Intel computer stick

Best 8 Compute Stick PCs that you can buy

Stick PCs also known as PC Compute Sticks, have gained significant popularity over the time. And why wouldn’t they? After all these tiny stick PCs can turn every HDMI display, you come across into a full-blown desktop computer. That’s the reason Stick PCs came into existence. Imagine, instead of carrying a desktop computer or laptop, you just need a Stick PC to revolve any PC monitor or HDTV into a fully functional desktop.

Best Stick PC

You can run most of the applications that you are using as these Stick PCs are available with Windows 8.1, Windows 10, Ubuntu 14 and also comes with more traditional OS such as Android and Linux. The market has few worthy options, and they all cater entirely different needs. There isn’t a perfect PC Compute Stick for everyone, but you can find options here that have been chosen on the basis of quality, reliability, and cost-effectiveness. We have researched and analyzed thoroughly and picked best Stick PC you can buy.

1. Lenovo IdeaCentre Stick 300 Stick PC

The idea behind introducing this Stick PC is simple and intriguing: a capable PC Compute Stick running on minimal hardware and an Intel Atom processor. It is small and comes with an HDMI connector on one end that can be connected directly to a monitor or a TV. It comes equipped with an Intel Atom Z3735F quad-core processor having cloaked speed of 1.33GHz.

With a solid processor and 2GB RAM, this stick handles not only the basic tasks but also the extensive tasks at ease. It is an excellent solution for students as carrying the laptop for transporting assignments, presentations and homework isn’t a feasible solution every time. Fairly priced at $249, this Stick PC hits the sweet spot and ready to embrace the age of compact technology. It is available on Amazon.

2. Intel PC Compute Stick CS125

Intel’s second generation computer stick might look similar, but it packs enough upgrades. It comes with Windows 10 pre-installed and runs all the Windows apps as you’d expect. Intel’s CS125 gives additional 128GB storage on top of 32GB of internal storage and handles almost everyday PC tasks at a breeze despite having 2GB RAM onboard.

The Intel PC Compute Stick’s 1.4GHZ Atom X5-Z8300 processor shows some notable performance upgrades over the predecessor. A faster processor, more USB ports, and improved networking make this Stick PC a worthy purchase. It is available on Amazon.

3. ASUS VivoStick TS10-B017D Intel Atom

This is a very capable offering from Asus that can be taken anywhere to experience desktop-like computing. The hardware department packs a 1.4GHz quad-core Intel Atom x5-Z8350 processor paired with 2GB RAM and 32GB internal storage. The solid combination ensures efficient and lag-free multitasking.

You get one USB 3.0 port if connecting through USB ports is preferable to you and a USB 2.0 port as well. However, it falls short on expandable storage but considering features, performance, and aesthetics; the price is still very reasonable for this ultra compact PC Stick. It is available on Amazon.

4. Intel PC Compute Stick CS325

This is the elder sibling of CS125 and proves to be more efficient and better performer if you have a bigger budget. It packs Intel Core m3-6y30, Intel HD Graphics 515, and comes with Windows 10 Home(64-bit) pre-installed. Having a faster CPU, this PC Compute Stick ensures an ideal balance of performance and efficiency to provide a substantial level of productivity.

It not only offers wireless connectivity but also comes with one USB 3.0 port on the device and other two on the power adapter. This STick PC comes with 4GB RAM and there’s also a lot of room for installing apps with 64GB flash storage plus a microSD card slot for expansion when needed. It has all the powerful technology that fits nicely into a sleek and small package. It is available on Amazon.

5. ASUS Chromebit CS10 Stick PC

This PC Stick is small enough at 4.8 inches to satisfy all your portable needs. The most appealing feature is the quick and hassle-free usage; just plug-in the CS10 stick PC into the HDMI port of the display and let it explore the possibilities.

Keeping in mind the small form factor, Asus has opted for quad-core SoC that packs in four ARM Cortex-A71 cores speed cloaked at 1.8GHz, and coupled with Mali-T764 GPU for graphics.There’s also room for 2GB RAM and 16GB of eMMC flash storage in this tiny PC stick.  Being Google account a hub here, this PC stick lets you access tho whole ecosystem of Chrome OS apps.

