Introduction and Setup Impressions

Nettops and netbooks, as a class of products, have been on the decline over the last few years. The most significant issue with the nettops was obviously the anaemic CPU performance. As consumers realized that they could get much better performance per watt from other platforms, the shift to tablets well and truly buried the old nettops and netbooks. However, the introduction of SoCs based on the new Silvermont Atom cores has served to address some of these major drawbacks. But, are those enough to revitalize a market that is almost already extinct? ECS, emboldened by the success of the Intel NUC form factor, is all set to find out with their LIVA mini-PC kits.

Readers might recognize ECS as more of a motherboard vendor. The ECS LIVA mini-PC kits are a little bit out of the pure motherboard-play zone. ECS has created a small motherboard (BAT-MINI) for Bay Trail-M parts. Since all of those are BGA, the Intel CPU is soldered on-board. A bunch of other components are included in the kit so that only the OS is necessary to complete the system. The full configuration of the ECS LIVA review unit is provided below.

ECS LIVA mini-PC Specifications
Processor Intel Celeron N2806
(2C/2T x 1.60 GHz (2.00 GHz Turbo), 22nm, 1MB L2, 4.5W)
Memory 2GB DDR3L-1066
Graphics Intel HD Graphics
313 MHz / 756 MHz (Turbo)
Storage 32 GB eMMC
Networking 1 x Gigabit Ethernet, 2x2 802.11n Wi-Fi
Audio Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (mini-HDMI / mini-DP 1.2), 3.5mm Audio Jack
Operating System

Windows 8.1 (Retail unit comes barebones)

Pricing $180
Full Specifications ECS LIVA Specifications

Even though the retail unit is sold barebones, our unit came with a copy of Windows 8.1 Professional. Some of the above internal components didn't come pre-installed in our review unit package.

  • ECS BAT-MINI Motherboard with Intel Celeron N2806
  • WiFi / Bluetooth Combo Card with antennae
  • AC Power Adapter (5V @ 3A DC)
  • LIVA Case
  • Manual & Driver DVD

Assembling the unit was quite easy, with just the matter of sticking the antennae to the chassis, mounting the Wi-Fi card in the M.2 slot, ensuring proper orientation of the board inside the chassis and snapping in the top. Our initial review sample had a small issue with the power button in the chassis. It was resolved by leaving a small gap between the top and the bottom sides of the chassis in order to align the switch the power button on the motherboard. However, ECS immediately came out with a replacement that didn't exhibit the issue and that resulted in a clean build. In any case, the issue seemed to be a one-off, as other reviews on Amazon and Newegg don't seem to indicate anything similar.

The chassis on the left had an issue with the power button's alignment, while the replacement on the right resolved that issue

In the rest of this review, we will first analyze the Bay Trail-M platform in detail and take a look at how ECS has managed to utilize it in the LIVA. We will follow this up with a benchmark section (which includes wireless and storage system evaluation numbers). The passive nature and size of the unit make it an ideal HTPC candidate, and we will take a look at how it fares in HTPC scenarios. Before the concluding section, we discuss the power consumption numbers and thermal performance. However, prior to all that, we have a table presenting the details of various systems that are compared against the ECS LIVA in this review.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect ECS LIVA
CPU Intel Celeron N2806 Intel Core i7-4770R
GPU Intel HD Graphics Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200
RAM SKHynix H5TC4G63AFR 4Gb x16 DDR3L
11-11-11-20 @ 1067 MHz
4 x 4Gb (2 GB)
Corsair Vengeance CMSX8GX3M2B1866C10
10-10-10-32 @ 1866 MHz
2x4 GB
Storage SanDisk eMMC SEM32G
(32 GB, eMMC 4.41-compatible)
Samsung SSD 840 EVO
(120 GB, 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s, 19nm, TLC)
Wi-Fi AzureWave AW-NB136NF (Broadcom BCM43143) 802.11n + BT 4.0 M.2 Adapter
(2x2 802.11n - 300 Mbps)
Realtek 8821AE Wireless LAN 802.11ac
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $180 $829

Note that this is only relevant to the networking and storage subsystem evaluation. For performance metrics, it doesn't make sense to look at the CPU and GPU credentials of the LIVA against devices in a much higher price class (We are trying to get in more Bay Trail systems for review, but currently don't have any in the $180 price range). Therefore, only the raw performance numbers will be presented. If readers are still interested in the comparison, reference can be made to our most recent mini-PC review for the corresponding numbers of others systems.

