Introduction and Design
The ECS LIVA Z Plus is a mini-PC with far more capable processors than the non-Plus variants of the current LIVA family, and we have for review a version with the top-end Intel Core i5-7300U CPU option, along with a 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM. These specs position the LIVA Z Plus against similarly-powered Intel NUC mini-PCs, and the LIVA has the advantage of being ready to go out of the box (just add an OS).
We recently took a look at the entry-level ECS LIVA mini-PC, which is a fanless device equipped with a low-power Intel Apollo Lake Celeron N3350 in its base configuration (as reviewed). The performance was merely 'okay' for most desktop computing, and that entry-level LIVA Z was more of a need-specific choice, useful for some applications such as a DIY router as it includes dual NICs in addition to the wireless networking on board. But I kept wishing I had more CPU power the entire time I was testing out the base LIVA Z, and the Plus version seemed like the perfect solution. There is just one catch: it isn't fanless. (Gasp!) Was this an issue? Was it even audible? How were thermals with a 15W Intel Core i5 processor inside such a small enclosure, even it is was being actively cooled? Read on to find out!
First, a look at the specs from ECS:
- Intel Kaby Lake Core i5-7300U SOC
- Intel Kaby Lake Core i5-7200U SOC
- Intel Kaby Lake Core i3-7100U SOC
- Intel Kaby Lake Celeron 3965U SOC
- DDR4 Up to 32GB
- 2x SO-DIMM Memory Slots
- Storage Support: 1x M.2 2242 SSD (SATA / PCIE)
- Audio: 1x Combo Jack, 1x Digital Mic
- LAN: 2x Gigabit LAN (1x Intel LAN)
- 3x USB 3.1 Gen1 Ports
- 1x USB 3.0 Type-C port
- Video Output:
- 1x HDMI Port (HDMI 1.4)
- 1x mDP Port
- Wireless: Intel 802.11ac Wi-Fi & Bluetooth 4.0
- PCB Size: 115 x 111 mm
- Dimension: 117 x 128 x 33 mm
- VESA Support: 75 mm / 100 mm (bracket included)
- Adapter: Input AC 100-240V, Output DC 19V / 3.42A
- OS Support: Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, Windows 10
- 1x Power adapter
- 1x VESA Bracket
- 6x VESA Mount Screws
- Quick Guide & Driver DVD
- (The LIVA Z Plus is currently not listed for sale on Amazon or Newegg in the U.S.A.)
Package contents are identical to that of the non-Plus LIVA, as we are presented with the LIVA Z Plus, power adapter, and VESA mount.
The LIVA Z Plus is externally identical to the LIVA Z, with the same complement of three USB 3.1 Gen1 ports, a USB 3.0 Type-C port, and 3.5 mm audio jack on the front, and dual NICs, HDMI 1.4, and mini DisplayPort on the back.
The side panels are also identical to the passively-cooled LIVA Z, with vented sides that in this case allow for intake and exhaust for the small internal fan.
If you think this LIVA Z Plus looks like the standard LIVA Z, you're right. Externally, the two are identical:
Next we'll take a look inside and then see how it performed with a few benchmarks.
A surprise twist from Intel
Any expectations I had of a slower and less turbulent late summer and fall for the technology and hardware segments is getting shattered today with the beginning stages of Intel’s 8th Generation Core Processors. If you happen to think that this 8th generation is coming hot on the heels of the 7th generation that only just released to the consumer desktop market in January of this year, you’d be on the same page as me. If you are curious how Intel plans to balance Kaby Lake, Coffee Lake, and Cannon Lake, all releasing in similar time frames and still use terms like “generation,” then again, we are on the same page.
Today Intel launches the 15-watt version of its 8th Generation Core Processors, based on a refresh of the Kaby Lake CPU design. This not a new architecture nor is this is not a new process node, though Intel does talk about slight changes in design and manufacturing that make it possible. The U-series processors that make up the majority of the thin and light and 2-in-1 designs for consumers and businesses are getting a significant upgrade in performance with this release. The Core i7 and Core i5 processors being announced will all be quad-core, HyperThreaded designs, moving us away from the world of dual-core processors in the 7th generation. Doubling core and thread count, while remaining inside the 15-watt thermal envelope for designs, is an incredible move and will strengthen Intel’s claim to this very important and very profitable segment.
