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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  • BrokenCrayons - Tuesday, August 25, 2015 - link

    Hi BMN! Not everyone out there is concerned with video playback for a system like this. As a small/cheap/quiet word processor and e-mail fetcher, platforms like the Liva x2 are perfectly suitable. Also, many people don't really worry much over specific decoding capabilities. As long as their new little computer can stream YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu, there's nothing to worry about and digging into the specifics isn't important or relevant. Reply
  • kmmatney - Monday, August 24, 2015 - link

    I have a baytrail 3735D (quad core), which benchmarks about the same as the Braswell N3050, and while it seems fast enough most of the time, there are way to many instances where it skips and lags. Maybe it has to do with the eMMC storage, the overall experience isn't great. It's fine for a little while, but open up a few web pages, and things suddenly slow way down (with 2GB of RAM). Reply
  • BillyONeal - Monday, August 24, 2015 - link

    bring up the graphics performance while retaining a similar thermal envelop

    Perhaps you meant envelope ?
    Reply
  • experttech - Monday, August 24, 2015 - link

    I just built a ASROCK N3150 B based HTPC and am quite impressed with the performance. The quad core chip comes for the same price as the N3050 and is quite impressive at I think it was like 6 watts of power. First time using a fanless CPU it feels awesome and weird when you turn on the system. You don't really feel its turned on! Perfect for watching all kinds of movies! Reply
  • BMNify - Monday, August 24, 2015 - link

    you are far better off buying any Amlogic S812 or related HTPC box with http://www.cnx-software.com/ that comes with HDMI2 at 60fps HW/SW playback NEON 128-bit SIMD (and encode if its activated) as a generic option than even the very latest Atom x5 x5-Z8300 that yet again removes AVX/2 SIMD and is by all accounts not even as good as the antiquated Atom-Z3735F Q1'14 http://cpuboss.com/cpus/Intel-Atom-x5-x5-Z8300-vs-...

    "Instruction set extensions
    SSE2
    SSE4
    SSE3
    EM64T
    SSE
    SSE4.1
    SSE4.2
    Supplemental SSE3
    AES
    Supports dynamic frequency scaling N
    Reply
  • owarchild - Monday, August 24, 2015 - link

    BMNify, I'm not aware of any Amlogic S812 box with HDMI 2.0, can you give an example? CPU wise, Braswell is more powerful than Amlogic S812, for example a N3150 can decode H264 Hi10p. It's a pitty that Anandtech doesn't test the Braswell boxes with the latest OpenELEC beta versions... Reply
  • BMNify - Monday, August 24, 2015 - link

    see http://kodi.wiki/view/Android_hardware for list to start with several Rockchip ,Amlogic, and x1 devices are capable, you need to review them and choose your requirements

    search "Amlogic HDMI 2" etc and try here for a device that suits you http://www.geekbuying.com/Search/?keyword=RK3288
    Reply
  • emblemparade - Monday, August 24, 2015 - link

    I have the original LIVA, which has a N2807, and costs about the same as this new one. I love it!

    The only reason to "upgrade" would be for the better GPU and slightly better wifi. The CPUs, in fact, are equal in ability: http://www.cpubenchmark.net/compare.php?cmp[]=2263&cmp[]=2541

    But actually, the X2 seems like a worse machine. It's bigger and sips more power. If you're interested in this box, consider getting the original model if you can find it!
    Reply
  • ZachSaw - Monday, August 24, 2015 - link

    For so many years Anandtech's HTPC reviews have been spreading misconceptions about the 23.976Hz refresh rate. As an avid reader, I used to think getting the perfect 23.976Hz refresh rate is all you need and have spent countless hours trying to do that with the various HTPCs I've owned over the years.

    As you used madVR to test HTPC "credentials", it unfortunately lacks an important metric in its debug OSD -- the actual frame rate the video is being played back. This takes the reference clock into account - so even if the display refresh rate says 23.976Hz (which in this case isn't even close - it's only 23.974Hz), you still have to multiply that by refclk (-ve makes it even lower). As you could see in your own screenshot, you still get a frame drop every half an hour. The unfortunate thing about this is, every ECS LIVA x2 box is going to have a slightly different rate.

    And let's not forget that not all sources are 23.976fps - some are true 24p video, others are 60p etc. Some monitors still don't report 60Hz in its EDID!

    To get true frame drop-/repeat-free playback, your media player needs to have the ability to do something like Reclock. Most of you probably haven't noticed but the DirectSound Audio Renderer (or any non-exclusive audio renderers) already resamples your audio before it goes out to your audio card (the only case where it doesn't resample is when your audio stream is the exact match of your Windows global audio settings and nothing else is playing audio). As such, asking the audio renderer to resample the audio a bit to make it match the display refresh rates won't affect the audio quality much but it will get rid of frame repeats / drops completely. If you care about audio quality, the Sanear Audio Renderer in Wasapi mode is the preferred choice. Anything less than 3% in clock adjustments will yield max audio quality. So even if you have a 24Hz refresh rate, adjusting 23.976fps to play at 24fps won't affect audio quality.

    MPDN has an open source implementation of Reclock (to be used with either DirectSound or Sanear Audio Renderer) - https://github.com/zachsaw/MPDN_Extensions/blob/ma...
    Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Tuesday, August 25, 2015 - link

    Why not run the thermal test with the top of the unit off? Reply

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