8D4KBAIR that was made in Japan. This embedded NAND Flash memory module is built on the 19nm fabrication process and the entire package measures just 11.5 x 13 x 1.0mm in size. This 32GB Toshiba eMMC chip is compliant with JEDEC e.MMC Version 5.0, published by JEDEC in September 2013, and achieves a high read/write performance by applying the new HS400 mode that offers additional improvement in terms of interface speed (up to 400 MB/s vs 200 MB/s in the prior version). Toshiba says that this series of e-MMC NAND should be capable of hitting up to 270MB/s read and 90MB/s write in Sequential Interleave Mode, but the performance depends on the capacity. Let's build this system and move along to testing!

ECS LIVA X2 BIOS Settings and Windows 10 Setup

liva-x2-bios When we first turned on the ECS LIVA X2 we went into the UEFI/BIOS and found there wasn't too much that could be tinkered with. ECS is using an American Megatrends Aptio UEFI and you can go in and adjust minor things. For example how much memory the Intel HD Graphics has access to and enable/disable a fairly decent amount of items. There is no 'tool' built-in to upgrade the UEFI, so you either need to do it on the desktop or manually with a bootable USB drive. There was an update available for the LIVA X2, so we went ahead and updated the UEFI to the latest version before benchmarking the system. Windows 10 Upgrade Path The ECS LIVA X2 w/ Windows 8.1 Bing can be upgraded to Windows 10 Home, but the kicker is that you need to perform the update. ECS Provided the Windows 10 upgrade work flow chart above to help users upgrade their LIVA to Windows 10. windows10-update When we fired up the Liva X2 for the first time and ran Windows Update we found that we could upgrade to Windows 10 and started the update by downloading the 2.6GB of needed files. update-failed After taking five hours to download and setup, it was discovered that you need 17.5 GB of free space on the C: drive for the Windows 10 Upgrade and the LIVA X2 32GB model didn't have enough internal space to complete the process. windows-update-failed We then installed HyperX Savage 128GB USB 3.1 Flash Drive and used this external drive for the backup files. This drive must have at least 10GB of space available, so you'll need a 16GB or larger USB Flash drive to update a 32GB LIVA X2 to Windows 10 Home! free-space After installing Windows 10 Home with all available updates showed we have 14.4GB of free space with 14.0GB being used by the OS. That doesn't leave you with much space,and keep in mind that you have 10GB of data on a USB Flash drive now. The entire upgrade to Windows 10 took nearly 10 hours over the wireless connection, so it's an all day event! system-settings Now that we got the ECS LIVA X2 running Windows 10 Home installed we can finally get around to benchmarking!

ECS LIVA X2 Mini PC Performance Testing

cinebench-r15 In Cinebench R15 we found the ECS LIVA X2 with the Intel Celeron N3050 processor scored 12.69 FPS on the OpenGL benchmark and then 64 points on the multi-core CPU test and 37 points on the single CPU test. When we reviewed last years ECS LIVA X with the Intel Celeron 2808 processor it scored 6.21 FPS on the OpenGL benchmark and then 66 points on the multi-core CPU test, so there is a big performance jump on the integrated graphics, but the CPU performance is pretty flat. aida64 AIDA64 v5.50 showed that the single channel DDR3 memory had 11-11-11-28 2T timings and was capable of 7466 MB/s read and 9073 MB/s write speeds with a latency of 147.2 ns.
A quick look at the memory performance in SiSoftware Sandra 2016 showed 6.2 GB/s of bandwidth on the single channel DDR3 memory solution running at 1600MHz with CL11 timings. processor In Sandra Processor Arithmetic benchmark test the aggregate native performance score was 10.54 GOPS. multi The Sandra Processor Multi-Media test aggregate performance score was 14.15 MPix/s. jetstream We ran the JetStream JavaSctipt on Google Chrome 46 and found an overall score of 46.193. We ran the no longer supported SunSpider 1.0.2 JavaScript Benchmark on Google Chrome 46 as well and got a score of 729.3ms. unzip2 When unzipping a folder (3DMark) we found speeds of up to 35MB/s on the ECS LIVA X2, but the average unzipping speed was more in the 20-25 MB/s range.
A quick run of CrystalDiskMark v5.0.3 showed the sequential read speed to be around 154-157 MB/s and the sequential write speed was between 44 and 51 MB/s depending on the compression used for the test! The Random 4K read speed was ~18 MB/s and the 4K random write speed was ~13 MB/s. atto-liva-x2 ATTO showed that we were getting up to 162MB/s read and 55MB/s write on the internal 32GB eMMC drive. wireless performance When it comes to wireless performance the we used LAN Speed Test to check the performance of the included the included Realtek 8821AE Wireless LAN 802.11ac PCIe solution. This is a dual-band 1x1 802.11ac Wi-Fi card with a theoretical peak speed rating of 433 Mbps. 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 with Firmware version We tested the 5GHz performance with the router placed 10-feet away from the ECS LIVA X2 and ran performance tests on both 1MB and 100MB packet sizes. When we ran LAN Speed Test on the ECS LIVA X2 the wireless throughput averaged 191 Mbps (roughly 24 MB/s) on all the tests.  We couldn't get near the advertised 433 Mbps theoretical speeds and we were using the latest drivers, UEFI build for the LIVA X2 and firmware on the wireless router. We even wired-ethernet On the wired Realtek Gigabute PCIe NIC we were getting ~470 Mbps (58.75 MB/s) speeds on average with 1MB packet sizes and ~607 Mbps (75.86MB/s) speeds on the 100MB packet size. This is well below the theoretical 1000 Mbps that one would expect to see on a Gigabit network, but it's not that bad for a budget device as it's 'fast enough' for most folks. bootracer The last performance test that we wanted to run was Bootracer 4.9 to see how fast the system is able to boot Windows 1o Home 64-bit. We found that the ECS LIVA X2 32GB takes 13 seconds to get to the logon screen and it took a total of 40 seconds to get up and running on the desktop! This is over 10 seconds slower than the Liva X running Windows 8.1, so we are a bit dissapointed with the boot times we are seeing on the Liva X2 with the 32GB drive. Let's take a look at power consumption and CPU temperatures on the ECS LIVA X2.