Let’s look at the specifications table first. After all, we’re all geeks here.
|Core i7-8650U||Core i7-8550U||Core i5-8350U||Core i5-8250U||Core i7-7600U||Core i7-7500U|
|Architecture||Kaby Lake Refresh||Kaby Lake Refresh||Kaby Lake Refresh||Kaby Lake Refresh||Kaby Lake||Kaby Lake|
|Base Clock||1.9 GHz||1.8 GHz||1.7 GHz||1.6 GHz||2.8 GHz||2.7 GHz|
|Max Turbo Clock||4.2 GHz||4.0 GHz||3.8 GHz||3.6 GHz||3.9 GHz||3.5 GHz|
|Cache (L4 Cache)||8MB||8MB||6MB||6MB||4MB||4MB|
|System Bus||DMI3 - 8.0 GT/s||DMI3 - 8.0 GT/s||DMI2 - 6.4 GT/s||DMI2 - 5.0 GT/s||DMI2 - 5.0 GT/s||DMI2 - 5.0 GT/s|
|Graphics||UHD Graphics 620||UHD Graphics 620||UHD Graphics 620||UHD Graphics 620||HD Graphics 620||HD Graphics 620|
|Max Graphics Clock||1.15 GHz||1.15 GHz||1.1 GHz||1.1 GHz||1.15 GHz||1.05 GHz|
The only differences between the Core i7 and Core i5 designs will be in cache size (Core i5 has 6MB, Core i7 has 8MB) and the clock speeds of the processors. All of them feature four true Kaby Lake cores with HyperThreading enabled to support 8 simultaneous threads in a notebook. Dual channel memory capable of speeds of 2400 MHz in DDR4 and 2133 MHz in LPDDR3 remain. The integrated graphics portion offers the same performance as the 7th generation designs, though the branding has moved from Intel HD Graphics to Intel UHD Graphics. Because Ultra.
But take a gander at the clock speeds. The base clock on the four new CPUs range from 1.6 GHz to 1.9 GHz, with 100 MHz steps as you go up the SKU ladder. Those are low frequencies for modern processors, no doubt, but Intel has always been very conservative when it comes to setting specs for base frequency. This is the speed that Intel guarantees the processors will run at when the CPU is fully loaded using a 15-watt TDP cooling design. Keeping in mind that we moved from dual-core to quad-core processors, it makes sense that these base frequencies would drop. Intel doesn’t expect users in thin and light machines to utilize all 8 threads for very long, or very often, and instead focuses on shorter use cases for multi-threaded workloads (photo manipulation) that might run at 3.x GHz. If this period of time is short enough, the cooling solution will be able to “catch up” and keep the core within a reasonable range.
In the original premise for today’s story, I had planned to do a standard and straight-forward review of the iPad Pro 10.5-inch model, the latest addition to Apple’s line of tablet devices. After receiving the 12.9-in variant, with the same processor upgrade but a larger and much more substantial screen, I started using them both as my daily-driver computing device. I was surprised at how well both handled the majority of tasks I tossed their way but there was still some lingering doubt in my mind about the usefulness of the iOS system as it exists today for my purposes.
The next step was for me to acquire an equivalent Windows 10-based tablet and try making THAT my everyday computer and see how my experiences changed. I picked up the new Surface Pro (2017) model that was priced nearly identical to the iPad Pro 12.9-in device. That did mean sacrificing some specifications that I would usually not do, including moving down to 4GB of memory and a 128GB SSD. This brought the total of the iPad Pro + Pencil + keyboard within $90 of the Surface Pro and matching accessories.
I should mention at the outset that with the pending release of iOS 11 due in the fall, the Apple iPad Pro line could undergo enough of a platform upgrade to change some of the points in this story. At that time, we can reevaluate our stance and conclusions.
Let’s start our editorial with a comparison of the hardware being tested in the specification department. Knowing that we are looking two ARM-based devices and an x86 system, we should realize core counts, clocks, and the like are even less comparable and relatable than in the Intel/AMD debates. However, it does give us a good bearing on how the hardware landscape looks when we get into the benchmarking section of this story.