It comes with a built-in security feature that ensures your privacy. Accounts can be switched easily as the data is kept separate for individual users. If you’ve never used Google Drive’s apps before, you might find it difficult to get work done without Microsoft Office. Nonetheless. Asus Chromebit CS10 Stick PC does provide almost everything you need. Looking at its attractive price, i.e., $99, this is undoubtedly one of the best budget PC stick out there. It is available on Amazon.

6. Azulle Quantum Access Mini PC Stick

The Azulle Quantum Access Stick runs 32-bit latest full version of Windows 10, therefore lets you access mostly Windows apps. It is powered by a 1.33GHz Intel Atom quad-core processor which is paired with 2GB RAM should be capable of providing optimal performance. Besides 32GB of internal storage, it gives you an option to extend storage using a microSD card.

Backed up by a Gen 7 Intel HD Graphics, it is perfect for streaming content. Undoubtedly, it is bigger, and some people might find it expensive, but it is fully armed with features and fits in both Ethernet and USB ports. It is available on Amazon.

7. W5 Mini PC Windows 10 Computer Stick

This is another great option for those who are on a hunt for fully featured best Stick PCs. W5 Mini PC Stick runs on Windows 10 Home edition which runs fast and smoothly. The performance of this Compute Stick relies on a powerful 1.83GHz Intel Atom quad-core CPU. Besides this small yet powerful hardware, it packs 2GB RAM and 32GB internal storage which further can be ramped up via a microSD card slot.

It has plenty of connectivity options which can be used to connect wireless devices to get the best portable PC experience. This device has got some great specs for a reasonable price and makes it a worthy buy overall. Buy it here.

8. Intel Compute Stick CS525 Computer with Intel Core m5

This is the most expensive offering of the lot from Intel and why wouldn’t it be; these Stick PCs are a substantial upgrade from the previous Atom versions. Intel’s latest 2nd Gen Compute Stick now comes with a Core m5-6Y57 vPro processor, 4GB RAM, and 64GB of eMMC Flash Storage.

Besides wireless connectivity, it has been granted with three USB 3.0 ports and a USB Type C port, making it future ready. With an ultra-fast processor and 4GB RAM, it is capable and fast enough to be used for enterprise computing. If portability and performance is a priority over money then this PC Compute Stick is one of the best pieces of tech happened to modern computing. Go here to buy it.

Considering the specs, features, and price, we have combed the web and brought few best Stick PC options. Nonetheless, if we’ve missed on any potential entry, let us know in your comments below. Although, they are all worth their money, the needs they cater are entirely different.

Read next: Best Windows 10 Mini PCs you can buy.

TIP: Download this tool to quickly find & fix Windows errors automatically

Supported Operating Systems for Intel® Compute Sticks

N/A Intel® Compute Stick STCK1A32WFCL
Factory-installed Operating System Supported Operating Systems (User-installed)
Windows 10 Home 32-bit

Upgradeable to Windows 10 Pro1

Intel® Compute Sticks STCK1A32WFCR and STCK1A32WFC
Factory-installed Operating System Supported Operating Systems (User-installed) Notes
Windows 8.1 with Bing* 32-bit

Upgradeable to Windows 10 32-bit1 or Windows Pro/Enterprise 32-bit2

N/A As-is support for Windows 8.1: 
  • Intel® drivers with older operating systems that Microsoft has discontinued, or doesn't fully support, are considered as-is in respect to features, function, debugging and usability with recently released Intel® Compute Sticks. 
  • Intel no longer provides updated drivers for them. 
Intel® Compute Sticks STCK1A8LFCR and STCK1A8LFC
Factory-installed Operating System Supported Operating Systems (User-installed)
Ubuntu* 14.04 LTS* 64-bit N/A

1 Windows® 10 upgrades

You must complete a genuine Windows 10 upgrade. If you only install a fresh copy of Windows 10, it will ask for a license key. The recovery partition on the Intel® Compute Stick might be deleted.

