ECS LIVA SF110-A320 AMD-Powered Mini PC Review

Manufacturer: ECS ECS LIVA SF110-A320 AMD-Powered Mini PC Review

First shown at CES 2019, and then launched at last year’s Computex, the ECS LIVA SF110-A320 is an AMD-powered addition to the ECS LIVA mini-PC family; welcome news to small form-factor enthusiasts.

Of particular importance is the fact that this mini-PC does not use an embedded processor, as it sports a standard AM4 socket on the A320 motherboard within – though there is a restrictive 35W TDP limit.

This 35W limit relegates the SF110-A320 to a subset of current AMD offerings, including the Athlon 3000G we tested it with (though not without issue – more on this later). Other current 35W AM4 options include the Athlon 200GE, Athlon 220GE, Athlon 240GE, and Athlon 300GE.

AMD has previously released 35W variants of their Ryzen 2000 and 3000 series desktop APUs, with the Zen-based Ryzen 3 2200GE and Ryzen 5 2400GE launched two years ago, followed by the Zen+ Ryzen 3 3200GE and Ryzen 5 3400GE last July. None of these parts made it into the retail channel, however.

Features include:

  • One Liter “Book-Size”
  • Support for AMD AM4 CPUs up to 35W
  • Supports up to 32GB DDR4-2667
  • M.2 NVMe Slot
  • 2.5” HDD/SSD Bay
  • USB Type-C Connectivity
  • Support 3 Displays
  • Easy to tool-free upgrades
Product Specifications
  • Platform: Support AMD Ryzen 3/5 for 1331 uPGA (Up to 35w)
  • Memory Support: 2 x SO-DIMM DDR4 2666MHz up to 32GB
  • Storage Device Support:
  • 1 x M.2 supports 2280
  • 1 x SATA 2.5″ HDD
  • Audio:     2 x Audio Jacks
  • USB Ports:
  • REAR I/O: 4 x USB 2.0
  • FRONT I/O: 2 x USB 3.1 Gen1 + 1 x USB 3.1 Gen1 Type C
  • Video Output: 1 x HDMI + 1 x VGA and 2 x DP (2nd DP optional)
  • Networking:
  • Intel WiFi 802.11ac & Bluetooth 4.2
  • Gigabit LAN
  • OS Support: Windows 10
  • Power:
  • Input : AC 100-240V
  • Output : DC 19V / 4.74A
  • Dimensions: 205 x 176 x 33 mm
Pricing

$179

Manufacturer Description

“The versatile SF110-A320 Mini PC embedded with future technologies make it perfect for the comfort of light gaming or the demanding nature at the work place. With a 1-Liter of book-size, the SF110-A320 has a super-small footprint. In addition to powerful AMD Ryzen processing, support for multiple displays, and high-speed USB ports, and it’s easy to upgrade your device – so you can focus on your gaming experience, not your PC.”

Design

The SF110-A320 uses what ECS calls a “book size” form factor; just 33 mm tall, 205 mm wide, and 176 mm deep. This is an all-metal chassis (top, bottom, back, sides), with just the front panel made of plastic.

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The front panel offers a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a USB 3.1 Type-C port, and a pair of 3.5 mm audio jacks.

Around back we have, from left to right, the 19V power input, DisplayPort (our unit is configured with a single DP – a second is optional), 15-pin D-sub (VGA), HDMI, RJ45, RS232, and four USB 3.0 ports.

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The wireless antenna consists of two elements capped with plastic housings on the far left and right side of this rear panel. An external solution is essential here, considering the full metal construction of the LIVA.

Here are the complete package contents of this mini PC kit:

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The kit includes the mini PC enclosure with AMD socket AM4 motherboard, the CPU cooling assembly, a 90W external power supply (APD model DA-90F19), VESA mount, a stand for vertical placement of the mini PC, and a system utility CD.

Here is a closer look at the 90W power supply:

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System Interior and Motherboard

Removing the top panel took more force than expected, but once I was able to slide it forward sufficiently it did lift off fairly easily.Once inside we are presented with a an AMD A320 chipset motherboard, partially obscured by the SATA SSD/HDD cage.

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At a glance the main areas of interest are the AM4 CPU socket, dual notebook-style SODIMM memory slots, and the storage cage on the left side (mounted to this cage is an internal speaker which connects to an onboard sound header, distinct from the system’s piezo beeper).

