Intel Compute Stick

Tiny HDMI Stick That Turns an HDTV or Monitor into a Personal Computer

Intel Compute Stick
Intel Compute Stick. ©Intel

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The Bottom Line

May 4 2015 - Intel's Compute Stick is a marvel of engineering that packs a fully capable Windows PC into such a small package but it is hampered by a number of issues that make it a very specialized device. It is much better suited for business purposes rather than a consumer that might want a PC that they can take on travels.

Pros

  • Smallest Windows Capable PC Current Available
  • Very Low Cost

Cons

  • Wireless Has Very Limited Range
  • Single USB 2.0 Port Limits Peripherals
  • Limited Windows Performance

Description

  • Intel Atom Z3735F Quad Core Mobile Processor
  • 2GB PC3-10600 DDR3 Memory
  • 32GB eMMC Solid State Storage
  • Intel HD Graphics Integrated Graphics
  • HDA 5.1 Audio Support
  • 802.11b/g/n Wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
  • HDMI, 1 USB 2.0, Micro-SDXC Slot
  • 4.06" x 1.46" x .47"
  • Windows 8.1 Bing

Review - Intel Compute Stick

 

May 4 2015 - Intel initially announced their tiny Compute Stick device earlier in the year but the device is finally becoming available to consumers and businesses later this month. It packs a full Windows computer system into a tiny stick that measures just over four inches long and one an a half inches wide. This makes it extremely small such that it can easily be carried while traveling or used for kiosk displays. The device obviously has limitations because of its small size which is true of many small computer devices.

It certainly is not an eye-catching design but it most often will be out of sight behind a monitor when it is being used.

In order to fit a computer into such a small form, Intel is using their Atom Z3735F quad core processor. This is a processor typically used for devices like tablets that use very little power and don't require active cooling.

Even though it is a quad core processor, don't expect a huge amount of performance out of this. It is something that is fine for doing one maybe two tasks and generally fairly limited ones at that. It can browse the web, stream media and do productivity applications but it will start to lag if you do too much. This is also influenced by the 2GB of slower 1333MHz DDR3 memory on the stick as well which really is the bare minimum for running the Windows operating system.

Storage is going to be a pretty big issue with the Intel Compute Stick. It features 32GB of solid state storage that is built into it. Mind you the performance is still fairly limited compared to PCs as it uses an eMMC interface. It provides enough space for the operating system and a few programs and media but not much else. Thankfully there is a microSD card slot that can be used to easily expand the space using the popular flash media cards so you can have more files on it. There is also a single USB 2.0 port on it that can be used with external hard drives but it will most likely need to be used for a keyboard or mouse. It would have been nice to be an USB 3.0 port for higher speed peripherals. You may want to bring a small USB hub to use with the system because of the single port and some other issues I will bring up in a bit.

Unlike most other small computers that have a port to plug a cable between it and the display, the Intel Compute Stick is design to plug directly into an HDTV or monitor through its HDMI port. This means the stick will most likely be on the back of the display and not easily accessible if you need to switch what is plugged into the USB port or the SD card slot. It is extremely convenient for those that might want to take it along while traveling and plugging it into a TV for use. It does just fine with your standard 1080p HDTV monitors but it does not have the ability to drive the screen up to full resolution when used with a 4K display.

Graphics performance is of course limited when it comes to 3D that you would not use it for PC gaming or graphics intensive tasks but it has no problem streaming 1080p high definition video.

Now most people that would purchase the Intel Compute Stick for home use are likely looking to use it as a streaming device or a small PC to take along on travels. This means that the wireless features of it are pretty critical. This is where a big issue of the device comes up as the 802.11b/g/n wireless adapter built into it has extremely limited range compared to many other laptops or tablets. Users could find that they may not be able to get it reliably connected to a hotel Wi-Fi network simply because their room is a bit too far from an access point. To add to the problems, the early release drivers seem to have issues with Bluetooth peripherals and input lag which is a major problem when there is only a single USB port making wireless peripherals preferred.

Pricing is where the Intel Compute Stick seems to have a huge edge on other devices. At just $150 for the Windows 8.1 version, it is extremely affordable. The price does have some sticking points though. For instance, it is more expensive than dedicated streaming sticks such as the Roku or Amazon Fire Stick devices. This makes it less useful if you plan to use it as a dedicated media streamer. At least this can also be used to check your email and all. If you don't mind larger devices that are still quite portable, there are options. For instance, the Zotac ZBOX Pico is about the size of a smartphone and the same level of performance but features three USB 2.0 ports for much better peripheral support. The HP Stream Mini is larger still but offers a much faster Celeron processor for better performance and also has the extra USB ports plus it comes with a mouse and keyboard. Both of these cost between $200 and $250.

 

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