ECS (Elitegroup Computer Systems) are no stranger to the PC hardware game despite not being instantly recognisable by most as a PC hardware vendor. In fact, they are the fifth largest motherboard manufacturer in the world, producing hardware for some of the biggest PC brands such as Acer, Zoostorm, IBM and Compaq, and have been around since 1987. Although their bread and butter has been motherboards for years, they have occasionally deviated from this, releasing everything from graphics cards to SOC (System on a Chip) computers. Speaking of which, today’s review is all about their latest SOC offering; the ECS Liva Mini-PC!
The mini PC/net-top market that followed the brief fad of netbooks never really seemed to take off – by the time everyone had realised that netbooks were generally awkward to use and fairly underpowered the tablet market had began to take off, with manufacturers realising that netbooks wouldn’t survive the test of time. Interestingly, the net-top has had a recent resurgence of interest in recent times, with Android based net-tops offering low-cost media centres to Windows and Linux-based net-tops promising business users a cheap office worthy PC that uses a fraction of the power. ECS has come out swinging here, taking aim straight at the budget net-top market, providing the user with everything (with the exception of OS) needed to turn this little box of tricks into whatever PC they require, while undercutting rival offerings which often need extra components such as RAM or SSD’s first to function.
- Name: ECS-Liva Mini-PC White Edition
- CPU: Intel Celeron N2807 (2C/2T x 1.60 GHz (2.17 GHz Turbo), 22nm, 1MB L2, 4.3W)
- RAM: 2GB 1600MHz DDR3 1.35w (8GB*4)
- SSD: eMMC 64GB
- GPU:Intel Integrated Graphics
- LAN:10/100/1000/Gigabits Base T
- WLAN: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Built-in Bluetooth™ V4.0
- I/O: 1x USB3.0, 1x USB 2.0 , 1x HDMI, 1x VGA, Headphone-out, 1x 1Gb LAN
- OS: Supplied Barebones, Windows 8.1 used in this review
- Dimensions: 118 x 70 x 56 (mm)
- Weight: ~190g
- Warranty: 1 Year
- Price: $185
The box describes the product as a “build your own PC.” All of the components are well packaged and protected and the motherboard was shielded by an anti-static bag.
Contents (from back to front, left to right) Quick-Start Guide, User Guide, Wifi Antennae, USA/EU Micro USB 2000ma AC Adapter, Top Casing, Bluetooth/Wifi Card, Motherboard, Bottom Casing.
A Closer Look
The front of the motherboard has the headphone jack (centre) and power button (left). Worth noting is that this jack does in fact support microphones too, similar to cellphones and tablets.
On the left, you’ll find the BIOS battery power on fly leads can be seen under the motherboard, also note heatsink screw.
On the right, a VGA port, the second heatsink screw in the middle and power button on the right.
Around the back, a Micro USB (For AC power input), Gigabit LAN, 1 x USB 2.0, 1 x USB 3.0, HDMI, VGA.
On the top, Bluetooth and Wifi M.2 card on the right.
Finally, on the bottom, the BIOS battery on fly lead, M.2 port for the Wi-Fi card can be seen on the right.
The case is very well ventilated, with every side having a selection of cut vents which is nice to see when you consider the system is completely passively cooled. It is broken into two halves, the top being the main part of the case with the power switch and I/O port holes and the bottom half containing the base of the case with 4 small legs moulded onto it. With the motherboard clipping into the top half with no screws required and the bottom plastics clipping into the top tool free too, it can be built in under 5 minutes with the assistance of the quick start manual.
Peel the sticky backs from the Wi-Fi antennae and place in the position; as shown above.
Place in and clip the motherboard into place. It’s Worth noting is the antennae are then attached to the WiFi / Bluetooth Card on the motherboard – straightforward in principle, but can take a bit of careful fiddling should you have sausage fingers like myself.
Clip the bottom on and good to go! Here’s the finished product from the front.
Finally, the left. As you can see plenty of ventilation for this completely silent unit.
The right is pretty much exactly the same as the left, lots of ventilation.
The back looks very neat and tidy, with all ports clearly labelled.
A strange thing to immediately note with the Liva is the aesthetics. It comes in black and white options, the black version is the 32GB eMMC version, marginally slower N2806 CPU and DDR3 operating at 1066, whereas the white is the 64GB model with the slightly better specifications as listed earlier. I found that the black version seemed to be vastly better looking than the white – for no other reason than the colour. I think it was due to the black version would sit happily under my TV blending in nicely with the rest of my AV equipment, though the white version looks a bit like a misplaced smoke detector, though in an office environment I’m sure it would be fine, each to their own I guess.
Size wise, the Liva sits at a very competitive form factor to its closest competition. Here we can see the Liva side-by-side with a Gigabyte Brix
To test each system or notebook, we want to stress every component to check stability and performance, giving us an idea as to why those particular components were picked for this particular system or notebook. We use a wide variety of software applications to gain the broadest spectrum of results for comparing multiple aspects of performance
- Acoustic dBA meter
- AC “Killawatt” power meter
- 3DMark 11
- AIDA64 Engineer
- Cinebench R11.5
- Cinebench R15
- Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0
- PCMark 8
- Super PI
System Performance – PCMark 8
The PCMark 8 Home benchmark includes workloads that reflect common tasks for a typical home user. These workloads have low computational requirements making PCMark 8 Home suitable for testing the performance of low-cost tablets, notebooks and desktops. Home includes workloads for web browsing, writing, gaming, photo editing, and video chat. The results are combined to give a PCMark 8 Home score for your system. Download here.
