May, 2014

ECS LIVA Mini-Computer: "Compact, Energy-Saving and Quiet" Home Entertainment System with Intel Bay Trail-M Core

Watching movies and TV programs on a large TV screen usually offers better visual enjoyment than a computer, mobile phone or tablet. While video playback, picture galleries and Internet access have gradually become basic LCD TV functions, there are still many limitations when it comes to video formats and user interface.


Some fellow netizens may have run into problems like scrambled subtitles or using a TV remote to enter a long URL; building a Home Theater PC (HTPC) so you can use a wireless mouse and keyboard to play the videos you want on a computer and output the video via HDMI to a large screen is not just simple and convenient, it also gives you more flexibility with what software to use.


Interior designers usually don't give much space to the TV cabinet in the living room. A HTPC must therefore not only offer smooth video playback but also take size and cooling into account.



There are now a variety of motherboards designed for mini-PCs on the market such as the microATX and miniATX standard. ECS recently introduced a mini-computer it calls LIVA that is very compact, energy-saving and quiet. Let's take a look.


The ECS LIVA uses an Intel Bay Trail-M processor. The motherboard has 2GB of integrated DDR3L RAM and 32GB EMMC for storage. This means there is no need for the user to purchase more memory or a separate hard disk. The LIVA is a complete computer that can be assembled, booted up and put into service.



Open the box and it says "LIVA", short for "Living a Better Life".



In keeping with the DIY spirit of HTPC, the ECS LIVA does not come as a fully-assembled product. The user must follow the simple instructions in the LIVA Mini PC kit and assemble it.



The contents of the box can be divided into two types: LIVA parts and non-LIVA parts. Pictured below are non-LIVA parts, namely the LIVA Mini PC kit assembly instructions, user’s guide, driver CD and LIVA transformer.



The LIVA parts from left to right are wireless and Bluetooth antenna, LIVA motherboard, M.2 standard wireless network expansion card. The LIVA case is at the back.



The LIVA motherboard is very small - about the size of a mobile phone with a 5" display; the transformer is the same as those used by mobile devices on the market and is in the micro USB format. You can actually skip the assembly process altogether. Just hook the LIVA motherboard up to the transformer, screen, mouse and keyboard and it's ready to go)



The reverse side of the LIVA motherboard is the M.2 wireless network slot; to save space, the motherboard battery is connected externally. Two DDR3L memory chips are located in the lower right.



Remove the heat sink and you'll find the Intel Bay Trail-M integrated chipset in the middle. Storage uses 32GB eMMC manufactured by SanDisk, the 2GB of DDR3L memory is manufactured by Hynix and sound consists of stereo output provided by a Realtek ALC282 chip.



To install LIVA in its case, start by placing the rear I/O interface into the case and then apply pressure from the power supply side at the front. The LIVA motherboard will then click into place with no screws required.



Shown here is the fully-assembled ECS LIVA mini-PC. The dimensions are 118 x 70 x 56 (mm) and it weights 190g, about the same as a smartphone.



The rear I/O of the LIVA includes one HDMI and one D-SUB output for video; the network port uses a RTL8111G chip with Gigabit support; there is one USB 2.0 port and one USB 3.0 port; the power supply interface is a micro USB.



When you place the ECS LIVA inside the TV cabinet it looks positively tiny in this cramped space. It is far smaller than the CHT MOD box for example



A high-definition 1920 x 1080 video was played as a test
ECS LIVA can smoothly play videos with a BitRate of up to 40 mbps. Sound can also be outputted directly to the amplifier in the home theater system via HDMI (the video is the demo from HDclub)



Another advantage of using the HTPC is that you can install your preferred software to play online content; Apple's iTunes software, for example, is very convenient because you can watch online movies on demand. The playback from LIVA is also very smooth. As you can see, the CPU utilization rate in the picture is not very high so LIVA has more than enough power for video playback.



Bay Trail is the multi-core System-on-Chip (SoC) product family introduced by Intel last year and targeted at mobile devices and AIO (All-in-One) products. It comes in three flavors: "Bay Trail-T", "Bay Trail-M" and "Bay Trail-D" and these use the Intel® Atom™, Intel® Celeron® and Intel® Pentium® brands respectively.

When the CPU-Z software is used to read actual ECS LIVA specifications, you can see that LIVA uses Celeron N2806, a "Bay Trail-M" dual-core CPU clocked at 1.58GHz and can be automatically stepped up to 2.0GHz. and TDP is 4.5W. The 2GB of DDR3L runs at a clock of 1066MHz.


Fritiz Chess Benchmark score: 1587
Nuclearus Multi Core score: 3747
CPU Mark score: 168
The 32GB eMMC's sequential read and write speeds are 126.1 MB/s and 44.28 MB/s respectively.
Idle temperature: 49
Burn-in temperature: 52


These benchmark results are sufficient for tasks like Internet browsing and word processing. The system temperature is not particularly high when the system is under full load, so there is no need to worry about thermal crashes.



According to the official specifications from Intel, the TDP for Celeron N2806 is 4.5W; the ECS website also says that the LIVA mini-PC can be run off a power bank. Is it really that energy-efficient? Let's put it to the test.


Power consumption while idling was 3W


Power consumption during burn-in was 5W. Compared with conventional PCs with an average power consumption of 60W or more, the LIVA is not just energy-saving - it is extremely energy-saving.


Let's go over the LIVA specifications again. LIVA uses the Intel Bay Trail-M processor with 2GB of DDR3L memory, 32GB of EMMC storage, support for Gigabit wired networking, 80211 a/b/g/n wireless networking and Bluetooth 4.0. DIY. HTPCs may offer better performance and more hardware scalability, but the LIVA mini-PC from ECS has a commanding advantage in terms of "size", "energy-saving" and "quietness".


118 x 70 x 56 (mm) is about 5 inches wide and weighs 190g, which means the LIVA can be placed practically anywhere; the above tests showed that the LIVA already offers plenty of performance for everyday video playback and word processing.


Because LIVA uses a heat sink-only design there is absolutely no noise from the cooling fan, providing a better audio environment for movies; there is also no annoying fan noise when the LIVA is used in a quiet environment.


The only real limitation is the 32GB of storage. To play large video files or store large amounts of files, an external HDD must be connected to the rear USB 3.0 port.


LIVA's energy-efficiency is well worth a mention. Just how efficient is it? Assuming a power consumption of 5W, LIVA uses just 1 KWH if run continuously for 8 days. If 1 KWH costs NT$5, the LIVA can be run non-stop for less than NT$20 a month. Being so energy-saving, non-stop operation gives LIVA many other potential applications. Apart from being used as a HTPC, it can be used as a web server, DLNA server for wireless video streaming and more. With a little creativity and imagination, the LIVAis much more than just a mini-PC.

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