|Surface Pro (2017) vs. iPad Pro (2017) Comparison|
|Processor||Intel Core i5-7300U (Kaby Lake)
(3x high performance Hurrican, 3x high efficiency Zephyr cores)
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 620||12-core Custom PowerVR|
|Screen||12.3-in 2736x1824 IPS||12.9-in 2732x2048 IPS 120 Hz
10.5-in 2224x1668 IPS 120 Hz
12MP Rear + OIS
|Battery||45 Wh||12.9-in: 41 Wh
10.5-in: 30.4 Wh
|Dimensions||11.50-in x 7.93-in x 0.33-in||12.9-in: 12.04-in x 8.69-in x 0.27-in
10.5-in: 9.87-in x 6.85-in x 0.24-in
|OS||Windows 10||iOS 10|
|Price||$999 - Amazon.com||12.9-in: $899
10.5-in: $749 - Amazon.com
Introduction and Technical Specifications
Courtesy of ASUS
With the latest revision of the TUF line, ASUS made the decision to drop the well-known "Sabertooth" moniker from the board's name, naming the board with the TUF branding only. The TUF Z270 Mark 1 motherboard is the flagship board in ASUS' TUF (The Ultimate Force) product line designed with the Intel Z270 chipset. The board offers support for the latest Intel Kaby Lake processor line as well as Dual Channel DDR 4 memory because of its integrated Intel Z270 chipset. While the MSRP for the board may be a bit higher than expected, its $239 price is more than justified by the board's build quality and "armored" offerings.
Courtesy of ASUS
Courtesy of ASUS
Courtesy of ASUS
Courtesy of ASUS
The TUF Z270 Mark 1 motherboard is built with the same quality and attention to detail that you've come to expect from TUF-branded motherboards. Its appearance follows the standard tan plastic armor overlay on the top with a 10-phase digital power system. ASUS also chose to include the armored backplate with the TUF Z270 Mark 1 motherboard, dubbed the "TUF Fortifier". The board contains the following integrated features: six SATA 3 ports; two M.2 PCIe x4 capable ports; dual GigE controllers - an Intel I219-V Gigabit NIC and an Intel I211 Gigabit NIC; three PCI-Express x16 slots; three PCI-Express x1 slots; an 8-channel audio subsystem; MEM OK! and USB BIOS Flashback buttons; integrated DisplayPort and HDMI; and USB 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1 Type-A and Type-C port support.
Subject: Processors | July 14, 2017 - 06:06 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: Intel, i7-7700k, i7-7800x, kaby lake, skylake-x
There is a $50 difference in price between these two chips, $390 versus $340, which will be within the price range of many of enthusiasts. The i7-7700K's cores run at a higher frequency but there are only four whereas the i7-7800X has a half dozen. The memory configuration is also a factor, with the Skylake chip offering quad channel memory while the Kaby Lake only offers dual channel. The size of the cache may not have a huge impact on gaming performance but you need to consider the number of PCIe lanes; is 16 sufficient or will you need 28?
"Although we consider the Ryzen 5 1600 to be the sweet spot for building a new high-end gaming rig, many of you interested in going Intel want to know whether it makes more sense to buy the Core i7-7700K or the new 7800X?"
Here are some more Processor articles from around the web:
- Intel Core i9-7900X X-Series 10-Core @ eTeknix
- Intel Core i7-7740X ‘Kaby Lake-X’ @ Kitguru
- Intel Core i7-7740X Skylake-X @ eTeknix
- NVIDIA vs. Radeon Vulkan & OpenGL Performance With A Celeron, Pentium & Core i7 @ Phoronix
Subject: Processors | July 10, 2017 - 11:11 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: value, rumor, report, processor, pentium, kaby lake, Intel, G4560, cpu, budget
Update 07/11/17: We have now heard from Intel on this subject, and they provided this statement regarding the availability of the Pentium G4560 processor:
"We continue to offer the Intel Pentium SKU referenced. What you have observed on websites are possibly part of a normal demand fluctuation."
(The original post follows.)
Image credit: ComputerBase via DigiWorthy
Sound far-fetched? It seems at least plausible that Intel might consider some sort of CPU-related moves to maintain profit margins with Ryzen providing some very real competition after several years of Intel dominance. The popularity of the 2-core/4-thread Pentium G4560 - a (theoretically) ~$60 Kaby Lake part that provides a very nearly Core i3-level experience (some features are missing) is not at all surprising, and the current lack of availability and subsequently higher pricing (lowest in-stock price at around $80 at time of publication) suggests that something is up with this CPU.
Chart via PCPartPicker
A low of $78.89 for the CPU with an MSRP of $64 is about a $15 markup, but this price is just going to increase if no fresh stock hits the market as these sell out.
Now some editorial: Why would Intel introduce what is essentially a slightly hobbled Core i3 into the market at half the cost of their cheapest Core i3 to begin with? I enthusiastically endorsed this seemingly questionable business decision (along with all of the buyers of this often out-of-stock CPU) when it first hit the market a few months ago, and now - if rumors are to be believed - the company might just be killing it off. This would be a move reminiscent of Nintendo's recent NES Classic, which was apparently too popular for its $59.99 price tag (and scalpers worldwide rejoiced). Nintendo, of course, killed the NES Classic when it was at its height of popularity, perhaps as it was just not profitable enough to justify continued production? (And besides, a soon-to-be-$300-on-eBay SNES Classic was in the works.)
