Desktop Use and Conclusion

Subjective Desktop Performance

As I used the newest LIVA I was reminded of the impression I had from last year's LIVA X. There was a general lack of snappiness that you just wouldn't expect on a modern desktop, though the Braswell SoC under the hood is closer to the power of a tablet than a standard PC. The slow onboard storage certainly doesn’t help the X2 out, but in general I think the 2 GB of RAM in the review unit (again, 4 GB is available) was more of a problem. Another note, as this LIVA arrived with the 32 GB eMMC option I had to watch what was installed/saved on the eMMC drive at any given time or risk seeing this message:

So what can the LIVA X2 offer as a tiny desktop replacement? It’s certainly fast enough for light workloads; web browsing, email, office applications, even HTML5 video (thankfully YouTube defaults to this now) – as long as it isn't really high bit-rate. Multi-media tasks such as photo editing are probably out unless you don't mind waiting long periods of time for images to load, or changes to apply. Multi-tasking is out, as a slower dual-core system with only 2 GB of memory just can't support mixed workloads.

A score of 1123 in PCMark 8 isn't going to break any records

Overall, it's just not a great desktop Windows experience. So what is it good for? I've been trying to answer this question since I tested the first LIVA, and while ECS has produced a very polished little product with this X2, it's a question that the user is going to need to answer before making a purchasing decision. Though with improved video playback from this newest LIVA it could certainly be used as an HTPC, with the fanless design and low cost an advantage.

Conclusion

The LIVA is a really cool idea: a full system, complete with memory and storage, ready to use out of the box with a preinstalled OS. And the LIVAs all sip power – under 10W at full load. For lightweight workloads there are a lot of possibilities for this mini-PC, but I can't help wanting more. Is is so unreasonable to expect the performance and the desktops of 5 years ago in today's ultra budget hardware? It certainly seems so. The fact is that at this point a processor that targets just 4W of power isn't going to get you very far with the per-thread performance of an Atom CPU unless you have more cores to work with.

The faster Celeron N3540 part that I used for comparison was slightly faster per thread, thanks to a higher boost clock speed (and TDP), but the biggest advantage came from the additional 2 cores. An 8-core SoC would fare much better of course, especially as more software is multi-core aware than ever. Intel has been moving rather slowly in this regard for their consumer SoCs, and that's too bad considering the power (and price) targets prompting the selection of these parts has condemned many a budget system to suffer lackluster performance as a result. AMD APUs offer an alternative, but the Intel platform clearly has a foothold in the mini-PC market. We'll see what the next generation brings, but that probably means waiting another year.

Strengths

  • Better than expected HTPC performance
  • Fanless design provides silent operation
  • Ultra-low power consumption
  • Includes VESA mount

Weaknesses

  • Dual-core Braswell SoC underpowered for desktop use
  • eMMC storage performance

Bottom line, the LIVA X2 is a product still limited in scope as a PC. The latest version is powerful enough to accomplish lightweight tasks, and offers improved graphics performance from the Braswell SoC, as well the move to 802.11ac wireless. But the system is still not powerful enough to provide snappy performance you'd expect from a modern desktop. There are certainly possibilities for the X2, but I would have liked to see more from this new generation as it is only marginally better than the LIVA X that preceded it. It’s really the platform, not ECS’s execution, that I find fault with. However, if you’re in the market for a low-power Intel Braswell system, this is an excellent option.

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