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ECS LIVA Windows Based Mini PC Review: A Palm-Sized Desktop Computer

Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: ECS

Introduction

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When Intel revealed their miniature PC platform in 2012, the new “Next Unit of Computing” (NUC) was a tiny motherboard with a custom case, and admittedly very little compute power. Well, maybe not so much with the admittedly: “The Intel NUC is an ultra-compact form factor PC measuring 4-inch by 4-inch. Anything your tower PC can do, the Intel NUC can do and in 4 inches of real estate.” That was taken from Intel’s NUC introduction, and though their assertion was perhaps a bit premature, technology does continue its rapid advance in the small form-factor space. We aren’t there yet by any means, but the fact that a mini-ITX computer can be built with the power of an ATX rig (limited to single-GPU, of course) suggests that it could happen for a mini-PC in the not so distant future.

With NUC the focus was clearly on efficiency over performance, and with very low power and noise there were practical applications for such a device to offset the marginal "desktop" performance. The viability of a NUC would definitely depend on the user and their particular needs, of course. If you could find a place for such a device (such as a living room) it may have been worth the cost, as the first of the NUC kits were fairly expensive (around $300 and up) and did not include storage or memory. These days a mini PC can be found starting as low as $100 or so, but most still do not include any memory or storage. They are tiny barebones PC kits after all, so adding components is to be expected...right?

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It’s been a couple of years now, and the platform continues to evolve - and shrink to some startlingly small sizes. Of the Intel-powered micro PC kits on today’s market the LIVA from ECS manages to push the boundaries of this category in both directions. In addition to boasting a ridiculously small size - actually the smallest in the world according to ECS - the LIVA is also very affordable. It carries a list price of just $179 (though it can be found for less), and that includes onboard memory and storage. And this is truly a Windows PC platform, with full Windows 8.1 driver support from ECS (previous versions are not supported).

Continue reading our look at the ECS LIVA Mini PC!!

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At the core of the LIVA’s tiny motherboard is an Intel Bay Trail-M SoC with two Celeron cores running at 1.58 GHz each (turbo to 2.16 GHz) with 1MB of cache. There is 2GB of DDR3L running at 1333MHz onboard, and the integrated storage is provided via integrated eMMC in either 32GB or 64GB capacities (our review unit has 32GB). There is also an M.2 slot on the motherboard, intended for the 802.11b/g/n wireless / bluetooth 4.0 combo card included in the box.

Before unboxing the LIVA, we’ll check out the full specs from ECS.


Motherboard: ECS BAT-MINI
CPU / Chipset: Intel Bay Trail-M
Memory: 2GB DDR3L
Storage: eMMC 64 / 32GB
LAN: Realtek RTL8111G
Audio: Realtek ALC282(2CH) Combo Jack
Wireless (by NGFF Card): WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n + Bluetooth 4.0
USB 3.0 / 2.0: 1/1 Port
I / O Interface:
1 HDMI
1 VGA
1 USB 3.0 / 1 USB 2.0
1 Audio Combo Jack
1 Power Connector (Micro USB Port)
1 LAN Port
Thermal: 1 Fanless Heat Sink
OS Support: Windows 8.1 (64-bit)


Packaging and Contents

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The LIVA comes in a smallish box that still looks closer to mini-ITX, though once opened the size of the enclosure on the right dispels any doubt of the microscopic nature of this kit.

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Aside from the empty (for now) enclosure shell, we first see a setup guide, support disc, and M.2 wireless/bluetooth card with required antenna.

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The power adapter sports a standard micro-USB connector and outputs 5V power up to 3 Amps.

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And then of course there is the motherboard - which is just a bit bigger than the ubiquitous Raspberry Pi.

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Think SSD size. Like, almost exactly.

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A look at the rear of the board

LIVA: A Desktop Replacement?

I would have assumed that a device like the LIVA would more likely be used for content consumption than content creation or gaming, but there are also general productivity applications to consider. If capable, the LIVA could be a fantastic value as a nettop PC - especially if running a free OS like Ubuntu Linux, which would keep the total investment at $179 for the system (provided of course that you have keyboard/mouse/monitor already). But the big question is, does it perform well enough to function as a desktop PC?

To answer this I chose to run the LIVA as my primary PC for a week. I also ran a few benchmarks, tested out HD video playback from different sources, and even tried out DirectX 11 3D gaming (kind of, but not really).

Read on to see how it performed!