Platform Analysis
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  • rheinlds - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    It would be good on ECS's part to integrate a Bay Trail-M part with Quick Sync enabled in the LIVA kits. 32 GB of eMMC turns out to be very less after installing a couple of Windows updates. 64 GB should be the minimum, particularly since flash storage needs plenty of free capacity in order to maintain performance.

    In the Section above "...32 GB of eMMC turns out to be very less after installing a couple of Windows Updates..." Something seems to be missing from this sentence.
    Reply
  • ddriver - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    And 4 gigs of ram. With the price of ram being so low, it should be considered a crime to cripple x86 machines by installing only 2 gigs of ram. Reply
  • phoenix_rizzen - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    It depends what you want to use them for.

    As an HTPC, more than 2 GB of RAM is really a waste, as you'll never use even that much (unless something goes horribly wrong with the running apps).

    I have 3 homebuilt HTPCs at home (Athlon-XP w/1.5 GB of RAM running Windows XP; Athlon II X3 w/4 GB of RAM running Windows 7; Core2Duo w/2 GB of RAM running Windows 7) all running Google Chrome for Netflix and Plex Web. None of them even come close to using all the RAM.

    Sure, if you're going to be doing a bunch of other tasks, then having more than 2 GB would be necessary. But as a pure HTPC, it's not required.
    Reply
  • leexgx - Saturday, July 19, 2014 - link

    2GB should be enough for windows 8 but could eat quite easily windows alone uses 1GB at least (i do not bother with any thing less then 4GB (even if the system is 32bit 3.25-3.5GB is usable as i seen some systems sitting at 2GB of ram and up to 3GB just checking for updates if office is installed)

    and 32GB for windows 8 is pushing it as well
    Reply
  • johnny_boy - Sunday, July 20, 2014 - link

    Depends, of course, on use case. I have an undervolted A10-5800K in my HTPC which I also use for gaming and dedicate 1gb ram for iGPU use. I also prefer to leave all the apps I use open so I don't haveto keep resstarting them. That doesn't leave much ram left, and I am running a relatively lean linux distro. Reply
  • DanNeely - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    The bigger problem is just that eMMC is slow. I've got a last generation atom tablet/laptop hybrid with eMMC flash. It's tolerably fast 98% of the time, the other 2% something is thrashing the IO system and the flash is showing 100% load in task manager and ~4MB/sec throughput. Reply
  • kyuu - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    Is your eMMC filled up? Just like with SSDs, you really have to keep a certain amount of it free in order to prevent speed degredation. In eMMC's case, the consequences will be more severe since it isn't nearly as fast as a proper SSD to begin with.

    Nowadays, eMMC is really pretty decently fast. Beats the hell out of an HDD. The main issue is that companies continue to insist on including so little of it, despite it being cheap as dirt.
    Reply
  • jospoortvliet - Sunday, July 20, 2014 - link

    As a media center pc, you would be an idiot to want to incur the performance and especially maintenance overhead of Windows... Download an xbmc Linux and be done. Memory and disk pace won't be an issue and an end user won't see any difference - yet no costs and no work keeping Windows safe and running. Right tool for the right job, people... Reply
  • djfourmoney - Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - link

    XBMC -

    Tuner support is very limited to networked tuners and cable cards. I have DirecTV, none of the capture devices available work with Linux, especially in HD.

    XBMC also has constant problems with the YouTube add-on. It's hardly updated and with Google often changing something in the code with YouTube, things like log-in gets botched up in XBMC. Last time I logged out believing it was another issue but the truth was a connection issue, U-Verse had gone down.

    But I tried to log back in and I have yet to do the .py correction to allow log-in again. This would never be an issue with Smart TV's or Smart devices, they are updated and always work.

    Windows has always been safe, don't visit silly sites and don't open email you don't know, pretty simple, not that you would be opening email on your HTPC????

    I have a Llano based HTPC (upgraded from Athlon XP, Black Edition OC). Was able to remove the HD4670 (put in my mom's machine), cut down power usages quite a bit, Sliverlight Full Screen isn't an issue, maybe 20% CPU usage. Otherwise it's nearly idle on anything else. No driver issues which seems to always impact the performance of AMD hardware on Linux.

    Finally there hasn't been a DVR program more solid or more reliable than Windows Media Center. The cost of adding it to Windows 8 is negligible and I also have 1GB dedicated to the GPU side of the APU, runs GRID and GRID 2 without issue, everything turned up (GPU slightly OC), but I play games on my PS3 not the PC but for some emulation.

    Reply
  • HUBEMX - Sunday, July 20, 2014 - link

    Anandtech: You should try OPENELEC! Reply

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