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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  • eastcoast_pete - Saturday, July 19, 2014 - link

    I second the comments regarding netbooks made here. Trying to do some actual writing on touch screens is a pain, even on larger tablets. I considered Chromebooks , but Google's "required tethering" approach doesn't work for me. I'd love to see MS helping to push a bunch of "Chromebook killers" into the market - Windows netbooks in the $180 - $ 300 price range with the new Baytrail Celerons, 3 or 4 Gb RAM, a 10" -12" high-res screen (no-touch), USB 3 port(s), micro-SXDC slot, and either 64 Gb eMMC 5.0 (lower price point) or 128 Gb SSD (higher). This nettop shows that it could be done. Now, if only MS would see the opportunity and seize it! Reply
  • esgreat - Sunday, July 20, 2014 - link

    With max power around 12W and idle power around 4W, I guess I could run this thing at nominal speed with a power bank! Reply
  • Laststop311 - Sunday, July 20, 2014 - link

    I personally would rather pay the 800 for the i7-4770r brix system. It must be rough to not have enough money to get the things u want. I don't know how to compromise so news about these systems heavily bores me. Reply
  • AmericanIdle - Friday, August 15, 2014 - link

    You were so bored by this story that you felt inspired to leave a comment?

    The Brix is not fanless, and thus not silent. Also, it uses about 10 times as much power, which matters if you care about the future of the planet. It must be rough to know the price of everything and the value of nothing. I hope you learn how to compromise someday!
    Reply
  • Haravikk - Thursday, July 24, 2014 - link

    I don't really see the appeal of going so small with so many sacrifices personally, I mean Thin Mini-ITX cases like the Akasa Euler are still tiny machines (about Mac Mini size but a bit taller) and you can put proper desktop processors in them! You can even build a basic dual core system at a very reasonable price. This is why I never liked the idea of a Netbook; they never saved enough money to justify their horrific performance IMO, even when used for nothing but browsing (especially with the increasing demands of modern web content). Reply

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