LIVA Q1L Review – pfSense, Ubuntu 20.04, Windows 10 tested on a dual Ethernet “Ultra Tiny PC”

liva q1l review

Elitegroup Computer Systems (ECS) have a series of mini PCs called LIVA which includes the diminutive Q range from which the LIVA Q2 was previously reviewed. Now it is the turn of the LIVA Q1L which although announced over a year ago has just been received for review and the results from various testing are detailed below.

Hardware Overview

The Q1L physically consists of a 74 x 74 x 34.6 mm (2.91 x 2.91 x 1.36 inches) rectangular plastic case. It is an actively cooled mini PC that uses slightly older Apollo Lake processors and the review model came with an N4200 CPU which is a quad-core 4-thread 1.10 GHz processor boosting to 2.50 GHz with Intel’s HD Graphics 505.

The front has a power button, two USB 3.2 Gen 1×1 ports, and one USB 2.0 port whilst the rear includes an HDMI port, two gigabit Ethernet ports, and the power jack. On the left side is a micro-SD card slot and on the right side is a Kensington security slot.

The review model also included 4 GB of soldered-on LPDDR4 2400 Mhz memory operating in single-channel:

liva q1l ramand 64 GB of soldered eMMC. Additionally, there is a soldered-on Qualcomm Atheros QCA6174 WiFi 5 (or 802.11ac) module.

The internals of the device consists of two stacked motherboards with the bottom one containing all the I/O ports:

LIVA Q1L motherboard

and a fan sitting above the top one.

Box contents

In the box you get a power adapter and cord, a separate plug adapter appropriate for your country, and a VESA mounting bracket together with screws for attaching the device to behind a monitor:

LIVA Q1 Series mini PC power supply

A user manual is available on the ECS website.

Review Methodology

When reviewing mini PCs I typically look at their performance under both Windows and Linux (Ubuntu) and compare them against some of the more recently released mini PCs. Since the start of 2021, I’ve been reviewing using Windows 10 version 21H1 and Ubuntu 20.04 LTS however because the review unit did not include a licensed copy of Windows I have used Windows 10 Enterprise Evaluation version 21H1. I tested with a selection of commonly used Windows benchmarks and/or equivalents for Linux together with Thomas Kaiser’s ‘sbc-bench’ which is a small set of different CPU performance tests focusing on server performance when run on Ubuntu. I also use ‘Phoronix Test Suite’ and benchmark with the same set of tests on both Windows and Ubuntu for comparison purposes. On Ubuntu, I also compile the v5.4 Linux kernel using the default config as a test of performance using a real-world scenario.

Prior to benchmarking, I perform all necessary installations and updates to run the latest versions of both OSes. I also capture some basic details of the device for each OS.

Windows Performance

Retail versions of the Q1L come installed with a licensed copy of Windows 10 Pro however the sample I received only had a test Windows installation so I performed a clean install of Windows 10 Enterprise Evaluation version 21H1. After upgrading to build 19043.1165, a quick look at the hardware information shows:

Intel Pentium N4200 windows configuration windows 10 disk management 64GB NTFS Q1L windows info Ultra Tiny PC-LIVA Q1L windows hwinfo LIVA Q1L windows gpu-z

A brief check showed working HDMI audio, micro-SD, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Ethernet.

I then set the power mode to ‘Ultimate Performance’ and ran my (2021) standard set of benchmarking tools to look at performance under Windows:

For my specific set of Phoronix Test Suite tests the results were:

windows phoronix overview LIVA Q1L

All these results can then be compared with other recent mini PCs:

windows mini pc comparison august 2021

showing that although this is not a very powerful processor the results are in line with other mini PCs using the same older Pentium N4200 CPU and given the limitation caused by running with single-channel memory.

LIVA Q1L Ubuntu Performance

As the eMMC only had limited free space remaining after installing Windows plus the benchmarking software I performed a clean installation of Ubuntu using an Ubuntu 20.04.2.0 ISO. After installation and updates, a brief check showed working HDMI audio, micro-SD, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Ethernet.

The key hardware information under Ubuntu 20.04.2 is as follows:

ubuntu biwin sd card disk management Q1L ubuntu 20.04.2 info


I then set the CPU Scaling Governor to ‘performance’ and ran my Linux benchmarks for which the majority of the results are text-based but the graphical ones included:

Ultra Tiny PC LIVA Q1L ubuntu geekbench 5 cpu LIVA Q1L Ubuntu Unigine Heaven Benchmark

I also ran Passmark PerformanceTest Linux:

LIVA Q1L review ubuntu cpu passmark

which can be directly compared to the results from running the CPU test in Windows:

Windows CPU passmark LIVA Q1L

For the same set of Phoronix Test Suite tests the results were:

Q1L ubuntu phoronix overview

The complete results together with a comparison against other recent mini PCs are:

linux mini pcs comparison august 2021

and are again in line with other mini PCs using this older N4200 CPU.

