ECS LIVA X2 Intel Braswell Mini-PC Review
Storage, Networking, and HTPC Testing
Storage and Networking
The LIVA X2 arrived with 32 GB of onboard eMMC storage, and a version with 64 GB is also available from ECS. Users have the option of installing their own M.2 drive, but as I mentioned this might present a challenge as disassembly of the LIVA's enclosure is a little tricky compared to last year's model. I stuck with the internal drive for all testing, and after completing my Windows install I ran a quick drive benchmark to see what kind of speed users might expect.
While read speeds of 150 MB/s aren't bad, these are sequential numbers and certainly a best-case scenario. I was able to write from the LIVA to an SSD connected via USB 3.0 at exactly 150 MB/s through a large file transfer, indicating that this is indeed the limit of the drive's read performance. As far as writes go, however, the drive was a lackluster performer. I was able to hit just over 40 MB/s, and these speeds will limit overall snappiness when creating and moving files on the OS.
With write speeds limited to ~40 MB/s I didn't see a point in running Gigabit Ethernet performance testing. I will simply say that, unless you install your own SSD via M.2, there would probably be no way to realize the full bandwidth of a wired Gigabit connection on internal storage. Moving to wireless, the X2 includes an 802.11ac adapter from Realtek, where the prior versions were limited to 802.11n.
I ran a simple file transfer from my storage testbench PC, which was connected to my Linksys EA6350 router at 433 Mbps with full signal strength. This first transfer test was performed by writing to the internal eMMC on the LIVA.
I ran the test again, this time writing to a SATA 6.0 Gbps SSD connected via USB 3.0 to ensure that my downlink numbers weren't being limited by the write speed of the eMMC:
Almost identical results here, so eMMC write speed probably won't be an issue here as the Realtek wireless card only connects with a singe 802.11ac channel (1x1). In theory a 433 Mbps downlink could offer just over 50 MB/s, but with overhead this will be lower, and I have yet to see an adapter than can do better than 40 MB/s. The performance here from the LIVA X2 is average, but I will note that it's very position sensitive when it comes to reception. I had to move it around a little to get a consistent connection speed from my router, which was relatively close to the LIVA.
I wanted to spend a little more time on this aspect of the LIVA X2, as the improved graphics performance from the Braswell SoC and faster 802.11ac wireless makes this newest LIVA a more attractive option for the living room than ever. All versions of the LIVA have been passively cooled, and one of the obvious applications of a fanless mini-PC has to be the living room; the X2 even comes with a VESA mount to hide the tiny computer behind your monitor or TV. So how did this new LIVA perform in the living room?
For a test of local content playback I used both a 720p and 1080p rip of the same Blu-ray, using Handbrake to create a "normal" profile .mp4 file at default settings. I didn't need to fall back on the 720p file as I was expecting, as the 1080p file managed to play smoothly. I wouldn't expect the same performance from a full bitrate MKV file, but my ~18 Mbps file looked pretty good and played without any issue via VLC. Granted, this is 24 FPS video coming from a Blu-ray film, and anything at 60 FPS will present much more of a challenge.
Only 1 dropped frame in nearly an hour of 1080p playback
After local playback it was time to test streaming performance, which is going to be completely dependent on how CPU intensive your preferred application/service is. I started with YouTube, with good results up to 1080p video (all with the default HTML5 player). Switching to Netflix, I used the Chrome browser and watched a few episodes of some HD shows for about two hours without any incident. The temps reached a toasty 69 C on the Braswell SoC (68 F ambient), but this was well within spec.
Moving on to the well-known Kodi app (formerly XBMC), I played back video both locally and from a network share. Up to 1080p .mp4 video (~18 Mbps) from the same Blu-ray rip from the local test played without issue. The overall performance of Kodi was impressive to me considering this system is limited to 2 GB of memory, though Windows 8.1 seems to handle RAM a little more efficiently than Windows 7 did.
Finally, I tested out the Sling TV Windows app, and each time I had the same result with the highest quality settings, with noticeable frame drop and audio sync issues that quickly devolved into an unwatchable slideshow after a short time. This was better on the lower settings, but not great. Suspecting that the app was too much for a dual-core Braswell SoC I installed it on the Dell Inspiron laptop (quad-core Bay Trail-M) and was able to stream much more smoothly – but it still suffered from some choppiness and sync problems. Sling seems to be much more demanding than anything else I tested.
Overall I was very impressed with the HTPC performance of the new LIVA X2. Though the Braswell SoC didn't offer a real advantage over the LIVA X in the CPU benchmarks, the video performance from the X2 is improved enough to recommend this new system over the previous model for living room use.