Introduction and Setup Impressions

The popularity of the NUC form factor has led to a resurgence in the nettop category. Thankfully, the core computing performance of the new systems has been miles ahead of the nettops of the past, and this has created an overall positive sentiment for the ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) in the minds of the consumers. While Intel, GIGABYTE, Zotac and ASRock have based their UCFF systems roughly on motherboards with similar size and features, ECS has been attempting to differentiate with fanless systems using Mini Lake boards and custom-designed chassis in their LIVA series. The feature set and pricing of the LIVA units make it target the developing and cost-sensitive markets. We have already reviewed two of their Bay Trail-based systems, the original   LIVA and the LIVA X. Intel's Bay Trail SoCs, based on the Silvermont x86 cores and fabricated in a 22nm process, are power-efficient enough to deliver usable fanless PCs. In migrating Bay Trail down to a 14nm process, Intel also managed to bring up the graphics performance while retaining a similar thermal envelop. While Bay Trail-T migrates to 14nm under the Cherry Trail nomenclature, Bay Trail-M and Bay Trail-D (the Pentiums and Celerons) come under Braswell. The ECS LIVA x2 is based on the Intel Celeron N3050, a Braswell SoC.

The LIVA x2 is ECS's biggest and heaviest LIVA yet. Coming in at 156 x 83 x 51 mm, the unit feels quite solid in hand, despite the plastic exterior. The solidity is in part due to the heavy heat sink inside the unit. There are no sharp edges, which is a plus in our opinion. The unit, however, comes only in pearl white with a silver trim. Subjectively speaking, it brings down the appeal of the unit compared to the construction. I personally prefer the black finish of the LIVA and LIVA X reviewed earlier.

The ECS LIVA x2 package, in addition to the main unit pictured above, contains a 36W (12V @ 3A) adapter, quick installation and user guides, power adapter plugs (US, UK and EU), a platform utility DVD and a VESA mount along with the necessary screws.

The gallery below takes us around the unit and its various features. The striking aspect is the absence of a USB port in the rear panel. Users hooking up wired USB keyboards / mice or dongles for wireless peripherals have to put up with connecting them to the front panel. Out of the three USB 3.0 ports in the front, one also serves as a charging port (i.e, power delivery over it works as long as the unit is connected to the AC power even if it is switched off). This port (dubbed the EZ Charge) can provide up to 2.2A at 5V.

Most of the mini-PCs that we have evaluated come in barebones configuration. They allow upgradation or installation of new OS drives as well as the main memory. They also don't come with a OS pre-installed. However, the LIVA x2, like the original LIVA and the LIVA X, come with eMMC storage for the OS and soldered memory chips. While the LIVA and LIVA X used DDR3L memory, the LIVA x2 goes with LPDDR3 (as per the BIOS entry). (Update: Turns out that the BIOS entry was not correct, and the LIVA x2 also uses DDR3L memory)

The specifications of our ECS LIVA x2 review configuration are summarized in the table below.

ECS LIVA x2 Specifications
Processor Intel Celeron N3050
(2C/2T Airmont x86 @ 1.60 / 2.16 GHz, 14nm, 2 MB L2, 6W TDP, 4W SDP)
Memory SKHynix 2GB DDR3L-C11 1600MHz
Graphics Intel HD Graphics (Gen8-LP)
Disk Drive(s) Toshiba eMMC 032GE4 32 GB
Networking 1x Realtek RTL8168 GbE, 1x1 Realtek 8821AE 802.11ac Wi-Fi
Audio Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output over HDMI
Operating System Windows 8.1 with Bing
Pricing (As configured) $170
Full Specifications ECS LIVA x2 Specifications

Our review unit also came with Windows 8.1 with Bing pre-installed. This version is capable of a free upgrade to Windows 10 Home, though the process is complicated a little by the limited amount of eMMC storage available (in certain cases). ECS does have step-by-step instructions for the upgrade, though.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various fanless systems that we are comparing the ECS LIVA x2 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 x2 when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect ECS LIVA x2
CPU Intel Celeron N3050 Intel Celeron N3050
GPU Intel HD Graphics (Gen8-LP) Intel HD Graphics (Gen8-LP)
RAM SKHynix H5TC4G63AFR-PBA 4Gb x16 DDR3L
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
4 x 4Gb (2 GB)
SKHynix H5TC4G63AFR-PBA 4Gb x16 DDR3L
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
4 x 4Gb (2 GB)
Storage Toshiba eMMC 032GE4
(32 GB; eMMC 4.51)
Toshiba eMMC 032GE4
(32 GB; eMMC 4.51)
Wi-Fi Realtek 8821AE Wireless LAN 802.11ac
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Realtek 8821AE Wireless LAN 802.11ac
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $170 $170
Performance Metrics - I
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  • casteve - Monday, August 24, 2015 - link

    "Even though this is a power virus test, the chassis temperatures reach an uncomfortable 75 C. ECS has taken the unenviable task of providing passive cooling for a 6W TDP SoC in a plastic chassis, and the problems are evident. It is likely that a chassis design similar to that of the Zotac C-series nano units (with perforations all around) could help with this aspect."