As the specially designed low-profile cooling solution is provided in the box, there is no concern about clearance around the AMD socket. The two SODIMM slots are positioned next to the socket, and installed memory will sit neatly below the blower-style fan once installed. This will be a very densely packed system with the CPU cooler in place.

Naturally, I pulled this motherboard from the system to get a closer look:

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This LIVA uses a custom AMD A320 chipset motherboard, which is not really directly comparable to the small form-factor A320 boards (A320AM4-M3 and A320AM4-M3D) that ECS offers separately.

Power delivery is not exactly high-end, but it doesn’t need to be with that 35W CPU limit. These components include 5x Sinopower SM4377 and SM4373 MOSFETs, and a Richtek RT3667BB PWM controller.

Other components identified include a Realtek RTL8111GN Gigabit Ethernet controller, ITE IT6516BFN Single Chip DisplayPort to VGA converter, a Zywyn ZT3243E RS232 transceiver, and an ITE IT8733E Super I/O controller (I think).

The audio codec – which is hidden beneath some of the protective black plastic on the underside of the board – is a Realtek ALC256; the same chip used in the NUC 9 Extreme Compute Element. The included wireless card is an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165 (model 3165NGW).

And now for a close look at the included CPU cooling solution.

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The fan is a small laptop-style unit from AVC (model BAZA0814B2U) which appears to the be exact unit found in a ThinkCentre M8600q.

The heatsink offers a copper base (with pre-applied thermal compound) and aluminum fins, with a plastic guide at the end to ensure exhaust through the rear opening.

Build Notes

As the specially designed low-profile cooling solution is provided in the box, there is no concern about clearance around the AMD socket. The two SODIMM slots are positioned next to the socket, and installed memory will sit neatly below the blower-style fan once installed.

ECS mentions that tools are not required to upgrade this system, and while the case can be opened without tools, upgrading components – other than SODIMMs – will require a screwdriver. For RAM upgrades the CPU blower is easily removed without tools to access the two memory slots.

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Our build included the AMD Athlon 3000G Processor with Radeon Graphics, which combines a 2-core/4-thread 14nm Zen CPU and Vega 3 graphics. CPU base clock is 3.50 GHz, and up to DDR4-2667 memory is supported.

Storage options include both 2.5-inch SATA drives and an M.2 slot with NVMe support. The 2.5-inch SSD/HDD cage must first be removed (via four screws) to access the 2280 M.2 slot.

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Here I installed a 256GB Samsung SM961 NVMe SSD (an OEM model which at one time was selling for just $35). Only PCIe-based drives are supported with the M.2 slot. The included Intel 802.11ac wireless card (Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165) is also exposed with the drive cage removed.

After installing the cooler, we will be ready to boot this tiny AMD-powered system up for the first time. This is an easy process, as the heatsink uses spring-loaded, captive screws. Simply tighten (each screw mount is labeled 1 through 4 to assist in proper procedure here) and then attach the fan, which basically just sits in place and will be secured by the lid.

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Usage Notes Part 1: Windows 10 Stability Issues

I cannot offer a complete performance appraisal with our test build under Windows 10, as there were stability issues when the system was under load.

Our system either locked up or powered down during many benchmarks, with PCMark 10 failing multiple times and even lightweight graphics tests such as 3DMark Night Raid resulting in random shutdowns. OS and drivers were re-installed, and memory clocked down from the default 2667 to 2133, to no avail.

I attempted to isolate the problem, initially thinking it was power related – though our configuration did not come close to pushing the limits of the 90W power supply. Given the design of this system I naturally considered the possibility that this shutdown issue was related to thermals.

The provided cooling solution is geared towards low noise output (no fan adjustment is available in the setup), and the metal enclosure can create a very warm environment for the components. Ventilation is relegated to openings in the plastic case front, with air passing over the CPU blower and out of a small, laptop-style vent in the back.

Still, max recorded thermals during these Windows 10 sessions were just 59.5 C in an 18.2 C room. The CPU is able to clock down to manage both thermals and power limits, so this behavior is expected.

