Potential Issues, Wrap Up
While reviewing the unit we may have discovered an issue the Liva when it loses power suddenly. This was first noticed on day one when the Liva was left on overnight. By coincidence a large storm knocked the power out for a short period that night.The next morning the Liva failed to boot -- Windows had been corrupted and all efforts to repair it failed.
After reinstalling Windows we left the Liva running for a week without incident. Then out of interest I flicked the power off at the wall while the system was just sitting at the Windows desktop. It turned back on, booted and this time Windows setup ran for more than 30 minutes though it eventually loaded as expected (a few default desktop icons were restored).
Roughly another 30 minutes later I pulled the plug one more time and rebooted the system (again, while the Liva was just sitting at the Windows desktop with no programs open). This time the box booted back into Windows without any problems.
SanDisk says that the SanDisk eMMC SDIN8DE4-64GB features power failure immunity but we aren't exactly sure how it's configured in the ECS Liva. For now, we'll have to do some more testing to determine just how reliable the system is when suffering power failure. For now, things aren't looking promising.
This is probably a non-issue if the Liva is hooked up to a UPS, but considering it's an ultra-low cost computer, we're not sure it will have that luxury in most scenarios.
This leads us to our next concern which could also impact the reliability of Liva. As mentioned earlier, the device uses a USB input as its main power source and based on our observations it appears to have little extra protection on the input power supply lines.
From what we can tell the Liva relies heavily on the input quality of the USB signal. While we did see a bypass capacitor on board, there doesn't appear to be any low frequency filtering on the input lines. In due deference to the designers, the bypass capacitor is the device most needed in most power supply applications, and it is often one of the smallest, cheapest items needed.
This design places a greater emphasis on the power supply and we don't suggest using Liva with other non-tested power supplies or power bricks due to the limited onboard protection for things like over-voltage.
Above all, ECS designed the Liva 64GB to be inexpensive and at just $185 there is no questioning its affordability -- but who is meant to buy it? ECS says the Liva's fanless, low power design makes it an ideal HTPC and while it can handle 1080p content, the system has many limitations including a single rear USB 3.0 port and no remote functionality.
It's unfortunate, but we also think it's fair to say that the system's 1080p playback support is questionable. Make no mistake, the Liva can play some 1080p content, but it's iffy at a max of 23 to 24fps. For example, the latest Transformers movie would run for us but there was noticeable lag at times and the CPU was constantly working at nearly 100% load.
As a budget HTPC, the Liva is a better alternative to some of the other media boxes floating around, though it's pricier than many because an operating system must be purchased separately (for now). Beta Linux drivers are available, but the device is designed to be used with Windows 8.1 and apparently there is no Windows 7 driver for the SanDisk eMMC.
Shortly before publishing this review, ECS announced that a version of Liva with Windows 8.1 built-in is coming soon, but didn't mention a price. Having to buy an operating system is a drawback most system builds face, but companies who bundle the software are able to provide much more competitive rates, and in this case we are hoping somewhere close to $200, instead of the $300+ it would cost if you bought Windows separately.
Going forward, 2GB of RAM isn't going to cut it and limits the Liva to running a few basic programs at a time. Storage is another issue as many folks will quickly fill the 64GB on tap. Given the limited performance, memory, storage, connectivity and general functionality, it makes us wonder if saving $100 to $150 over a superior system is worthwhile.
The biggest issue for these types of systems in the past has been notebook computers. After all, the Asus X551MAV with a Celeron N2830, 4GB of memory and a 500GB hard drive with Windows 8.1 can be had for just $240 -- a price that also includes a battery, 15.6-inch display, input devices and everything else that come along with a mobile machine.
Still, we applaud ECS' efforts to develop a budget desktop/HTPC. Bundling Windows 8 would help improve the Liva's appeal, as would support for a single mSATA device and 4GB of RAM, and we'd even pay a few extra bucks for it. As it stands, the Liva delivers somewhat tolerable performance in a remarkably efficient package for a fairly reasonable price.
Pros: The Liva occupies little space and consumes even less power while providing enough juice to drive some 1080p content while costing under $200.
Cons: The box isn't as attractive after accounting for the cost of Windows, seeing its limited HTPC potential and experiencing its questionable reliablity.