CPU Performance – Cinebench and SuperPi
Cinebench R11.5 and R15
Cinebench is a widely respected benchmark for testing the performance of x86 CPUs. The program allows you to test single and multi-threaded performance as well as GPU performance by rendering with Open GL. Download here.
Super PI is a single threaded benchmark that calculates pi to a specific number of digits. Super PI is a single threaded benchmark ideal for testing pure, single threaded x87 floating point performance and while most of the computing market has shifted towards multithreaded applications and more modern instruction sets, Super PI still remains quite indicative of CPU capability in specific applications such as computer gaming. Download here.
SSD, HDD and USB 3.0 Performance
CrystalDiskMark is a portable storage drive benchmark utility that enables you to measure sequential and random read/write speeds on different block size data. CrystalDiskMark will work with any storage drives including hard drives, SSDs and USB flash drives. Download here.
Passmark Performance Test 8.0
The PassMark Advanced Network Test (which is part of PerformanceTest) is designed to test the data transfer rate between two computers both of which must be running PerformanceTest. One of the computers must act as the server and will sit waiting for a connection. The other computer acts as a client. It connects to the server machine and sends data to it for the duration of the test. You can download a trial version of PerformanceTest fromhere.
For this test we use the ASUS RT-AC68U wireless AC gigabit router and pump data from the test system or notebook through the ASUS router into our Intel Gigabit enabled test system. We connect to the ASUS router with a Cat6 cable when testing ethernet and wirelessly when testing WiFi performance.
Noise, Power Consumption and Temperatures
Due to the system being completely passively cooled, there was literally no audible indication that the system was running. There was absolutely nothing to detect louder than the ambience of a silent room, which was a great thing to behold.
To test power consumption we measure the total system power draw during idle and load scenarios. For idle we allow the system to sit at the Windows desktop, for load we let Unigine Heaven 4.0 and Prime95 to loop together – we take the power measurements from the “Killawatt” AC power meter 5 minutes into both of these scenarios at the same point.
To test thermal performance we measure average CPU and GPU core temperatures during idle and load scenarios. For idle we allow the system to sit at the Windows desktop, for load we let Unigine Heaven 4.0 and Prime95 to loop together – we take the temperature measurements from within CPUID HWMonitor 5 minutes into both of these scenarios at the same point. For load we take the average of the maximum temperatures, for idle we take the average of the minimum temperatures.
With the 32GB black version retailing for $165 and the white at $185 you certainly do get good value for money. Stock is a little tricky in the UK, but there are some resellers with prices around £200. I would wholeheartedly recommend spending the extra for double the storage and the minor CPU upgrade, especially when the price difference is so small. Considering there is everything here to just install the OS and begin using without having to buy extras such as RAM or an SSD helps keep costs of getting it up and running to a minimum. I see this as sitting in the market alongside NUCs and Brixs as a viable alternative that is at a lower price point but can still compete in terms of performance versus cost.
When it comes to using the Liva as a workstation there are a couple of things to note. The unit itself does not come with an OS pre-installed (so if you’re planning on using Windows that could be an extra cost to consider), and that due to UEFI restrictions it is not possible to install Windows 7 or earlier iterations. This may be problematic to those with a disdain of the Marmite that is Windows 8.1, but with Windows 10 round the corner this may be less of an issue. With Microsoft making versions of Windows free for low-cost systems, this is possibly something ECS could look into in providing the customer with a subsidised OS so they can hit the ground running.
It sounds obvious, but be sure to go to the ECS website and get the latest drivers as Windows does a pretty poor job of drivers outside of the generic LAN ones. I find in general drivers on supplied discs tend to be outdated, and a few of the ones supplied on disc here were in fact outdated, hence the mention. I also found turning off Windows Defender real-time scanning helped return some of the valuable resources to the system. Power consumption sits at just under 6w when performing a task such as playing YouTube videos and even at 100% load we didn’t manage to topple it over the 12w draw point. This represents a huge potential power savings for replacing an office full of desktop PC’s with Livas, or even as a home mini-server that you could leave on 24/7 without worrying about a massive hike in your electricity bill. I was staggered by how little power this uses, I do not doubt ECS’s claims that you can easily run this for hours from a USB battery bank.
In the promotional material ECS point out that the Liva can save you money with how little power it consumes, with a diagram of someone putting a coin into their Liva vent like a money-box. Don’t try this at home kids!
The Liva is a likeable little box of tricks with plenty to offer, and with a small amount of tweaking could offer so much more in the face of stiff competition. The addition of a VESA mount base and couple of extra USB ports would instantly put this as a considerable candidate for basic office workstations, with the cost being low enough that they could almost be classed as disposable. Performance is pretty decent all round when doing daily tasks such as email, browsing or working on office docs; the Liva performs solidly as you would expect without too much in terms of slow down. Although there is only 2GB of RAM available as long as you keep the amount of simultaneously open apps to a minimum you shouldn’t experience much lag at all, overall I found it quite a pleasant system to use.
- Insanely low power consumption
- Tiny form factor
- Easy to assemble
- Only 2 USB Ports
- Not VESA mountable
- Not expandable
- No OS
- Fair value for price point – though could easily be tweaked for better value
Thank you ECS for providing us with this information.