The Silver Lining: Integer Scaling

When the system was not being loaded with benchmarks it was perfectly adequate as a desktop replacement for light tasks and even some very light gaming under Windows 10. And by very light I mean I only tested DOS gaming via GOG. This brings up my favorite feature available with our Athlon 3000G’s integrated Radeon graphics: integer scaling.

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AMD extends support for integer GPU display scaling down to their older chipsets, including the Vega graphics in this Athlon 3000G!. It’s a simple toggle in the Radeon settings, and I was seeing crisp, square pixels with DOS games on a 1920×1080 display with this enabled – without having to resort to the DOSBox pixel perfect mod.

Usage Notes Part 2: Ubuntu Linux

Here we have a much different story to tell. Having given up on Windows 10 after the unsuccessful benchmarking experience back in April, and initially writing up a review that reached the same conclusion as PCMag’s recent review of this LIVA, I decided to get it back out and try a Linux install.

Grabbing a handy USB drive loaded with Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, I booted up the LIVA into the live environment and everything just worked. So I ran the installer, erased the drive, and started fresh with Ubuntu. After installation – and running the software updater to get the latest updates including any third-party drivers – I began benchmarking.

A couple of excellent cross-platform CPU benchmarks are freely available, with both Geekbench 5 and Blender available on Linux, MacOS, and Windows. Having run both of these recently on a variety of CPUs, I selected a couple of those results to put this Athlon 3000G’s performance in context.

This is not a review of the Athlon 3000G, a (sometimes) $50 part with integrated graphics and excellent performance for basic computing tasks. Benchmarking this CPU served to test the stability of the system, which was excellent under Ubuntu. I suspect more than ever a driver issue with my Windows configuration.

I will very briefly touch on graphics performance here. It’s not good. While perfectly well suited to desktop usage with up to a 4K display (I conducted all of these tests with the system connected to my LG B6 OLED), the Vega 3 graphics in the Athlon 3000G just aren’t up to the task for 3D gaming.

While not a real-world test, just to provide an indication of graphical capabilities here is the result of a test run of Unigine Superposition (OpenGL under Linux, naturally), 1280×720 resolution, low settings.

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I also ran the older Heaven benchmark under Linux as well, with much better results: an average at low detail settings of 24.6 FPS at 1920×1080, and 51.2 FPS at 1280×720. There is hope for less demanding 3D gaming on this APU after all.

Power, Thermals, and Noise

Measuring power from the wall during Ubuntu usage revealed load power consumption of just 34.7 W (total system), and that number came during a Blender all-core benchmark. Perhaps unsurprisingly, watching YouTube with the Firefox browser was even more taxing than Blender, with 38.5 W observed when watching a 1080p/60 video. In general numbers were as expected from a 35W processor, with total system draw topping out at ~44 W at the wall during Unigine GPU benchmarking.

Under Windows 10 (when things were stable), I performed some basic thermal testing. During typical browser-dominated desktop use I recorded temps in 36.5 – 37.8 C range. A short gaming load test (Basemark GPU, medium) resulted in a max of 57.8 C CPU, and 54.7 C GPU die temps. Ambient temp was 18.2 C during these tests. Later testing with Ubuntu in a warmer setting offer similar deltas, with 64 C the max temp observed in a ~24 C room.

The chassis definitely does get warm (top and bottom surface) as that small rear exhaust is the only place for warm air to exit. It also takes some time for the system to regain idle temp after load.

As to noise output, this was very low. At idle the system was measured at ~32.5 dBA with our SPL meter from just 12 inches away. More impressively, it was still under 35 dBA at load (~33.5 – 34.5 range). It is obvious that the fan profile is tuned for low noise, and there is no way to change this (assuming the fan is capable of higher RPMs) in setup.

Conclusion

Any mini-PC powered by an AMD processor – something I’ve been getting requests about for years – is interesting to me. My experience with this LIVA wasn’t perfect, and I don’t know if my Windows 10 issues were due to hardware or driver incompatibilities, or some other issue.

As of this writing, no BIOS updates are available for the SF110-A320, and its outdated AGESA firmware (version 1.0.0.2) might not have been playing nice with our Athlon 3000G processor, though the processor was recognized without issue and never failed to boot the system. Unfortunately, we do not have any other 35W Ryzen processor on hand to test that theory.

