ECS LIVA Z Plus Intel Kaby Lake Mini PC Review
Internals, Performance, and Conclusion
After removing the bottom of the LIVA Z Plus with four screws (and some gentle prying) we are presented with the same type of system board seen on the entry-level LIVA Z, and this system is pre-configured with a 128GB M.2 SSD and a single 4GB SODIMM (with another slot free).
Removal of the motherboard reveals a big difference from the previously reviewed LIVA Z:
The heatsink assembly resembles that of a notebook computer, with the fan on the inside of the lid positioned to provide airflow with the system assembled.
It is a very low-profile solution dictated by the space limitations of this slim form-factor, but one question must be asked: how loud is it? Subjectively, the fan was mostly inaudible over normal room noise, and even when pushed to the limit this was still a quiet system - though audible. The sound profile is what you would expect from a fairly quiet laptop, with the fan apparently tuned for lower noise. While other LIVA machines are passively cooled, this active solution makes sense here, and is well implemented. Thermals will always play a role in sustained clock speeds, of course, and a 2-core/4-thread part seems like a good fit for a small chassis such as a mini-PC with active cooling - but those seeking a totally silent mini-PC experience must of course look elsewhere.
First we have results from the latest version of Geekbench, and for comparison I ran tests on the non-Plus variant of the LIVA Z, as well as the older LIVA X2. The results from the Core i7-powered NUC6i7KY are provided as a reference point, as it is the most powerful mini-PC we have tested to date.
Naturally the NUC would be on top in most tests, but here single-threaded performance is pretty close from the 7th-generation Core i5 CPU in the LIVA Z Plus, and multi-threaded performance is greater than 50% of the NUC's 4-core/8-thread Core i7-6700HQ.
Cinebench offers similar results, with the LIVA Z Plus at around half of the total performance in multi-core, though the NUC still has an edge with single-threaded performance. The difference between the two LIVA Z computers is staggering, with the standard (entry-level) Z and its low-power Celeron CPU no match for a 15W Core i5-7300U.
Looking at the PCMark 8 conventional (non-GPU accelerated) test results the LIVA Z Plus narrows the gap considerably against the mighty Core i7 NUC, and demonstrates that it is a very capable home and work desktop option. This result corresponds to the daily usage experience with the LIVA Z Plus, as it felt far more like a standard desktop than a mini-PC.
What about temperatures? To see what sort of thermal limits a very small active cooling system like this would place on the i5-7300U processor I ran the x264 benchmark while monitoring clock speeds and temperatures (ambient 25.1 °C):
While capable of turbo speeds of up to 3.50 GHz, a sustained speed of ~3.15 GHz during the x264 test is still excellent, and this is with a high temp of 82 °C on the hottest core (delta 56.9 °C).
Since a 128 GB SSD was included with the LIVA Z Plus I did run a quick speed test, though the results are what you would expect within the limitations of the SATA interface:
This is not going to set any records, but still more than adequate for a responsive OS and application experience, and noticeably faster than eMMC storage.
The LIVA Z Plus is a well designed a fully capable mini-PC that is able to completely replace a desktop in many usage scenarios. The capability of memory and storage expansion is a strength of the current LIVA Z design, and the only shortcoming of the entry-level unit we tested previously - CPU horsepower - is more than made up for here. The onboard Intel Core i5-7300U processor makes this LIVA Z Plus every bit as capable as the typical high-end laptop, and when paired with a quality display this LIVA Z Plus would make a first-rate computer for anyone who doesn't need a dedicated graphics card. Storage will be a limitation with one M.2 SSD slot and no room for 2.5-inch drives, but such is the result of making a chassis this small. The LIVA Z Plus is similar in size to a current slim Intel NUC, and based on the outstanding performance I enjoyed with the LIVA I will be very interested to see where ECS prices this, as it is yet to be available here in the USA.
The LIVA Z Plus is a fine system with robust performance and very good design inside and out, but without final pricing and availability I award it based only on its merit as hardware alone, and cannot speak for its relative value.
Update, 08/27/17: ECS has provided the MSRP for this LIVA Z Plus, which is $489. At this price it presents an excellent value compared to Intel NUC solutions with similar 7th-generation Core i5 processors, as the LIVA Z Plus provides a ready-to-use PC out of the box.