Video playback in Browsers & Kodi

For real-world testing, I played some videos in Edge, Chrome and Kodi on Windows and in Firefox, Chrome and Kodi on Ubuntu. The following tables summarise the tests and results for each:

LIVA Q1L video playback in youtube, kodi

Note that whilst ECS claim “Best 4K Visual Experience” in their marketing they also state for OS support “Recommends to install Windows” and this is likely because although 4K is possible in Windows it isn’t achievable in Ubuntu.

Gaming

As can be seen from the above Unigine Heaven scores the Q1L will only offer very limited gaming performance.

Windows vs Ubuntu

Whilst a detailed comparison between the two operating systems is beyond the scope of this review, it is worth noting some of the key findings I observed. Looking at the performance tools common between the two OS showed that they were reasonably evenly matched.

There was an occurrence when video playback became poor in Ubuntu because thermal throttling was occurring due to the high load on the CPU but the fan had not fully ramped up. However, as soon as the fan increased the thermal throttling reduced and video playback improved.

LIVA Q1L Thermals

The Q1L uses active cooling and has a very quiet fan which when running measured no more than 38 dBA on my sound level meter next to the device.

Running a stress test on Ubuntu saw the CPU temperature rise quickly to 89°C and then drop to 77°C before slowly climbing to a maximum temperature of 95°C in an ambient room temperature of 15.3°C:

psensor temperature ubuntu stress test

and as soon as the test finished the temperature dropped back down:

LIVA Q1L ubuntu stress monitoring

Networking

Network connectivity throughput was measured on Ubuntu using ‘iperf’:

LIVA Q1L Ethernet WiFi network throughput

pfSense on LIVA Q1L

As the Q1L includes dual gigabit Ethernet ports and meets the minimum hardware requirements for pfSense (which is a free, open-source customized distribution of FreeBSD specifically tailored for use as a firewall and router that is entirely managed via a web interface) I tried both installing and configuring pfSense to control web access for a directly connected Intel NUC running Ubuntu from a LiveUSB:

pfsense LIVA Q1L review

Installation was relatively straightforward although timeouts (likely caused by a known issue with the SD card slot) slowed down the boot process:

pfsense boot timeouts

However, pfSense ran fine on the Q1L:

pfsense 2.5.2 shell on LIVA Q1L

and was accessible from the NUC:

pfsense nuc ubuntu

After installing the squidGuard package I was successfully able to block access to a specific website (cnx-software):

pfsense squidguard

from being accessible from the NUC:

pfsense blocked website

which of course is not a recommended rule configuration!  (Bold highlight by CNXSoft who is editing this post!!! 🙂 )

Windows 10 Drivers for LIVA Q1L

On the ECS website, there is a download link for the Windows drivers but these have not been tested as part of this review.

Power Consumption

Power consumption was measured as follows:

  • Powered off (shutdown) – 0.5 Watts (Windows) and 0.2 Watts (Ubuntu)
  • BIOS* – 5.0 Watts
  • GRUB boot menu – 4.9 Watts
  • Idle – 5.0 Watts (Windows) and 4.4 Watts (Ubuntu)
  • CPU stressed – 9.9 Watts (Windows ‘cinebench’) and 11.0 Watts (Ubuntu ‘stress’)
  • Video playback** – 7.5 Watts (Windows Edge 4K30fps) and 11.1 Watts (Ubuntu Chrome 1440p30fps)

*BIOS (see below)
**The power figures fluctuate while running so the value is the average of the median high and median low power readings.

BIOS

After powering up the Q1L, hitting the F7 key results in a boot menu that includes access to the BIOS. The BIOS is very limited:

Final Observations

Sometimes mini PCs become too small to be functional due to ports omission. Whilst there is no headphone jack, the Q1L’s port layout is both spacious enough to allow everything to be connected without interference and functional enough by providing the minimum number and type of ports typically needed.

Highlights:Limitations:
Small sizeUbuntu 4K playback
Dual gigabit EthernetRestricted BIOS

I’d like to thank LIVA for providing the Q1L for review. It currently retails at around $299 for the tested configuration and includes a licensed Windows 10 Pro.