October 27, 2014 | 03:14 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Good review although I've recently purchased one of the I5 NUCs & I'm very happy with it. Very small (even with the case that accepts a 2.5 drive), noise isn't an issue & it runs Mavericks really well. Only slight disadvantage is the price, but if you're looking for a cheap, small & powerful system you can only have two of those things.

October 27, 2014 | 03:44 PM - Posted by ecenick

I have been waiting wishing hoping for a small efficient flash player for watching tv online and netflix on the big screen. I currently use an old laptop that works great. It has to be almost 8 years old now(core2 p8600 I think, 9600m GT, 2GB ddr2-800). I almost pulled the trigger on a NUC but figured I would wait to see what was in the pipeline with baytrail. Sounds like the LIVA is almost there. And so I wait.

November 2, 2014 | 01:18 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

they said on the podcast that this thing has trouble with flash video. HTML5, and VLC 1080p mkv's worked fine, but it lagged horribly on flash video.

October 27, 2014 | 07:24 PM - Posted by fade2blac

One thing I would be curious to know is how this performs using Steam in home streaming. The idea of a small and power efficient device to play games over a local network is perhaps another good use case especially for the gamer/enthusiast crowd.

Btw...Lords of the Realm 2! Been a while, but I instantly recognized this. It's definitely a fun game to play now and again even if the AI is easily exploitable during battles. I might just have to dig it up yet again and see if I can get it running...but like many people I should probably put some time towards the rather sizable backlog of games on my Steam account...damn Skyrim mods.

October 27, 2014 | 10:58 PM - Posted by Sebastian Peak

That's an interesting question. I would guess that in-home streaming would work just fine with the LIVA, but I'll revisit this if I have a chance.

Also, the exploitable AI in LR2 is one of my favorite features! I liked the strategy and resource management more than the battles... Great game, I have it on CD-ROM but I bought it at GoG for the ease of install on a current OS (and it's around $5).

October 28, 2014 | 12:40 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Hey, Sebastian!

Nice review. I've had my eye on one of these since they were announced, but I was disappointed to see that it struggled with 1080p Flash playback. Did you happen to try any HTML5 playback during your testing?

October 28, 2014 | 01:02 AM - Posted by Sebastian Peak

Thanks!  No, I didn't attempt 1080p HTML5.  Actually, after installing Ubuntu and having no trouble with Flash playback at 1080p (Firefox) I was sold on the LIVA's ability to do this.  Windows 8 just presents a little too much system overhead it seems... Ubuntu was actually great overall - no sluggishness.  If I were to buy one of these I wouldn't be running Windows (and of course now ECS will be including Windows 8.1 with Bing with new LIVA units...)

October 28, 2014 | 01:55 AM - Posted by fade2blac

I might suggest using Metro apps whenever possible if you are running Windows 8. For example, even my AMD E-350 machine can comfortably play HD Netflix using the Metro app but chokes if I try and play the same content in a web browser.

October 28, 2014 | 06:29 AM - Posted by Justin150 (not verified)

Looks perfect as a home server. Cheap, quiet will it run windows server?

October 28, 2014 | 04:07 PM - Posted by Cryogenic (not verified)

I don't see any reason why it wouldn't run Windows Server. The N2807 is standard x86-64, so it should work. However, I'd spring for the 64GB version over the 32GB if you're going to install Windows Server and actually do anything with it. The difference is $20, if I recall.

October 28, 2014 | 03:19 PM - Posted by CrankyDave

In terms of usability, I wonder how this compares to Zotac's new ZBOX PI320 pico? This has a Celeron, while the itty bitty Zotac has an Atom Z3735F. It's basically a Win8 tablet without the housing, and it comes with Windows installed for about the same price.

October 28, 2014 | 04:12 PM - Posted by Cryogenic (not verified)

Performance should be very close given the scores of both CPU's on cpubenchmark.net. The Zotac has 3 USB vs only 2 on the ECS. However, the ECS does have VGA, which may be a plus. I'd say realistically they're pretty even and choose based on which you need (more USB and an SD slot or dual video outputs).

October 31, 2014 | 11:29 AM - Posted by camberry

For a few years now I have been a HUGE plex fan, but I pined for a client machine that was tiny and silent like a ras-pi, and could play full bitrate blueray rips served from a plex server. This FINALLY lookes like what I want!

December 7, 2014 | 05:42 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Wonder if this thing would play older games like Warcraft 3....

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