Might the Pentium G4560 be Intel's NES Classic? It seems a little too likely for comfort.
Subject: Processors | June 26, 2017 - 08:53 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: xeon, Skylake, processor, pentium, microcode, kaby lake, Intel, errata, cpu, Core, 7th generation, 6th generation
A microcode bug affecting Intel Skylake and Kaby Lake processors with Hyper-Threading has been discovered by Debian developers (who describe it as "broken hyper-threading"), a month after this issue was detailed by Intel in errata updates back in May. The bug can cause the system to behave 'unpredictably' in certain situations.
"Under complex micro-architectural conditions, short loops of less than 64 instructions that use AH, BH, CH or DH registers as well as their corresponding wider register (eg RAX, EAX or AX for AH) may cause unpredictable system behaviour. This can only happen when both logical processors on the same physical processor are active."
Until motherboard vendors begin to address the bug with BIOS updates the only way to prevent the possibility of this microcode error is to disable HyperThreading. From the report at The Register (source):
"The Debian advisory says affected users need to disable hyper-threading 'immediately' in their BIOS or UEFI settings, because the processors can 'dangerously misbehave when hyper-threading is enabled.' Symptoms can include 'application and system misbehaviour, data corruption, and data loss'."
The affected models are 6th and 7th-gen Intel processors with HyperThreading, which include Core CPUs as well as some Pentiums, and Xeon v5 and v6 processors.
Editor’s Note: After our review of the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, Dell contacted us about our performance results. They found our numbers were significantly lower than their own internal benchmarks. They offered to send us a replacement notebook to test, and we have done so. After spending some time with the new unit we have seen much higher results, more in line with Dell’s performance claims. We haven’t been able to find any differences between our initial sample and the new notebook, and our old sample has been sent back to Dell for further analysis. Due to these changes, the performance results and conclusion of this review have been edited to reflect the higher performance results.
It's difficult to believe that it's only been a little over 2 years since we got our hands on the revised Dell XPS 13. Placing an emphasis on minimalistic design, large displays in small chassis, and high-quality construction, the Dell XPS 13 seems to have influenced the "thin and light" market in some noticeable ways.
Aiming their sights at a slightly different corner of the market, this year Dell unveiled the XPS 13 2-in-1, a convertible tablet with a 360-degree hinge. However, instead of just putting a new hinge on the existing XPS 13, Dell has designed the all-new XPS 13 2-in-1 from the ground up to be even more "thin and light" than it's older sibling, which has meant some substantial design changes.
Since we are a PC hardware-focused site, let's take a look under the hood to get an idea of what exactly we are talking about with the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1.
|Dell XPS 13 2-in-1|
|Screen||13.3” FHD (1920 x 1080) InfinityEdge touch display|
|CPU||Core i5-7Y54||Core i7-7Y75|
|GPU||Intel HD Graphics 615|
|Storage||128GB SATA||256GB PCIe|
|Network||Intel 8265 802.11ac MIMO (2.4 GHz, 5.0 GHz)
1 x Thunderbolt 3
|Connectivity||USB 3.0 Type-C
USB 3.0 x 2 (MateDock)
|Audio||Dual Array Digital Microphone
Stereo Speakers (1W x 2)
|Weight||2.7 lbs ( 1.24 kg)|
|Dimensions||11.98-in x 7.81-in x 0.32-0.54-in
(304mm x 199mm x 8 -13.7 mm)
|Operating System||Windows 10 Home / Pro (+$50)|
One of the more striking design decisions from a hardware perspective is the decision to go with the low power Core i5-7Y54 processor, or as you may be familar with from it's older naming scheme, Core M. In the Kaby Lake generation, Intel has decided to drop the Core M branding (though oddly Core m3 still exists) and integrate these lower power parts into the regular Core branding scheme.
Subject: General Tech | June 7, 2017 - 02:35 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: msi, SFF, barebones, nuc, kaby lake, Intel, Optane, computex
MSI recently introduced a new member of its Cubi small form factor barebones PC lineup. The Cubi 3 is a fanless PC that is build around Intel’s Kaby Lake-U processors and will arrive sometime this fall.
