Ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) PCs for business deployments have become popular in the recent past. Compared to traditional UCFF PCs, these business use-cases require ease of management and administration by IT staff. Intel supplies a set of features under the vPro tag for this purpose. This is enabled on select CPU SKUs. OEMs also have limited options for certain components such as the LAN controller. ECS launched the LIVA Z Plus earlier this year, and it was one of the first Kaby Lake UCFF PCs to come with a vPro SKU.

Introduction and Product Impressions

UCFF PCs have traditionally catered to the consumer market. We have seen a few systems from the likes of Logic Supply, and even Intel itself, that cater to the business and industrial PC segment. The key here is the use of a CPU with the vPro features enabled. Such systems have usually carried a premium compared to their home consumer-targeted counterparts. The LIVA series of UCFF PCs from ECS has made a mark in the market by focusing on the value segment. While a majority of the LIVA models have been based on the Atom platform, ECS has tried to expand its reach with the LIVA Core (based on Broadwell-Y) and the LIVA One (mini-STX platform based on Skylake).

The LIVA Z Plus from ECS brings Kaby Lake-U to the table with vPro enabled. The platform feature set and pricing, as is usual with ECS, makes it target the developing markets. The LIVA Z Plus comes 'barebones' in the sense that the end-user only needs to supply the OS. The system has two DDR4 SODIMM slots, with one 4GB SO-DIMM installed. A M.2 2242 SATA / PCIe SSD slot is available, and ECS supplies a 128GB SATA SSD in the sole SKU that is planned for the retail market. That SKU comes with a Core i5-7300U, but ECS is also ready to equip the systems with either a Core i3-7100U or Celeron 3965U. However, those two variants are not vPro-capable.

In terms of external appearance and I/O ports, the ECS LIVA Z Plus is the same as the ECS LIVA Z that we reviewed a few weeks back. However, the internals are very different. While the LIVA Z could get away with passive cooling thanks to the 6W TDP Apollo Lake SoC, the LIVA Z Plus integrates a fan to keep the 15W TDP Core i5-7300U within the appropriate thermal limits. The vPro platform makes it necessary for ECS to use an Intel LAN controller. While the LIVA Z integrated two Realtek LAN controllers, the LIVA Z Plus uses an Intel I219-LM and a Realtek LAN controller for the two GbE ports. The WLAN component in the LIVA Z Plus is also a much improved one - a 2x2 Intel AC8260, compared to the 1x1 Intel AC3165 in the LIVA Z. While the LIVA Z was equipped with 32GB eMMC and 4GB DDR3 RAM, the LIVA Z Plus comes with a 128GB M.2 SATA SSD and 4GB of DDR4 RAM.

ECS sampled us a pre-production engineering sample of the LIVA Z Plus. The key differences compared to the version slated to ship eventually were an out-of-date ME firmware and system BIOS (that prevented us from testing vPro features such as Intel AMT etc.). The full specifications of our review configuration are summarized in the table below.

ECS LIVA Z Plus Specifications
Processor Intel Core i5-7300U
Kaby Lake, 2C/4T, 2.6 GHz (Turbo to 3.5 GHz). 14nm+, 3 MB L2, 15W TDP
Memory Transcend TS512MSH64V4H DDR4
15-15-15-35 @ 2133 MHz
1x4 GB
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 620
Disk Drive(s) Transcend TS128GMTS400
(512 GB; M.2 Type 2242 SATA III; 20nm; MLC NAND)
Networking Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260
(2x2 802.11ac - 866 Mbps)
1x Intel I219-LM Gigabit LAN
1x Realtek RTL8168/8111 Gigabit LAN
Audio 3.5mm Headphone Jack
Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Display 1x HDMI 1.4a
1x mini-DisplayPort 1.2
Miscellaneous I/O Ports 3x USB 3.0 Type-A
1x USB 3.0 Type-C
Operating System Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 10 Pro x64
Pricing (As configured) $489
Full Specifications ECS LIVA Z Plus Specifications

The ECS LIVA Z Plus package comes with a 65W (19V @ 3.42A) AC adapter and a VESA mount / screws in addition to the main unit. Windows 10 is the only officially supported OS, and all the drivers were downloaded on our review unit from the ECS website.

One of the interesting hardware components in the LIVA Z Plus is the integrated digital microphone (similar to the LIVA Z). This allows the end user to configure it as an always-listening machine (if needed), without the need to connect an external microphone. The other selling point is the availability of two GbE RJ-45 ports. While one port uses an Intel Ethernet controller, ECS has taken the cost factor into consideration and opted for a Realtek controller behind the second port.

