Performance and Conclusion
The LIVA Z offers support for Windows 10, and this is the direction I went in as I needed to run standardized benchmarks. The Windows install process went smoothly, and I installed the latest drivers from the LIVA Z product support page without issue. As to Linux, while I do not get into that here I did quickly load up Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, which is the version specified by ECS. Loading up the live image from a bootable USB drive I found everything to be working as expected immediately including the Intel wireless card, and a quick install demonstrated that Ubuntu would be a zero-effort OS choice for this LIVA Z.
The Intel Apollo Lake SoC in this particular LIVA Z (the entry-level model) contains a Celeron N3350 processor, which is a dual-core, 1.1 GHz part. Boost clocks can reach twice the default, and I saw speeds of above 2 GHz during most of my testing. How effective can two of these N3350 cores be? To demonstrate I ran a few simple benchmarks, and tested out network and video playback performance. To this end, PCMark 8 offers some useful benchmarks for various usage scenarios, and with this LIVA Z I ran the Home 3.0 test.
First of all, even with the latest Intel graphics driver and newest version of Futuremark's SystemInfo software installed, the Intel HD graphics were not properly detected by this benchmark. This could have affected the overall score as there is a "light gaming" test, but this did run properly, though very poorly at only about 8 FPS. So how does this overall score of 1404 stack up? Looking at a recent Dell laptop review, the LIVA Z's Celeron N3350 provides roughly half of the performance of machines featuring mobile Intel Core i5 parts, which is actually right were it probably should be considering the mobile Core i5's two additional processor threads.
Outside of system performance, which was adequate but not exactly speedy, I was curious about video playback. This was source-dependant, as HTML5 video was generally smooth up to 1080p; but for the websites or services that still rely on Adobe Flash (even at 720p), I experienced dropped frames and very choppy playback. My experiments with 4K playback did not result in any watchable video, regardless of format or container, as the SoC in this entry-level Liva Z is just not powerful enough to handle the high bitrate of these video streams. By all means spend the extra money to get a LIVA Z with a faster SoC than the N3350 if you intend to watch high quality video with this machine.
One potential issue related to my streaming video exploits is the overhead required by the Intel wireless adapter itself, which in typical desktop systems would be negligable. Here, on the other hand, even during a simple file download with only one tab open in Google Chrome, I saw 90% CPU usage (and some spikes of 100%).
Doing anything else on the system during my download tests resulted in huge drops in speed, as the adapter was pushing the system to attain full bandwidth. Clearly, this low-end SoC would not be the first choice for home media consumption, as these two low power cores are just not enough to cope with the modest demands of video streaming.
Storage was actually a highlight of my LIVA Z benchmarking, which surprised me as the term 'eMMC' has always made me shudder in the past. First I will show the side-by-side results from both the onboard flash and my inexpensive add-in SATA SSD:
Onboard eMMC on the left, 64GB SATA SSD on the right
I have never seen eMMC perform like this, and if I could live with the capacity I would choose it over the 64GB SSD I installed. The Transcend SSD (a compact 42 mm M.2 drive) is not a high performance unit, but I assumed it would still be a better option than the eMMC. Well, a look at the write speeds alone suggests otherwise, though not every block size performs as well of course. Still, the eMMC in the LIVA Z is certainly a cut above the usual onboard storage.
- ECS LIVA Z (Celeron N3350): $199.99, Newegg.com
The entry-level LIVA Z we had in for review provided the ultra-compact size, silent operation, and flexible installation (with a VESA bracket included in the box) we have come to expect from the LIVA series. Our review unit's low-end Celeron N3350 processor just couldn't handle anything above a light workload, though the system was competent for general computing tasks. One of the areas in which I ran into trouble was network performance, as the CPU was essentially pegged from a file download or video stream. This made attempting any multi-tasking during heavy network usage pretty much impossible. Video was another area of concern for the base model of the LIVA Z family, as only the low-overhead of HTML5 YouTube videos (at or below 1080p) played back smoothly.
Though 4K display capable (it powered even a 65-inch LG OLED TV at full UHD resolution without issue), and with the additional flexibility of dual Gigabit NICs, the Celeron N3350 version of the available Apollo Lake SoCs with this model is just not powerful enough to realize the LIVA Z's full potential. Two alternate SKUs are also offered by ECS, and I would strongly recommend a faster SoC option as I have mentioned. On the positive side, I was very pleased with the expandability of this tiny mini-PC, with its pair of standard DDR3L SODIMM slots and M.2 SSD support – and the onboard eMMC was nothing to sneeze at, either.
I think that ECS has in the LIVA Z a winning mix of form-factor, connectivity, and expandibility; but I found the $199 price tag to be a little high considering the performance of the Celeron N3350 in this entry-level unit. The other available SoCs for the LIVA Z (the Celeron N3450 and Pentium N4200) both offer quad-core processors to this unit's dual-core design, and in my experience those additional cores will be required for all but the lightest workloads.