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

    I'm guessing that if my Pentium T4400 laptop can do it, then this thing can as well, but that would be a great test now that Streaming is out of beta. Reply
  • rocktober13 - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    I was looking for something like this too. I ended up going with an Amazon Fire TV, and sideloaded limelight. It seems to be able to handle 1080p streaming, but I haven't tested it extensively. I just got it up and running. I would say it's a pretty nice solution at only $100. It does require an Nvidia card though. Oh, and you can side load XBMC for a complete HTPC replacement. Reply
  • djfourmoney - Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - link

    Fire TV is the best set-top media streamer available ATM. For what I do with a HTPC, I had considered switching to a DirecTV HD-DVR (Tivo maybe) and a FireTV for all the streaming stuff.

    The FireTV can handle YouTube, but no support for Hulu Free, just Hulu Plus (boo!). Guess I could watch Hulu free via XMBC like you said side-loaded onto it.

    I'm just not fond of switching inputs. But I do it manually not by remote, so maybe if I solved that issue, it would just leave Hulu.

    I could then retire the P4 WHS 2011 and use the use the Llano as the server use less power and the case can hold four drives, adding 6TB would solve all my storage issues at once, in-fact just adding one more 3TB drive will do that.

    We'll see... But I like the Liva for maybe a micro server? With Windows Server unfortunately you would have to put it on a larger drive first and then shrink it down.

    Reply
  • owan - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    Can the slot occupied by the wifi module be repurposed for an SSD if the storage is insufficient? Obviously you lose wifi, but a USB based wifi would be an easy fix. Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    No, I had the same question for ECS initially, but the answer is that the M.2 slot can be used only for the appropriate Wi-Fi cards Reply
  • Samus - Saturday, July 19, 2014 - link

    That's so stupid. Is there a BIOS blacklist or something? Reply
  • speculatrix - Saturday, July 19, 2014 - link

    I think it's just that miniPCIe can be wired in different ways, for usb, sata and pcie-like, so quite possibly this board simply isn't wired for mSATA? Reply
  • Aikouka - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    When I saw that the unit had a M.2 slot, I had hopes that it could be replaced with a M.2-based SSD. Unfortunately, based on some Google searching, that Wi-Fi/BT card is a 1630 M.2 card ( http://www.embeddedworks.net/wlan515.html ), which means it's 30mm long. The smallest M.2 SSD that I can find is a xx42, which is 42mm long. =( 32GB would be really pushing it for PLEX, which stores its metadata (images) locally. Although, I think you can change settings to reduce it, but my HTPCs definitely use more than 32GB of their SSDs. Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    Two ideas here:

    1. Add a USB thumb drive 'permanently'

    2. If you have a NAS, create a iSCSI LUN and map it on this PC.
    Reply
  • mcfrumpy - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    I just want something cheap I can run a Ventrilo server on. I'm assuming this will work great. Reply

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