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15 Comments
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nobitakun
nobitakun
23 days ago

I’m really a fan with that mini PC size. I own one of these form factor devices from another brand and it’s fantastic for emulation. I mean, it’s limited because it’s a litte bit old, but from next year we could possibly see something on this size with a Jasper Lake CPU and a slot for M2 2230 SSD or perhaps 2242 depending on how they design the motherboard. These are amazing devices to bring to your friend’s home with a pair of gamepads and have fun 🙂

TLS
TLS
23 days ago

Something looks really broken in the network tests. 2.4GHz Wi-Fi seems to suffer from driver related issues when it comes to the download bandwidth and even the Ethernet download speed suggests driver issues, as that should be identical for upload and download.
Also, why no performance tests under pfSense? Would’ve been interesting to see the routing throughput and VPN performance.

Theguyuk
Theguyuk
23 days ago

CNXsoft I guess won’t let this post show. But for the money and some noise ( allow import tax etc ). This might be more fun https://fave.co/38a1lh6

unmesh
unmesh
23 days ago

Another vote for posting pfSense performance.

PhilS
PhilS
23 days ago

On a box this size, 2 Gigabit ethernet ports does not make sense. Far better to have another USB or USB-C port, especially as there is no internal data storage expansion.

Having the memory running in dual channel mode is also far more desirable.

The power draw is miniscule and comes close to many ARM based boxes.

But sadly, at $299 I don’t think it will sell that well.

Intel / X86 needs to come closer to ARM pricing to make it worthwhile, especially as the moment you buy one there is something new out in no time at all.

linuxium
21 days ago

pfSense Network Performance   Additional testing was performed using iperf3 with pfSense installed on the Q1L and one Ethernet port configured as a LAN with a directly connected NUC8i3BEK running Windows 10 Pro and the other Ethernet port as a WAN directly connected to a router. The router was then directly connected to the internet and to a NUC7i7DNHE running Ubuntu 18.04.5.  Throughput for the LAN (i.e. between the Q1L and the NUC8i3BEK) download was 126 and upload was 939 Mbits/sec and for the WAN (between the Q1L and the NUC7i7DNHE) download was 350 and upload was 937 Mbits/sec.  Interestingly… Read more »

tkaiser
tkaiser
21 days ago

While the folks who demanded pfSense numbers maybe were after something like this iperf numbers without knowing the ‘packet size’ are somewhat irrelevant.

But the low numbers already indicate that there’s something wrong. Might be interesting to watch top -aSH output while repeating the tests to hopefully spot an obvious bottleneck (like IRQ processing maxing out one CPU core or stuff like that).

tkaiser
tkaiser
21 days ago

Nevermind, just realised that we’re talking about RTL8111H here. So not worth the efforts to look into low throughput numbers…

TLS
TLS
21 days ago

Seriously, it’s time to stop hating on Realtek, they haven’t made crap network chips for a long time. I have had no issues with their Ethernet PHY’s for, well, a very long time.

tkaiser
tkaiser
20 days ago

No hating/bashing intended. And indeed RTL8111 after revision F seems to do ok, at least that’s the result of another Ian investigation.

But for hardware to function there needs to be a driver. And there are numerous issues with FreeBSD’s re driver and different hardware tunables. In addition usual FreeBSD and pfSense community’s response to Realtek NIC troubles is: ‘Don’t waste your and our time and use another NIC’.

TLS
TLS
19 days ago

I can’t speak for FreeBSD, but it hasn’t been an issue in Linux for years.

TLS
TLS
21 days ago

Thanks for taking the time to do this.

linuxium
20 days ago

Some final networking observations For network performance, initially the Q1L was running Ubuntu and connected via its LAN to a router and there was also a NUC7i7DNHE connected to the router: Router (LAN) |———-Q1L (Ubuntu) |———-NUC7i7DNHE (Ubuntu) In this configuration the Q1L ‘iperf -s’ command downloads from the NUC7i7DNHE averaging 814 Mbits/sec with uploads averaging 942 Mbits/sec. However when the Q1L was running pfSense it had a NUC8i3BEK connected to its LAN port and connected to its WAN port was a router which in turn had a NUC7i7DNHE connected to it: |———-NUC8i3BEK (Windows) (LAN) Q1L (pfSense) (WAN) |———-Router (LAN)———-NUC7i7DNHE (Ubuntu)… Read more »

tkaiser
tkaiser
19 days ago

When testing with iperf3 I would suggest using always the -V switch to get more verbose output, especially the negotiated TCP MSS. And since the pfSense use case is router/firewall tests with the Q1L between the two NUCs would’ve been useful. Then these tests should look at raw throughput, NAT throughput and different packet filter configurations and this all with different packet sizes or at least “Internet Mix“. This would take hours and would be a waste of time anyway since as can be seen above the combination of low ‘per core CPU performance’ with low-end NICs that eat up… Read more »

TLS
TLS
19 days ago

Cheers

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