Review of ECS LIVA Z3 and ZOTAC ZBOX CI331 nano UCFF PCs

Intel’s Jasper Lake series of products (based on the Tremont microarchitecture) were released in early 2021. Since then, we’ve seen a steady stream of laptops and motherboards/mini PCs based on these processors being introduced to the market. Ultra-small form factor (UCFF) machines based on the Atom series offer attractive entry-level options in the NUC realm. Their low-power nature also lends itself to passively cooled designs.

Intel’s Jasper Lake SKUs follow on from Gemini Lake. Back in 2018, we reviewed two different Gemini Lake UCFF PCs – Intel’s actively cooled June Canyon NUC and ECS’s passively cooled LIVA Z2. For Jasper Lake, we purchased four different UCFF PCs – two passively cooled systems using 6W TDP processors and two actively cooled systems using 10W TDP processors.

Today’s article provides a detailed overview of the performance and features of the two passively cooled systems – the ECS LIVA Z3 and the ZOTAC ZBOX CI331 nano. Both are based on 6W TDP processors, with slight variations in frequency and iGPU capabilities. The two vendors also take different approaches to power limits, which leads to unexpected performance impacts. In addition to investigating the capabilities offered for traditional PC workloads, we also dig deeper into thermal design to provide insight into what makes fanless systems meet user requirements.

Product presentation and impressions

Intel’s (Goldmont-based) Apollo Lake SoCs introduced in 2016 were quickly followed by Gemini Lake (Goldmont Plus) in late 2017. However, delays in 10nm manufacturing caused a significant gap before Jasper products Lake based in Tremont do appear. in early 2021. Compared to Gemini Lake, the new Jasper Lake products have improved CPU performance (Intel claims a 33% increase) with updated microarchitecture and larger caches. The integrated GPU is also clocked higher with additional EUs. Intel On the system front, faster expansion options are available, with up to 8 Gen 3 lanes (compared to 6 Gen 2 lanes in Gemini Lake), 14 USB ports (up to 10 Gbps) (per compared to 8 ports up to 5 Gbps in Gemini Lake). Jasper Lake also incorporates a Wireless-AX MAC, enabling cost-effective systems with Wi-Fi 6 support. Manufacturers can adopt or leverage these features in a variety of ways to bring differentiated products to market.

Similar to our Apollo Lake (Intel Arches Canyon and ECS LIVA Z) and Gemini Lake (Intel June Canyon and ECS LIVA Z2) experiences, we got our hands on several Jasper Lake UCFF PCs for evaluation. Today’s review focuses on the two fanless systems – the ECS LIVA Z3 and the ZOTAC ZBOX CI331 nano.

A quick comparison of the ECS LIVA Z3 and the ZBOX CI331 nano reveals the following differentiating aspects:

  • Support for 2.5″ SATA disk drive in ZBOX, not available in LIVA Z3
  • Support for M.2 2280 NVMe SSD in LIVA Z3, not available in ZBOX
  • 128 GB eMMC integrated in the LIVA Z3, not available in the ZBOX
  • VGA display output (3 in total, including HDMI and DisplayPort) available in ZBOX, while LIVA Z3 only has two (HDMI and mini-DP)
  • Dual LAN and SDXC/SDHC card reader included in the ZBOX, while the LIVA Z3 has only one LAN port
  • Four-microphone array (DMIC) built into the LIVA Z3, while the ZBOX has separate headphone and microphone jacks.

The ZBOX also uses a more advanced WLAN solution (Intel Wireless-AC 9462 with Bluetooth 5.1) compared to the LIVA Z3 (Intel Wireless-AC 3165 with Bluetooth 4.2). The form factors are also slightly different, with the lack of a 2.5″ disk drive carrier in the LIVA Z3 allowing it to be slimmer.

The LIVA Z3 is available in several flavors – a bare metal version with 4GB RAM and 128GB eMMC for $220, and another variant with Windows 10 Pro for $250. The ZBOX CI331 nano also has a similar package, although the barebones version is without memory or eMMC. The price is $260 for the barebones version. The reasons for the price premium will become apparent as the review proceeds.

The use cases for both systems are manifold, with the fanless nature making them suitable for digital signage, kiosks, retail applications, and more. ZBOX’s dual LAN function also makes it attractive for networking applications.

The system packages provided by ECS and ZOTAC are similar – both include a 65W power adapter (19V at 3.42A) and include VESA brackets. The ZOTAC package includes a separate WLAN antenna and additional thermal pads for the SATA drive.