Installing Ubuntu Linux (18.04 LTS) ended up salvaging what would have been an incomplete review. I had no stability issues with Ubuntu, running Blender and Unigine Heaven for extended periods without any of the app crashes or shutdowns I had under Windows 10. Some of that comes down to software, of course, as I wasn’t using all of the same apps under Linux.

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The system played back 24-bit, 96 kHz FLAC files of 1960’s jazz flawlessly. How can I ask for more?

In general the experience with this LIVA and our 35W Athlon 3000G was excellent for desktop productivity and media consumption (below 4K/60). And I’ll point out that overall performance was better under Linux, even when Windows was stable. It also made an outstanding little retro gaming system, with crisp integer scaling making DOS-era games look razor sharp, even on a 65-inch UHD display. (This would make a nice emulation platform, as well.)

One major issue with the LIVA SF110-A320 is simply availability. To date I haven’t seen it for sale anywhere in the US. If it does become available, the list price is (apparently) $179. That price gets you a motherboard, power supply, low profile CPU cooler, and custom small form-factor enclosure, and in context seems OK – and yes, you can certainly build a faster system for less. That’s not really the point.

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ECS set out to put a socketed AMD system into a mini-PC the size of a book, and they pulled it off. It’s not perfect; the chassis would certainly benefit from some additional ventilation, the 35W CPU limit prevents the use of AMD’s mainstream 65W APUs, and the A320 chipset is far from the best choice for any AM4 build. I look forward to future products like this, however.

There’s just something appealing about a mini PC with a full-sized CPU socket.

Update (6/01/20): ECS has informed us that a new version of the LIVA A320 will be ready in July, and it will offer a 65W TDP limit. We look forward to testing it out when it’s available!

Review Disclosures

This disclosure statement covers the way the product being reviewed was obtained and the relationship between the product's manufacturer and PC Perspective.

How Product Was Obtained

The system is on loan from ECS for the purpose of this review.

What Happens To Product After Review

The system remains the property of ECS but will be on extended loan to PC Perspective for the purpose of future testing and product comparisons.

Company Involvement

ECS provided the product sample and technical brief to PC Perspective but had no control over the content of the review and was not consulted prior to publication.

PC Perspective Compensation

Neither PC Perspective nor any of its staff were paid or compensated in any way by ECS for this review.

Advertising Disclosure

ECS has not purchased advertising at PC Perspective during the past twelve months.

Affiliate Links

This article contains affiliate links to online retailers. PC Perspective may receive compensation for purchases made through those links.

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About The Author

Sebastian Peak

Editor-in-Chief at PC Perspective. Writer of computer stuff, vintage PC nerd, and full-time dad. Still in search of the perfect smartphone. In his nonexistent spare time Sebastian's hobbies include hi-fi audio, guitars, and road bikes. Currently investigating time travel.

5 Comments

  1. JohnGR

    ECS does not exist for me, for the last 6-7 years or something, from when they decided to go Intel only with the Liva. They where rumored to getting ready to produce one with an AMD APU in the far past, but then that model suddenly disappear. From that day they disappeared from my radar forever. Producing an AMD based product that is having issues and an old AGESA, is no surprise for me. The lack of availability also. They where probably getting too many mails for an AMD based product, but at the same time they have to keep Intel happy. A mediocre product is the answer to their dilemma.

    Reply
    • collie

      I’m pretty sure the origional ECS amd apu model was shelved due to thermals, no one want’s a mini pc if it’s basically a hair dryer. Best thing amd ever did was abandon bulldozer.

      Reply
  2. BigTed

    Unless you *really* need a book shaped for factor, then I reckon the ASRock A300 is a much better deal. Its slightly bigger in volume, but has better cooling and support for more CPUs. You can just about fit the Wraith cooler in if you remove the top shroud too.

    Reply
  3. Domenico james Lamberti

    Oh I just love this. but much like with the ASRock DeskMini A300, with a 300 series chipset, its basically DOA if you ever want to upgrade something.

    I;’m assuming the renoir based APUs will be supported, as long as there is a 65w version, but loft, its a shame they stuck with A320

    Reply
  4. AcidSnow

    Wish I had a use for such a small form factor, especially since it offers an AMD option as a CPU. Big fan of their APU’s, as I bought a decent laptop with a R5 2500U in it; decent at some basic gaming.

    Reply

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