The desktop PC market has been subject to many challenges over the last few years. However, the miniaturization trend (including the introduction of the ultra-compact form factor - UCFF - NUCs) has provided some bright spots. Compact PCs have been around in the mini-ITX form factor for a relatively long time now. Manufacturers have been targeting other form factors such as the NUC and the Compute Stick also. We covered the various options briefly earlier this year. One of the form factors being promoted by Intel and its partners is the 'Mini Lake' reference design coming in at 102 x 64 mm. ECS has been using this form factor in its LIVA line of PCs. This form factor is usually reserved for Atom-based units. However, ECS is looking to use a Core M processor in the same form factor in the ECS LIVA Core.

Introduction and Setup Impressions

The success tasted by the Intel NUCs in the desktop PC market has prompted many motherboard vendors to create similar UCFF PCs. Instead of going with the NUC form factor, ECS has tried to differentiate itself with the Mini Lake reference design form factor. This is smaller than the standard NUC, but comes at a cost. Created in anticipation of applicability to Atom-based computers, the reference design called for soldered DRAM and eMMC storage. ECS followed this mantra dutifully in the LIVA, LIVA X and LIVA X2. With the LIVA Core, ECS has stepped up the game. While the DRAM continues to be soldered on to the motherboard, we now have a bonafide upgradable SSD instead of eMMC. Instead of the anemic Atom, we have a Core processor in the form of Core M. As a brief recap, Core M is the branding created by Intel for the Y-series processors (TDP of less than 5W meant for fanless tablets) starting with Broadwell. Core M has seen adoption in a number of fanless 2-in-1 designs. What can it bring to consumers in the UCFF desktop PC form factor? This review attempts to provide an answer.

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

ECS LIVA Core Specifications
Processor Intel Core M 5Y10c
Broadwell-Y, 2C/4T, 0.8 GHz, 14nm, 4MB L2, 4.5W TDP, 3.5W SDP
Memory 4x 8Gb (4GB) DDR3L-1600
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 5300
Disk Drive(s) 120GB Intel SSD 535 M.2 SATA SSD
Networking 1x 1GbE Realtek RTL8168 +
1x1 Intel Wireless-AC 3165 802.11ac
Audio Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Operating System Retail unit is barebones, but we used Windows 10 Home
Pricing (As configured) $453
Full Specifications ECS LIVA Core Specifications

In addition to the main unit, the other components of the package include a 65 W (19V @ 3.43A) adapter, interchangeable UK, US and EU power plugs for the adapter, a VESA mount (along with the necessary screws), a driver CD, user's manual and a quick-start guide. The gallery below takes us around the package and the hardware in the unit.

It is not necessary to take the base off the unit, unless one wants to upgrade the internal M.2 SSD or replace the WLAN adapter. It is likely that this option is not going to be exercised by any user, since those components have more than enough performance for a PC in this form factor. In any case, we see a big thermal pad along the length of the M.2 SSD to aid in heat dissipation. It is placed in direct touch with the metal base of the unit.

Readers interested in a closer look at the heat sink and other internal parts of the ECS LIVA Core can peruse some pictures collected by FanlessTech in the post here.

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

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect ECS LIVA Core
CPU Intel Core M-5Y10c Intel Core M-5Y10c
GPU Intel HD Graphics 5300 Intel HD Graphics 5300
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
4 x 8 Gb (4 GB)
SKHynix H5TC8G63AMR-PBA 8Gb x16 DDR3L
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
4 x 8 Gb (4 GB)
Storage Intel SSD 535 Series SSDSCKJW120H6
(120 GB; M.2 Type 2280 SATA 6Gb/s; 16nm; MLC)
Intel SSD 535 Series SSDSCKJW120H6
(120 GB; M.2 Type 2280 SATA 6Gb/s; 16nm; MLC)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $453 $453
Performance Metrics - I
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  • cjb110 - Thursday, October 8, 2015 - link

    It's probably a side effect of them being soldered on the board, they've counted 4 of chips, each being 8 gigabit. If it had used sticks, then I doubt they'd have been counted as such. Some GPU reviews have done the same.
  • GatesDA - Wednesday, October 7, 2015 - link

    It's weird, but the lower-case "b" matters. For some reason it's listed in gigabits, and 8 gigabits (Gb) = 1 gigabyte (GB).
  • mctylr - Wednesday, October 7, 2015 - link

    No, it's not weird if you are use to using SI (metric), where prefixes are case sensitive as well (i.e. Mega versus milli).
  • frenchy_2001 - Wednesday, October 7, 2015 - link

    And if you want to be pedantic, they are NOT using the right symbol either.
    It should be 4 x 8Gib = 4 GiB
    Gi = 2^30
    G = 10 ^9, SI notation
  • mkozakewich - Thursday, October 8, 2015 - link

    Yeah, but that's stupid anyway. Only drive manufacturers use base-10 units. We should just call a billion byes "drive gigabytes" and leave the rest as regular GB.
  • piroroadkill - Thursday, October 8, 2015 - link

    Disagree, there are actual standards on this kind of thing.

    Drive units are using correct SI order of magnitude prefix notation, whereas RAM manufacturers are not, and most people do not use them correctly. Windows reports sizes incorrectly (using the traditional, incorrect method). OS X reports sizes using SI notation these days, correctly.
  • Vepsa - Wednesday, October 7, 2015 - link

    I think this would be great for a LSTP thin client.
  • bznotins - Wednesday, October 7, 2015 - link

    Feels like no hardware H.265 support is a deal-killer.

    Looking-forward to the lower-power Skylake CPUs for future streaming boxes.
  • nathanddrews - Thursday, October 8, 2015 - link

    That's my thought as well. Looking at it purely from a HTPC perspective, without HEVC support, it really offer very little over a much cheaper Atom-based Liva. As a generic workstation, you can't upgrade the RAM and the SSD upgrade path is very limited. It lacks a second gigabit port, so you can't make a router out of it either. For gaming, it's worthless unless you use it as a streamer, but then you can do that with much cheaper units as well. For $450-500, it's a terrible purchase no matter what your end goal is.

  • Oxford Guy - Thursday, October 8, 2015 - link

    "The only unfortunate aspect here is the complete absence of any sort of hardware acceleration for HEVC."

    It strikes me as particularly ridiculous that Intel has rolled out their 14nm parts with iGPUs that have no H.265. WEAK.

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