The industrial design is attractive and the unit feels solid. The chassis is made of plastic (not uncommon at the targeted price point). The internal thermal design (pictured in the above gallery) involves heat drawn away from the main package via two heat pipes to a finned heat sink. A miniature fan is attached to the underside of the chassis top to blow air through the heat sink. There are vents on either side of the chassis, but, it is not clear if the vents are engineered in a way that allows inlet air flow in conjunction with the fan's placement. In any case, we will take a look at the effectiveness of the thermal design in a later section.

The Kaby Lake-U platform is very similar to that of Skylake-U. We have discussed the distribution of the high-speed I/O lanes in many reviews in the past. The relevant aspect here is the way the lanes are utilized in the ECS LIVA Z Plus. Note that the PCIe lanes used for the M.2 slot are not reported here since the system was configured with a SATA SSD.

  • PCI-E 2.0 x1 port #6      In Use @ x1 (Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260 AC 2x2 HMC WiFi Adapter)
  • PCI-E 2.0 x1 port #11    In Use @ x1 (Realtek RTL8168/8111 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Adapter)

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the ECS LIVA Z Plus against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. The relevant configuration details of the machines are provided so that readers have an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are skewed for or against the ECS LIVA Z Plus when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect ECS LIVA Z Plus
CPU Intel Core i5-7300U Intel Core i5-7300U
GPU Intel HD Graphics 620 Intel HD Graphics 620
RAM Transcend TS512MSH64V4H DDR4
15-15-15-35 @ 2133 MHz
1x4 GB
Transcend TS512MSH64V4H DDR4
15-15-15-35 @ 2133 MHz
1x4 GB
Storage Transcend TS128GMTS400
(512 GB; M.2 Type 2242 SATA III; 20nm; MLC NAND)
Transcend TS128GMTS400
(512 GB; M.2 Type 2242 SATA III; 20nm; MLC NAND)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260
(2x2 802.11ac - 866 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260
(2x2 802.11ac - 866 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $489 $489
Performance Metrics - I
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  • FireSnake - Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - link

    Will be interesting once we have Ryzen builds like this :) Reply
  • euler007 - Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - link

    What do they have in the 15W TDP range? Reply
  • Cygni - Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - link

    Haven't been announced yet, but "M" series Raven Ridge processors are expected to be in the 15W window. Raven Ridge will also have "U" series mainstream mobile APUs (if we assume comperable TDP to Intel designs, perhaps this is 28W), and "H" series high end mobile APUs (perhaps 45W) Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - link

    They now have VESA mount notebook trays for $20. Zip ties cost 5 cents. So why buy this when you can buy a i5 notebook for the same price, and mount it onto the back of your display? That way you get a faster processor, a free backup screen, and best of all, a free UPS. Reply
  • npz - Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - link

    What? A bulky notebook mounted on the back of monitor? With zip ties?
    Also, your notebook won't have the ports, and it won't have vPro.

    And this is a *permanent* desktop solution. I can't believe you're suggesting a notebook to be used like this.
    If you really need a backup screen, you keep a spare monitor in the closet.
    If you need a UPS, you buy a UPS. Then you can use it with multiple systems.
    Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - link

    Though I find it fun to repurpose hardware in somewhat unusual ways, if someone needs a desktop solution with vPro, the LIVA Z Plus seems like a reasonable solution and probably a better option than a laptop that's zip tied to the back of a monitor. Reply
  • dispo-k - Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - link

    Genuine question: why have so many of the reviews posted lately be these USFF barebones kits? I'm not knocking them, but I always thought they were more of a low end desktop for people who preferred the smaller form factor over performance or cost, and obviously for people using them purely for media like a HTPC. Have these systems grown in popularity or are they used in a wider range of applications than I realize? Reply
  • dispo-k - Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - link

    Apologies. After reading a number of these lately, I F'd up and didn't read the article before posting. These are apparently popular enterprise solutions, and given that IT admins are likely one of the target demographics for this site, it makes perfect sense that they'd be interested in this type of content. Sorry for not RTFA before posting. I didn't see an option to delete my original post. Reply
  • SquarePeg - Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - link

    Nice save! The Technorati would have been on you with gleaming blades and evil intent. Reply
  • fanofanand - Thursday, April 13, 2017 - link

    What a strange business decision to go with 1x4 Gb. That has to impact performance, just to save $5-10? Reply

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