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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  • nathanddrews - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    "if it attempts to bitstream Dolby Digital Plus in non-WASAPI mode"

    I believe that attempting to bitstream anything without WASAPI results in stuttering for XBMC on any platform whether it's Intel, NVIDIA, or AMD...
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    I am talking about XBMC's sound device settings. If it is left at default, XBMC tries to bitstream DD+ and fails. If it is explicitly set to WASAPI mode, then DD+ bitstreaming is successful. I have seen this issue only in the Intel GPUs. NVIDIA and AMD are perfectly OK. Reply
  • nathanddrews - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    Strange, I run XBMC on all three GPUs and am connected via HDMI to HD-audio AVRs and always have to select WASAPI to make stuttering go away when bitstreaming. I'm using XBMC Frodo on Windows 7.

    I only have a couple DD+ tracks from HD-DVDs, but everything else is DD/DTS, PCM, or TrueHD/DTSMA. I'll have to test those out tonight to make sure.
    Reply
  • Anonymous Blowhard - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    "On the temperature side, we see the temperature stabilizing at slightly less than 100 C."

    How hot does the actual casing get? I'm a little concerned by a nettop that could boil water.
    Reply
  • puppies - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    I don't think you have much to worry about, if you don't believe me go and fine a 12 watt kettle and boil some water. See you in a month. Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    I wouldn't be too concerned, as the 100C is for the CPU core. There is plenty of air gap between the chassis top and the heat sink itself. The chassis is plastic, doesn't get too hot at all. Heat dissipation from the heat sink is via perforations on top of the chassis lid.

    Most importantly, the 100C was reached during a 'power virus' test designed to stress the system with conditions that are rarely, if ever, reached during normal usage.
    Reply
  • Lyrick_ - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    What's the chance of you guys introducing a Steam Streaming Bench on HTPC like configurations? Reply
  • FoolOnTheHill - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    A Steam streamer is the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw this. I'd love to see this reviewed somewhere (preferably here). I have a decent gaming PC that is in a completely separate room from my HDTV, and I'd love to have a cheap way to do Steam game streaming. Would this be able to handle 1080p streaming? Reply
  • daddacool - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    I tried a Giga-byte BRIX with a Baytrail Celeron N2807 for a Steam streamer with mixed result. I'm on a gigabit LAN and the host machine is an i7 3770K with a GTX 770 OC. Tomb Raider was practically unplayable at 1080P.

    I also have a BRIX with a Core i3-3227U in it and that's much better- it will drop a few frames at 1080P but it super smooth at 720P.
    Reply
  • djfourmoney - Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - link

    Should have gotten the AMD 5545m Brix, runs GREAT on Stream. Intel Graphics are improved but still Intel Graphics and at least a generation behind ATI/AMD. Reply

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