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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  • djfourmoney - Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - link

    Tell the truth. Even video editing is marginal in Linux. Many people don't have the disk space, don't know what a NAS is, routers with NAS capability are towards the high end of the consumer market so no BluRay playback, you would have to rip the disk with the proper software and then store the file someplace.

    Of course you could use the usenet, but no further details from me and most people barely understand torrents, never mind usenet...

    The reason why the iPhone is popular because it's dead simple to use, hardware is barely touted and it's all about the apps and accessories. Just when you think hardware makers would standardize the location of the mini USB port on Android phones, a whole slew of cheap devices throw cold water on that.

    Chromebooks works because Google Chrome works as a browser with apps.... Considering how much I use Chrome, I am going to use this laptop I am typing on (quad core AMD) for desktop replacement, Sony Vegas supports AMD hardware for faster encoding, so does Studio 17.

    Just remove the hybrid drive and replace it with a 1TB SSD as prices continue to drop, use a USB 3.0 512GB External SSD for archiving footage/mobile storage. Currently 8GB Dual Channel @1600Hz, I could upgrade to 16GB @1600 as well.

    Once that happens, one of the larger Chromebooks would be perfect for internet browsing, streaming,etc.

    Though I need a laptop or Surface/Ultrabook type device for DJ'ing.

    Still like the Liva as a x86 Pi killer.

    Reply
  • Soul_Est - Monday, July 28, 2014 - link

    If you really tried to learn and use Cinelerra (Pro level), Blender, OpenShot, Pitivi, or Avidemux, then you cannot say that video editing under Linux is 'marginal'. Reply
  • davolfman - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    Could you test Steam in home streaming at least wired with little systems like these? I think that's an increasingly less rare use case. Reply
  • dylan522p - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    It works really well. I run it on a quadcore baytrail system with teh same iGPU, but it only sees about 25% usage so you should be fine Reply
  • wireframed - Saturday, July 19, 2014 - link

    At least in theory, anything that can decode h.264 at whatever resolution you want to display should work fine for In-Home streaming. The client PC isn't really doing anything but sending controller input and decoding the resulting video stream. There's probably a tiny bit of overhead from the Steam API but it should be neglible. Reply
  • abufrejoval - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    This should be a pretty nice Android box and a more flexible alternative to Hardkernel Odroids, especially with the 64-bit L(ollipop?) release.

    I've so far been using Minit-ITX variant with the J1900 Bay-Trail, which are quite a bit bigger and I've been yearning for something which has everything soldered on so it can be made smaller.

    Those are pretty good already in terms of (Android!) game performance and certainly good enough for surfing, Android Office or as a thin client (RDP/Citrix/Splashtop) to some big iron.

    For Android the 32GB eMMC are really none too bad and for anything beyond there is always USB 3 and network.

    But I'd also want 4GB or even 8GB perhaps as optional configs, because the cost difference is so small it shouldn't matter and one might actually run a full Linux on there, just for the fun of it.

    With regards to the power usage, I found no measurable difference on the J1900 between 4GB and 8GB (one or two modules) of DRAM, so that shouldn't matter.

    Dunno if eMMC 4.4 is a platform limitation of BayTrail or just what they put there, but eMMC 5.0 would give much better performance with diminishing price premiums.

    Even with 4GB DRAM it should stay below $149 to sell like hotcakes.
    Reply
  • TerdFerguson - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    If the device is primarily intended to be a set-top HTPC device, why doesn't it come with a built-in programmable IR receiver and blaster? Reply
  • Blassster - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    Would this be too underpowered to run POE ipcam software thats stores the video to a NAS or external drive and also allow Internet streaming of a select camera? Let's say 4 1080p cameras (or even 720p). Reply
  • tipoo - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    I'm more interested in the $250 Gigabyte Brix with the AMD APU in it, seems like a fair bit of GPU and CPU bang for your buck for that price. Reply
  • JadedMan - Saturday, July 19, 2014 - link

    Any idea if this machine play a typical 3D Bluray properly? Reply

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