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ECS LIVA Z Plus Review

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ECS LIVA Z Plus (7300U) Testing:

The ECS LIVA Z Plus has an option of a pre-installed copy of Windows 10, depending on the retail outlet. The unit I received was the barebones option with everything ready to go besides an installed OS. ECS only officially supports Windows 10 and legacy boot options for Linux and older Windows OSes in BIOS. Installing Windows 10 just required a USB Flash Drive and ISO downloaded directly from Microsoft. Using their software the Flash Drive was formatted and it was extremely simple. After setting the BIOS boot option to "Other OS" I was able to Install Ubuntu 16.04 LTS without much effort because I had already gone through the hoops with the other Z model. That being said, even in legacy compatibility mode ECS does not support anything but Windows 10 so be aware that if you have issues with Ubuntu or another OS, you are on your own as far as tech support is concerned. I cannot fault ECS for this, selling a product that is designed with the newest technology means you sometimes have to lose some compatibility, having a legacy option is just a bonus in my opinion.

As far as performance goes the LIVA Z PLUS knocked it out of the park. The i5 7300U is based directly on the Kaby Lake architecture and shares the same Intel HD Graphics 600. Specifically it is the HD 620, with a base clock just 50MHz lower than the desktop variant. The boost is the same, as well as the amount of Execution Units. What does this all mean? Well for all intents and purposes the performance is nearly identical to the desktop counterpart in a graphics performance sense, nothing is being skimped. As for the CPU portion, this is a dual core 2.7GHz hyper-thread CPU, giving it two cores with 4 total threads. The desktop i5 typically has hyper-threading disabled, opting for four physical cores. In the laptop world, and subsequently SoCs, it is more like an i3 than an i5.

On an architecture level, the HD 600 series has all the latest hardware decoding features like VP9, H.264 / MP4, and HEVC (H.265). When put into a real-world scenario, this little box was able to playback 4K YouTube and VUDU streaming without stuttering. MP4 (H.264) and HEVC (H.265) also had no problems playing back 4K video files with Windows Media Player. Ubuntu 16.04, on the other hand, had some minor problems. The built in player still struggles with playback of any kind of video but the 3rd Party SMplayer stepped in and did the job just fine. If you are looking for an HTPC, look no further, you can play anything you can think of thanks to the hardware decoding acceleration. The powerful CPU is just an added bonus to this.

When it came to using applications and browsing the web, I felt the LIVA Z Plus was extremely responsive and if I didn't know better, I would have suspected this was a full size desktop hidden in the corner. Even more so because of the SSD which helps boot and load times. There was never a dull moment and I could easily see myself recommending this to people who want to replace the bulky desktop without sacrificing performance.

 

ECS LIVA Z Plus (7300U) Conclusion:

Back to the topic at hand! This being the second LIVA I had the pleasure to review, the process of setting up and getting real-world use out of it was much easier the second time around. I'm not saying it was overly complicated, but I spent a lot less time reading about SoC architectures in preparation for this review.The one thing that threw me off was the inclusion of Intel vPro technology. Going to Intels website has never helped in the past and it was no different this time. Using phases like "Strengthen Software Security from the Inside" and "Lighten Your Heaviest Workloads" isn't helpful on a website solely designed to sell you a product. After some Googling, I found out that it is basically an advanced remote desktop. The reason I bring this up is because the LIVA Z i5 7300U model just gained a whole new untapped market. The average consumer will never use the features and quite honestly, only businesses are going to be on the look out for such features. That being said, at my day job, the company bought a few used UCFF (Ultra-Compact Form Factor) PCs left over from an oil drilling company. It is not unheard of for companies to use this type of computers because they are low power and generally solid state, meaning no moving parts. Add in the ability to remote into the device in a secure fashion with offsite management and it becomes very desirable to IT workers out in the field.

After experiencing the LIVA Z and now the Plus model over the last few months, I've found it to be an overall enjoyable experience. Because of the multiple configurations each model provides, it becomes increasingly difficult to give a score and an award. However, I believe any of the ECS LIVA models are exactly what the next generation of HTPC should be. These bulky towers are slowly disappearing and AIO (All-In-One) type computers are gradually taking over the market. HP and Dell have been pushing UCFF models for some time now, but ECS takes it one step further and offers a more affordable option that covers the needs of all types of users. I hope ECS continues to build upon the LIVA series next year as they have a great product already.

 

 

Pros:

  • Ultra Compact Form Factor
  • VESA Mounts
  • Built-In Wi-Fi / Bluetooth
  • Lastest Video Hardware Decoding
  • vPro Support (i5 7300U)

 

Cons:

  • M.2 Slot supports 40mm cards only
  • Lack of USB ports in the rear
  • No Mini Display-Port Adapter Included
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  1. ECS LIVA Z Plus (7300U): Introduction & Closer Look
  2. ECS LIVA Z Plus (7300U): Specifications
  3. ECS LIVA Z Plus (7300U): Testing & Conclusion
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