ECS EliteGroup LIVA Z3 review
ECS, or EliteGroup Computer Systems, became a household name before AMD released the Athlon, and ECS made affordable motherboards for that platform.
It became the fifth-largest motherboard manufacturer, with production facilities in Asia and North America run from headquarters in Taiwan.
Nowadays, ECS manufactures a wide range of devices which includes laptops, tablets, motherboards, IoT products and our review article today, Mini PCs.
After Intel’s new Jasper Lake-powered NUC systems, ECS launched the LIVA Z3 and Z3E series, small, affordable PCs with enough power for general office activities.
But with the low cost and performance of today’s desktop systems, is the Z3 worth the extra cost to get something so small and quiet?
Price and availability
ECS offers three versions of the LIVA Z3 that look very similar on the outside but internally have subtle internal differences regarding processor, RAM and storage options.
The cheapest has the Celeron N4500 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage, and it sells for £252 in the UK and $194.88 on Amazon.com. For £276 you can upgrade it to a Celeron N5100 processor with the same RAM and storage.
And the top spec, Z3, is the one reviewed here, costs £300 in the UK and comes with the Pentium Silver N6000 processor and 128GB of eMMC storage, but still 4GB of RAM. We found the exact spec on Newegg.com for $226.
Why the Z3 comparatively costs so much more in Europe isn’t obvious, but it’s a better deal for those living in America.
When Intel created the NUC specification, they left relatively little leeway for system makers to color outside the lines, and the Z3 follows those guidelines precisely.
Measuring just 11.7 x 12.8 x 3.5 cm and weighing 1.31 kg, this is a small computer almost as small as a TV streaming box from Roku.
With such a small machine, the space available for ports is limited, and the front and back of the Z3 are put to full use in this regard.
The front features three USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports, a single USB 3.2 Gen 2 USB-C port, a universal audio jack, and a power button. The rear side is occupied by Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI 2.0, MiniDP, two USB 2.0 Type-A ports and the PSU connection.
The sides are mainly used for passive ventilation, although the right side has a Kensington security slot. Given how easily this material can be pocketed, this last feature might be worth using.
In the box, along with a quick guide, is a mounting plate designed to attach the Z3 to the back of a VESA-compatible monitor, and screws are provided for this purpose.
As this plate is square, it provides some orientation options to make the power button and USB ports more easily accessible when paired with the monitor.
The build is mostly plastic, though the underside is metal, and the frame that holds the internals is also ruggedly constructed.
Other NUC makers have opted to make silver cases, often from milled aluminum, but ECS instead with glossy black plastic ignoring its affinity for attracting dust.
Really, the Z3 only starts to get interesting when you start looking inside.
Here is the ECS EliteGroup LIVA Z3 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
CPU: Intel Jasper Lake Pentium Silver N6000 SoC
Graphic: Intel UHD Graphics
RAM: 4 GB DDR4-2666 (2x 2 GB), expandable to 16 GB
Storage room: 128 GB eMMC memory, 1 M.2 2280 (PCIe) SSD slot.
Ports: 1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 USB-C, 3 x USB3.2 Gen 1 Type-A, 2 x USB 2.0, 1 x HDMI, 1 x MiniDP, 1 x Universal Audio Jack
Connectivity: WLAN 802.11ax/ac Wireless Network Adapter, Gigabit LAN Adapter, Bluetooth v5.0
Cut: 117 x 128 x 35mm (W x D x H)
The Z3 uses the new Jasper Lake SoC that Intel revealed in Q1 2021, heralded as a significant improvement over previous Gemini Late chips, especially when it comes to GPU performance.
It’s a 10nm chip, which might not sound very exciting since AMD uses 5nm wafers, but for Intel this downscaling is progress.
The processor chosen in our review machine is the Pentium Silver N6000, a 6W TDP quad-core processor with 32EU UHD Graphics integrated.
Intel makes a slightly faster N6005 SoC, but this one has a 10W TDP that would require active cooling in such a small package, hinting why ECS chose the N6000 as the best option for this series.
The base clock speed of the N6000 is 1.1 GHz, and a single-core 3.4 GHz turbo boost for limited periods is available. This chip is a quad-core design without hyperthreading, where thermal sensors adjust the clock speed to prevent overheating.
The ancestors of this chip carried the Atom name, but Intel no longer likes associations with this brand and instead chose Pentium Silver, the committee marketing favorite.
The default storage is 128GB of eMMC memory, a capacity that doesn’t offer a huge amount of free space once the pre-installed Windows Pro 10 takes up its work and recovery space.
4GB of DDR4 RAM is included, but this can be upgraded to 16GB by the user, and this unit’s ability to upgrade memory and storage is probably one of its strongest features.
Four screws can be removed from the bottom for easy access to the motherboard, and all three components can be upgraded or replaced. These include a 2230 PCIe M.2 connected WiFi module, two SO-DIMM slots and a single free 2280 M.2 slot.
The eMMC drive is not accessible or removable, but it should be possible to boot the machine from the 2280 M.2 slot with an NVMe drive.
ECS put 4GB of DDR4 into the memory slots in two 2GB SO-DIMMs, so an upgrade that would involve throwing one or both of them away.