    Maybe. I found the Zotac CI320 to have a 60+ min thermal tail with steady state idle temp of 50C. Perhaps a solution with both the perforated case of the Zotac and the better heatsink of the Liva would cut it. I think 6W TDP is the limit of what you can put in a plastic case. Beyond this, you need a metal case plate or a fan.

    Thanks for the review.
    Reply
  • takeshi7 - Monday, August 24, 2015 - link

    Can you please review the Liva Core, next? Reply
  • hojnikb - Monday, August 24, 2015 - link

    I wish someone made Core M PCs. Silvermont is okay for light tasks, but thats about it.

    And Core M could be easily passivly cooled.
    Reply
  • takeshi7 - Monday, August 24, 2015 - link

    ECS makes the Liva Core. It has a passively cooled Core M. Reply
  • johnsonx - Tuesday, August 25, 2015 - link

    Recently sold some MSI Cubi systems to clients, really nice. All use Haswell SoC's, commonly available are dual-core 1.5Ghz Celeron, 1.9Ghz Pentium, and 2.0Ghz Core i3 with Hyper-threading. They do have fans, but are VERY quiet. Reply
  • nathanddrews - Monday, August 24, 2015 - link

    AMD really needs to get new Carrizo (non-L) into this category if they can. It would be HTPC and light gaming PERFECTION. Reply
  • V900 - Monday, August 24, 2015 - link

    Having looked into both Bay Trail as well as Braswell recently when I wanted a passively cooled mini PC, I came away pretty disappointed with Braswell.

    The unfortunate truth is, that despite the Braswell N3050/3150 being a 14nm part, and the Bay Trail J1800/1900 a 22nm part, in most use cases the Bay Trail is faster than the Braswell.

    Most users would be better off getting the older Bay Trail system with the dual core J1800 CPU or the quadcore J1900. Why?

    First of all Intel cut down power usage TOO MUCH. So much that it impacts performance. The Bay Trail parts have a 10W TDP, and manage to be cooled passively just fine. The Braswell parts have 4/6W TDP, and if you want to know where Intel found the additional Watts, look at the base clock.

    The Braswell parts turboclock to just over 2GHZ, but the rest of the time they skip along at a pretty slow 1.6 GHZ.

    The Bay Trail quadcore part on the other hand has a base clock of 2 GHZ but turbos up to 2.4, whereas the dualcore J1800 has a base clock of 2.4 GHZ, and turbos up to 2.6 GHZ.

    That's why the Bay Trail parts are faster at most tasks then the newer Braswell. If you look at some of the reviews you'll see how they handily beat them in most benchmarks...
    Reply
  • BMNify - Monday, August 24, 2015 - link

    i cant see the point of any of these low power soc no matter what purpose , if it doesn't have avx/2 ( and none of these do) and at least quad cores its no better than the other 2006 sse4 simd available since Penryn then its already obsolete , IMO not even really good enough for the bargain basement generic £20 wifi router in 2015 Reply
  • V900 - Monday, August 24, 2015 - link

    You're being waaay to performance-snobbish here.

    Don't see the point? It's 2015 man! Intel has squeezed so much performance out of X86 that these their cheapest CPUs are fast enough for most people.

    They're fine for everyday computing tasks, as long as your needs are just basic web surfing, YouTube/movie playing and light Office work.

    My dad uses one for the above. Yeah, he could have gotten something with an i3 or i5 but he wanted something quiet, and for most tasks the speed difference is barely noticeable.

    They also have plenty of horsepower (and Intel quicksync video) to be a nifty and silent media center. And really cheap too. You can get one an embedded CPU, mini Itx motherboard and 4gb ram, for less or right around a hundred dollars.
    Reply
  • BMNify - Monday, August 24, 2015 - link

    see below for the many of the 5v/2A arm boxes that have real HDMI2 at 60fps HW/SW playback of UHD1 content....
    as long as intel do not provide the 2015 options (avx2 ,HDMI2/UHD1/60P etc instead of 2006 simd etc) on these low power SOC they will never pass the profitable ARM quad/octacore UHD compliant boxes we can buy right now....
    Reply

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