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ECS LIVA Z Review

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ECS LIVA Z (N3350) Conclusion:

*Review has been updated to reflect the current LIVA Z. Since the article went live last month, a few issues I was having troubles with have been resolved. Video playback issues were present the first time around and ECS was extremely helpful in resolving my initial problems. I want to be clear for returning readers that it was never an ECS hardware issue, but rather a combination of drivers and software which we can all thank Microsoft for.

After using the ECS LIVA Z for roughly a month, I found a few things that consistently bothered me, while others went away over time. Because of the nature of All-In-One type computers and different models being very similar on the outside but different internally, I decided to go another route for this review. Normally Pros and Cons would be listed with some sort of tier award at the end. However, because this device has three CPU models, each with two hard drive sizes, I couldn't lump them all together. It just has far too many configurations and possibilities that makes it hard to justify squashing everything into a single score with a paragraph attached.

Me and my time with the LIVA Z have had our issues and I found it to grow on me after the dust settled. It still just amazes me how far computer technology has come that a box the size of a CD and two inches thick is more powerful than some desktop computers. The real advancement is shrinking the CPU which in turn has allowed for lower voltage and smaller chips overall, but this does not come without a price. While shrinking parts can be good, the number of peripherals keeps growing faster than the old technologies being removed from circulation. USB, for instance, has been a steady constant for the last 10 years while FireWire has gone to the wayside. DisplayPort and HDMI have cropped up, killing off VGA and DVI display inputs. Now that USB-C has grown and matured, it is only a matter of time before another port comes along. From a manufacturing standpoint, ECS was smart to include every major connection and style port being used today. However, it does not mean having unnecessary ports like a second Ethernet jack and mini DisplayPort is a smart choice. I only truly wish that one or two USB ports were included on the back for wire management purposes. With everything sticking out the front, it will look like someone just dropped a bunch of cords on top and decided that was good enough.

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. Just remember ECS does not support anything below Windows 10 and by default the BIOS is set to to Secure Boot which will cause a few headaches if you are trying to install a different OS from the get go. I actually wasn't able to install another OS besides Ubuntu my first time around because the LIVA Z would not recognize other Flash Drives with a different version of Windows. I suspect my Windows 7 ISO from Microsoft might be a little out of date at this point and missing UEFI boot features. Even in legacy compatibility mode, it would not boot to the Flash Drive. However, I cannot fault ECS for this, because they do not support anything but Windows 10. Just be aware that you may encounter the same problems regardless outside using Windows 10.

The most important question for me is, how well does the LIVA Z perform? Well, it is a multi-part question because of the many possible configurations ECS has provided. The unit I received for this review is the 32GB model with an Intel Apollo Lake Celeron N3350 SoC (2 Cores) clocked at 1.1GHz. On the graphics side of the chip, it includes the Intel HD Graphics 500 unit also featured in the Skylake CPUs. Make a mental note that this is a cut down version using 12 Execution Units clocked at 650MHz rather than a full 24 Units running at ~1GHz. On an architecture level the HD 500 series has all the latest hardware decoding features like VP9, H.264 / MP4, and HEVC (H.265). When put into a real-world scenario, I'm happy to report this does not affect playback performance at all and you would not suspect this unit is running at half the speed compared to its desktop counterpart thanks to built in hardware acceleration. This little box was able to playback 4K Youtube and VUDU streaming without shuddering. MP4 (H.264) and HEVC (H2.65) had zero 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 struggled with playback of any kind and the 3rd Party SMplayer shuddered slightly on some 4K scenes. Youtube on Ubuntu could not play 4K streams at all using the newest Firefox build. However, this is not a hardware issue, but rather Ubuntu, which may be the reason why ECS does not give any OS support for it. It is a "use at your own risk" type of deal.

The Celeron SoC itself was mediocre from my experience. Two cores weren't enough to get a responsive feel while browsing the web. It did, however, load up Windows 10 and Ubuntu 16.04 just fine and was snappy in the interface, but using some applications or browsing the web showed the true lack of processing power. The N3350 model is sending mixed signals because it has a low entry price point and smooth video playback, but if you are a person who isn't used to waiting, then it becomes an annoyance. Web pages will eventually fully load and 4K Youtube videos play smooth (once the page is fully loaded), but this may be a deal breaker to some based on the type of web browsing you plan on doing. Skipping ahead to the N3450 SoC which is the next in line, and also clocked at 1.1GHz, but includes four cores, may be the solution to snappier experience. It does have the same HD 500 graphics with 12 Execution Units which isn't a bad thing. Simply having two extra cores will alleviate some overhead and should provide an overall better experience browsing the web. Finishing up, the LIVA Z powered by the Pentium N4200 SoC is your best bet for performance. While not cheap, it does have four cores and the HD 505 with 18 Units. It also holds some architecture features found in the Kaby Lake CPU series, making it newer and more powerful than the Celerons running Skylakes HD 500 series. But without one in my hands to test, I can only speculate how it would perform over the N4200 and subsequently the N3350.

These reasons are why giving a score is extremely hard. I may not find the experience the best I've ever had personally, but to some, this little box might be just what they need. It is a multi-tier system and I hope to be able to review the LIVA Z Plus in the future. ECS does have something special in the Ultra-Compact niche market, but it takes longer than a month to get used to if speed is something you take for granted like me. For those who might want a very inexpensive HTPC (Home Theater PC), It does meet all the requirements with BlueTooth, Wi-Fi, USB ports, HDMI, and light web browsing.

For me, I've already found a home for this unit, which will be replacing a dying Pentium 4 that is solely used to run the software for an EPSON large format printer. It will draw less power and be faster in every possible way. It will be mounted to the back of the current monitor thanks to ECS including a VESA mounting plate, which in turn saves a lot of space. It is things like this that should be considered instead of dismissing the unit for the lack of raw power. It has a place in the market, just possibly not how ECS intended to market the device. However, I may be just nitpicking at this point. Once everything is all said and done, I would recommend any of the three LIVA Z models based on your current needs.

 

Pros:

  • Ultra Compact Form Factor
  • VESA Mounts
  • Built-In Wi-Fi / Bluetooth
  • Lastest Video Hardware Decoding

 

Cons:

  • M.2 Slot supports 40mm cards only
  • Lack of USB ports in the rear



  1. ECS LIVA Z (N3350): Introduction & Closer Look
  2. ECS LIVA Z (N3350): Specifications
  3. ECS LIVA Z (N3350): Testing & Conclusion
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