Power Consumption and CPU Temperatures

ECS LIVA X2 Heat Sink The ECS LIVA X2 is said to be very energy efficient, so we figured we'd take a look and see how much power the system uses. power-use With the ECS LIVA X2 w/2GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMC running Windows 10 Home the entire system was consuming just 2.8 Watts of power from the wall outlet at idle. When surfing the web we averaged 5.4 Watts of power and when watching Youtube 1080P videos we averaged 7.2 Watts of power draw. When running the AIDA64 System Stability test the system power consumption topped out a 9.4 Watts. These are phenomenal power numbers and show that this system with the new Intel Braswell 14nm SoC is very power efficient! load-temps 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 N3050 processor idled at 0.450V with a core temperature of 38/40C. With the built-in AIDA64 stress test we found that we got up to 61/59C on the two CPU cores at 0.830V with the standard stress test with the the local disk and GPU included in our ~22 minute test. Let's wrap this review up!

ECS LIVA X2 Final Thoughts and Conclusions

The ECS LIVA X2 Mini-PC feels like a slightly refined version of the older ECS LIVA X that came out at the beginning of the year. General CPU performance is close to the same, but it has much better graphics performance and power efficiency. If you are worried about HTPC performance and video playback, the newer ECS LIVA X2 is certainly the way to go as the Intel Celeron N3050 Braswell SoC just felt like it did everything smoother in that regard. The fanless design and low cost of the LIVA X2 will likely make many consider this system and we are happy to report that we did not experience any thermal throttling on the LIVA X2 like we did on the original LIVA X. The new Intel 14nm Braswell SoC is just a 6W TDP processor and we never drew over 10W of power unless we hooked up an external storage drive. ECS put in a large passive cooler with heatpipes, so hitting just 61C with no fan noise was nice to see. ECS also finally woke up and included a better wireless card inside and it's about time they put a dual-band 802.11ac solution inside as that is required these days for a general PC. We were only getting around 200 Mbps in our wireless benchmark tests with this 433 Mbps Wi-Fi card, but it sure beat the 50 Mbps we saw on the previous generation LIVA X model with it's pathetic single-band 802.11n 1x1 card. liva x2 soda When it comes to pricing the ECS LIVA X2 starts at $170 and goes up to $298 depending on how you get it configured. We were sent the LIVA X2 with 2GB of Memory and 32GB of eMMC storage, but we'd recommend going with the 4GB model that has 64GB of eMMC. You can't even update to Windows 10 on the smaller LIVA X2 32GB model without a 16GB or greater USB drive as there isn't enough storage space for the upgrade to take place. Other benefits would be that the 64GB drive has faster write speeds and 4GB of memory is nice to have even on a mini-PC. The model with more storage and RAM costs an additional $55, so there is nearly a 33% price jump to go up a model. Then you got to ask yourself is it worth it on a low-cost mini-PC that you are likely buying due to it's price point alone. At the end of the day the ECS LIVA X2 is the most refined LIVA series model yet and should make for a decent light-use, low power,  general purpose PC. If you are looking for something that can do very lightweight tasks then this might be the low-cost solution for you as long as you understand it's not going to be snappy like a high-end desktop PC! LR Recommended Award Legit Bottom Line: The ECS LIVA X is a much more refined system and we can't wait to see what ECS can do with the third generation 6+ months down the road.