The ECS LIVA Z3 review sample came with both memory slots occupied (2x 4GB DDR4-2666 SODIMM). The card also includes 128 GB eMMC, but this is insufficient for our benchmarking needs. We took advantage of the M.2 NVMe slot to install a Crucial P5 M.2 2280 NVMe SSD in the system as the primary drive. Full specifications of the tested LIVA Z3 ECS sample are provided in the table below.

Specifications DHW LIVA Z3
(as tested)
Processor Intel Pentium Silver N6000
Jasper Lake 4C/4T, 1.1 – 3.3GHz
Intel 10nm, 4MB L3, 6W
Memory Gold Key Tech. Neo Forza NMSO440D85-2666E DDR4-2666 SODIMM
19-19-19-43 @ 2666MHz
2×4 GB
Chart Intel UHD Graphics 605
(32EU @ 350 – 850MHz)
HDDs) Crucial P5 CT1000P5SSD8
(1 TB; M.2 2280 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe;)
(Micron 96L 3D TLC; Micron DM0182 Controller)
Biwin BWCTASC41P128G
(128 GB; eMMC)
Networking 1x GbE RJ-45 (Realtek RTL8168/8111)
Intel Wireless AC-3165 (1×1 802.11ac – 433 Mbps)
audio Realtek ALC897 (front panel 3.5mm headphone jack with Quad-Mic Array digital microphone)
Support for digital audio and bitstreaming on HDMI and DisplayPort outputs
Video 1x HDMI 2.0a
1x mini DP 1.4a
Various I/O ports 3x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (Front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (Front)
2x USB 2.0 Type-A (rear)
Operating system Windows 11 Enterprise (22000.708)
Pricing (Street pricing June 21st2022)
US$232 (with eMMC, 4GB DDR4 and OS)
US$352 (as configured)
Full specs Specifications DHW LIVA Z3

The ZOTAC ZBOX CI331 nano was a barebones sample, similar to the nano CI662 we reviewed last year. Zotac’s C-series eschews M.2 slots and instead opts for the traditional 2.5″ SATA drive bay. The SSD used in this review (SK hynix Gold S31) has been reused in the CI331 nano. DRAM option was trickier.Jasper Lake platform officially supports DDR4-2933.Having collected a large number of DDR4-2933/DDR4-3000/DDR4-3200 SODIMMs (from the time of Skylake), I was hoping to run one of those first high frequency DDR-2933 speed SODIMMs in the CI331 nano, unfortunately they all default to DDR-2400, and the BIOS hasn’t been very helpful in enabling the changed DRAM timings.Only recent DDR4-2933+ SODIMMs were able to run DDR-2933 in the system – unfortunately I only had 32GB of SODIMMs on hand from recent batches.In the end the ZBOX CI331 nano was equipped with 2x 32 GB of DDR-2933 Mushkin Redline SODIMMs for a total of 64 GB of RAM – much more than the official 16 GB ment specified maximum memory capacity of the Jasper Lake platform. y, the system worked perfectly thanks to our benchmarking routines despite this wild configuration. Full specifications of the ZOTAC ZBOX CI331 nano sample as tested are provided in the table below.

ZOTAC ZBOX CI331 nano Specifications
(as tested)
Processor Intel Celeron N5100
Jasper Lake 4C/4T, 1.1 – 2.8GHz
Intel 10nm, 4MB L3, 6W
Memory Mushkin MR[ABC]4S293MMMF32G DDR4-2933 SODIMM
21-21-21-47 @ 2933MHz
2×32 GB
Chart Intel UHD Graphics 605
(24EU @ 350 – 850MHz)
HDDs) SK hynix Gold S31
(1TB; 2.5″ SATA III SSD;)
(SK hynix 72L 3D TLC; SK hynix Quartz SH87830CC Controller)
Networking 2x GbE RJ-45 (Realtek RTL8168/8111)
Intel Wireless AC-9462 (1×1 802.11ac – 433 Mbps)
audio ESS Tech ES9270 USB DAC (3.5mm audio jacks on front panel)
Support for digital audio and bitstreaming on HDMI and DisplayPort outputs
Video 1x HDMI 2.0b
1x DisplayPort 1.2
Various I/O ports 1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (Front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-C (Front)
2x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (rear)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (Charging / Back)
1 slot for SDXC/SDHC UHS-I card reader (front)
Operating system Windows 11 Enterprise (22000.708)
Pricing (Street pricing July 6st2022)
US$260 (barebones)
US$616 (as configured)
Full specs ZOTAC ZBOX CI331 nano Specifications

Our next section discusses the details of thermal design and the need to examine it in depth.

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