The 3 Best PC Sticks of 2021

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The Rundown
"You get enough performance to handle everyday word processing, Web browsing, light gaming, and streaming."
"Helps provide everything you need to get streaming video and basic desktop functions on your TV."
"An effective portable PC with a very low price tag."

Tucking an entire PC onto a thumb-sized USB stick may sound like science fiction, but that's exactly what the best PC sticks manage. Like slipping a laptop into your pocket, these tiny computers let you do word processing, browsing, and even light gaming without lugging around so much as a laptop-sized chassis.

Intel's Compute Stick CS125 is a great example; it takes our top slot because of how simple it is to slide into the USB or HDMI port of a TV or monitor and get down to business, and it includes a MicroSD slot for adding up to 128GB of storage and USB input ports for adding a mouse and keyboard.

Continue reading for our best PC stick picks, or head over to our best mini PCs roundup for more tiny computing options.

Best Overall: Intel Compute Stick CS125

Intel Compute Stick CS125

It may come as no surprise that Intel PC sticks embody many of best things the format has to offer—after all, the processor is most of what makes a mini PC stick what it is. The one Intel includes in the very affordably priced Compute Stick CS125 is a solid example. It’s a quad-core Atom x5-Z8300, a mobile chip with a respectable 1.44-GHz clock speed. Paired with 2 GB of RAM, you get enough performance to handle everyday word processing, Web browsing, light gaming, and streaming HD movies and shows.

Setting up the Windows 10-equipped CS125 is straightforward, but takes a few steps. You can plug the 4.5-inch-long device directly into any HDMI port on your TV or monitor, or use the included extension HDMI cable if space is tight. The stick has two ports (a USB 2.0 and a faster USB 3.0) for accessories such as a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and you’ll need a keyboard to go through the initial setup.

Overall, the CS125’s collection of features make it a great value PC stick for most purposes. Its 32-GB embedded MultiMediaCard (eMMC) flash storage isn’t a huge amount of space, but you can use the micro SD card slot to expand up to 128 GB. The dual-band 802.11ac-supported Wi-Fi connection also offers a quick, reliable network.

Best Budget: Terryza W5 Pro Mini PC

Another benefit to a tiny, portable PC you can use with your own displays and input devices is that they can come at reasonable costs. The W5 Pro Mini PC a great example, with a quad-core Intel Atom x5-Z8350 CPU that helps provide everything you need to get streaming video and basic desktop functions on your TV. There’s a configuration with 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of eMMC flash storage that does the job just fine, but you can also pay extra and get a performance boost from the higher-end version with 4 GB of memory and a 64 GB of storage.

The W5 Pro comes in a compact 3.9-inch long case, cooled by a fan that makes very little noise. It offers Bluetooth and dual-band Wi-Fi connectivity, two USB ports for accessories, and a micro SD card slot to expand your storage. There’s a micro USB port for the included power adapter that you can plug into a wall outlet, but you can also power it using a portable power bank. This can come in handy when you’re on the go. 

Best Chrome OS: ASUS Chromebit CS10

Google’s Chrome OS is a light and nimble operating system that takes advantage of the Internet and the cloud, so putting it use on the lightest and nimblest computers makes a lot of sense. This is exactly what Asus does with the Chromebit CS10, creating an effective portable PC with a very low price tag. Powered by a quad-core Rockchip RK3288C ARM-based processor and 2 GB of RAM, its performance won’t match up to a full Chromebook, but it can certainly do more than just video streaming like a Chromecast.

The Chromebit includes a somewhat limiting 16 GB of built-in storage, but it comes with 100 GB of free Google Drive cloud storage for two years. It’s a big help to have your files synced and accessible from anywhere, rather than have to switch out additional SD cards or external hard drives for storage — especially considering the device comes with no micro SD card slot and only one USB 2.0 port. You’ll likely want to use the USB port for a wireless mouse/keyboard combo or a USB hub for more flexibility. 

Final Verdict

Unsurprisingly, Intel leads the PC stick pack with its CS125, a well-rounded option with good expandability and peripheral options. For a slightly cheaper alternative, consider Terryza's excellent W5.

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