A look at one of the world’s smallest desktop computers

When Intel revealed their miniature PC platform in 2012, the new “Next Unit of Computing” (NUC) was a tiny motherboard with a custom case, and admittedly very little compute power. Well, maybe not so much with the admittedly: “The Intel NUC is an ultra-compact form factor PC measuring 4-inch by 4-inch. Anything your tower PC can do, the Intel NUC can do and in 4 inches of real estate.” That was taken from Intel’s NUC introduction, and though their assertion was perhaps a bit premature, technology does continue its rapid advance in the small form-factor space. We aren’t there yet by any means, but the fact that a mini-ITX computer can be built with the power of an ATX rig (limited to single-GPU, of course) suggests that it could happen for a mini-PC in the not so distant future.

With NUC the focus was clearly on efficiency over performance, and with very low power and noise there were practical applications for such a device to offset the marginal "desktop" performance. The viability of a NUC would definitely depend on the user and their particular needs, of course. If you could find a place for such a device (such as a living room) it may have been worth the cost, as the first of the NUC kits were fairly expensive (around $300 and up) and did not include storage or memory. These days a mini PC can be found starting as low as $100 or so, but most still do not include any memory or storage. They are tiny barebones PC kits after all, so adding components is to be expected…right?

It’s been a couple of years now, and the platform continues to evolve – and shrink to some startlingly small sizes. Of the Intel-powered micro PC kits on today’s market the LIVA from ECS manages to push the boundaries of this category in both directions. In addition to boasting a ridiculously small size – actually the smallest in the world according to ECS – the LIVA is also very affordable. It carries a list price of just $179 (though it can be found for less), and that includes onboard memory and storage. And this is truly a Windows PC platform, with full Windows 8.1 driver support from ECS (previous versions are not supported).

At the core of the LIVA’s tiny motherboard is an Intel Bay Trail-M SoC with two Celeron cores running at 1.58 GHz each (turbo to 2.16 GHz) with 1MB of cache. There is 2GB of DDR3L running at 1333MHz onboard, and the integrated storage is provided via integrated eMMC in either 32GB or 64GB capacities (our review unit has 32GB). There is also an M.2 slot on the motherboard, intended for the 802.11b/g/n wireless / bluetooth 4.0 combo card included in the box.

Before unboxing the LIVA, we’ll check out the full specs from ECS.

Motherboard: ECS BAT-MINI
CPU / Chipset: Intel Bay Trail-M
Memory: 2GB DDR3L
Storage: eMMC 64 / 32GB
LAN: Realtek RTL8111G
Audio: Realtek ALC282(2CH) Combo Jack
Wireless (by NGFF Card): WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n + Bluetooth 4.0
USB 3.0 / 2.0: 1/1 Port
I / O Interface:
1 USB 3.0 / 1 USB 2.0
1 Audio Combo Jack
1 Power Connector (Micro USB Port)
1 LAN Port
Thermal: 1 Fanless Heat Sink
OS Support: Windows 8.1 (64-bit)

Packaging and Contents

The LIVA comes in a smallish box that still looks closer to mini-ITX, though once opened the size of the enclosure on the right dispels any doubt of the microscopic nature of this kit.

Aside from the empty (for now) enclosure shell, we first see a setup guide, support disc, and M.2 wireless/bluetooth card with required antenna.

The power adapter sports a standard micro-USB connector and outputs 5V power up to 3 Amps.

And then of course there is the motherboard – which is just a bit bigger than the ubiquitous Raspberry Pi.

Think SSD size. Like, almost exactly.

A look at the rear of the board

LIVA: A Desktop Replacement?

I would have assumed that a device like the LIVA would more likely be used for content consumption than content creation or gaming, but there are also general productivity applications to consider. If capable, the LIVA could be a fantastic value as a nettop PC – especially if running a free OS like Ubuntu Linux, which would keep the total investment at $179 for the system (provided of course that you have keyboard/mouse/monitor already). But the big question is, does it perform well enough to function as a desktop PC?

To answer this I chose to run the LIVA as my primary PC for a week. I also ran a few benchmarks, tested out HD video playback from different sources, and even tried out DirectX 11 3D gaming (kind of, but not really).

Read on to see how it performed!

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