The Cubi 3 is a bit larger than its predecessors, but with the larger enclosure MSI was able to achieve a fanless design for up to (U series) Core i7 processors. The SFF PC sports a brushed aluminum case that shows off the top of the CPU heatsink through vents that run around the top edge of the case. There are two flat antennas for Wi-Fi and Bluetooh integrated into the left and right sides of the case.
FanlessTech reports that the MSI Cubi 3 will sport 15W Kaby Lake-U processors from low end Celerons up to Core i7 models. These parts are dual core parts with HyperThreading (2c/4t) with 3 MB or 4 MB of L3 cache and either HD (615 or 620) or Iris Plus (640 or 650) integrated graphics. The processor is paired with two DDR4 SO-DIMM slots for up to 32 GB of 2133 MHz memory, an M.2 2280 SSD (there is even Intel Optane support), and a single 2.5” drive.
The Cubi 3 has an audio jack and two USB 3.0 ports up front, and what appears to be two USB 2.0 ports on the left side. Rear I/O includes one HDMI, one DisplayPort, two more USB 3.0, two Gigabit Ethernet, two COM ports, and one power jack for the 65W AC power adapter.
There is no word on pricing yet, but it is slated to begin production in August with availability this fall.
It is always nice to see more competition in this niche fanless SFF space, and the little box would not look out of place on a desk or even in the living room. What are your thoughts?
Subject: Mobile | June 5, 2017 - 03:58 PM | Ken Addison
Tagged: wwdc, radeon pro 560, radeon pro 550, radeon pro, macbook pro, MacBook Air, macbook, kaby lake, iris plus6540, iris plus 650, i7-7700hq, i5-7360U, i5-7267u, apple
Alongside other updates, Apple at its World Wide Developers Conference this morning announced some modest updates to the MacBook line of notebooks.
Starting with the MacBook Pro, we see an across the board upgrade to Kaby Lake processors. As we saw on the desktop side with Kaby Lake, there aren't radical differences with these new processor, however we do see a 200MHz bump across the line on clock speeds. Essentially these are the same relative chips in Intel's Kaby Lake processor lineup as Apple used in the Skylake generation.
|MacBook Pro 13" with Function Keys||MacBook Pro 13" with Touch Bar||MacBook Pro 15" with Touch Bar|
|Screen||13.3" 2560x1600 with DCI-P3 Color Gamut, 500-nits||13.3" 2560x1600 with DCI-P3 Color Gamut, 500-nits||15.4" 2880x1800 with DCI-P3 Color Gamut, 500-nits|
|CPU||Core i5-7360U (2.3GHz up to 3.6GHz)||Core i5-7267U (3.1GHz up to 3.5GHz)||Core i7-7700HQ (2.8GHz up to 3.8GHz)|
|GPU||Intel Iris Plus 640||Intel Iris Plus 650||
AMD Radeon Pro 555 (2GB)
AMD Radeon Pro 560 (4GB)
|RAM||8 or 16 GB DDR3-1866 (non-upgradeable)||8 or 16 GB DDR3-2133 (non-upgradeable)||16 GB DDR3-2133 (non-upgradeable)|
|Storage||128, 256, 512, or 1TB NVMe SSD (non-upgradable)||256, 512, or 1TB NVMe SSD (non-upgradable)||256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB NVMe SSD (non-upgradable)|
|Connectivity||2 x Thunderbolt 3, headphone jack||4 x Thunderbolt 3, headphone jack||4 x Thunderbolt 3, headphone jack|
Disappointingly, we do not see the rumored expandability to 32GB of RAM that many power users have been asking for.
Additionally, graphics are generationally upgraded to Intel's Iris Plus 640 and 650 on the 13" models with and without the touch bar respectively.
The 15" MacBook Pro models see refreshed Polaris GPUs in the form of the Radeon Pro 555 and 560. It's worth nothing that the old entry level 15" MacBook Pro previously had the Radeon Pro 450 GPU, so the base configuration is now a more capable GPU even after you take away the expected improvements to the improved Polaris architecture seen in the RX 580.
In addition, the MacBook saw an upgrade to Kaby Lake processors. Apple also claimed that the onboard SSDs in this machine have seen a speed bump, but provided no real data on such claims.
Finally, the stalwart MacBook Air sees a processor speed bump. We aren't sure exactly what processor is in the new Air, but it seems to only have a 100MHz speed increase. Interestingly enough it still retains HD graphics 6000branding, which would lead us to believe this is still a Broadwell -based mobile processor.
These updated models are now available from Apple.