2 Windows 8.1 Pro/Enterprise* upgrades

Intel Compute Sticks with Windows 8.1 with Bing (32-bit) installed are upgradeable to Windows 8.1 Pro or Enterprise. After such an upgrade, the recovery partition still has the original factory image (Windows 8.1 with Bing; 32-bit). If you complete a Windows Reset or Refresh, you must upgrade again.

Customer-reported operating systems

These operating system versions are reported as compatible by owners of Intel® Compute Sticks. Intel hasn't validated these operating systems. We recommend you use the latest kernel. If you need assistance with Linux* on Intel Compute Sticks, check your distro's website and forums for peer assistance.

How to Control Intel Compute Stick PC with Smartphone

Stuffing the innards of a basic, good for casual use PC into a device barely the size of a candy bar, the Intel Compute Stick offers a revolutionary way of achieving truly on-the-go computing. And since it comes with integrated Bluetooth, you can either pair it up with a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, or hook up the more traditional USB mouse and keyboard (via one of these USB hubs) for controlling your stick PC. But are mouse & keyboard the only way of interacting with your cool new stick PC?

Not by a long shot, as it’s possible to control Intel Compute Stick PC with an iOS or Android smartphone. But before we get to that, here are a few basic things you need to get setup in advance.

Basic requirements

  1. The Intel Remote Keyboard app (available for iOS and Android) installed on your smartphone.
  2. The Intel Remote Keyboard Host desktop application installed and running on the Intel Compute Stick powered PC.
  3. Both Intel Compute Stick powered PC and the smartphone should be connected to the same Wi-Fi network.

How to control Intel Compute Stick PC with Smartphone?

Step 1: With the Intel Remote Keyboard Host application running in the system tray, open up the Intel Remote Keyboard app on your (iOS or Android) smartphone. If both the devices are on the same Wi-Fi network, you should see the stick PC’s name show up in the app. Tap on the PC name.

Step 2: You should now see a QR code appear on the display connected to the Intel Compute Stick. Lastly, use the Intel Remote Keyboard app to scan the QR code and pair the two devices.

That’s all there’s to it, folks. You are now ready to control your Intel Compute Stick powered PC with your smartphone. Dope, right?

What can you do with the Intel Remote Keyboard app?

The Intel Remote Keyboard app puts lets you simulate the functionality of a physical mouse and keyboard via your smartphone’s touch screen, and much more. Here are the things you can do with it:

  • Use the touch screen as the mouse trackpad. You can even rotate the smartphone to landscape orientation to access the full trackpad, and tweak mouse pointer sensitivity (via the app settings).

  • Access the on-screen keyboard, complete with arrow keys and modifier keys (e.g. Ctrl, Alt) to type into any text field on the Intel Compute Stick PC.

  • Use edge swiping gestures to access Windows 8.1 specific features, such as the Charms Bar, and the list of currently running apps.

  • Control media playback (play, pause etc.) and volume via touch controls on the smartphone’s screen.

SEE ALSO: Intel Compute Stick PC Review: Good, But Not Perfect

Turn smartphone into a wireless keyboard & mouse

Without a doubt, the ability to control your stick PC with your iOS or Android smartphone is one of the coolest features of the Intel Compute Stick. Granted, it isn’t the fastest or the most productivity boosting way of interacting with your PC, but it can be really helpful in cases when you don’t want to lug around an extra mouse and keyboard with the Intel Compute Stick. Give it a whirl, and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Intel Compute Stick Review: Don’t Buy It

Who wants a cheap HDMI stick that can turn any TV into a full Windows computer? Everybody, right? That’s what we thought. Oh god were we wrong. When Intel announced the $150 Compute Stick at CES, we figured it could become the ultimate miniature PC for all kinds of people. Too bad it’s terrible.

Theoretically, there are loads of things you could do with a computer this tiny. You could work from it, of course, or browse the web from your couch. Watch Hulu without a subscription. Stream games from another computer. My editor Sean Hollister was excited to load Steam on it, plug in an Xbox 360 wireless adapter, and play lightweight games like Nidhogg with buddies on a big screen without lugging a console around. I was dubiously optimistic I could turn the Stick into a Kodi media streamer, accessing videos from my desktop PC over my home network.

Do some of these things work? Sure. But using this under-equipped PC is a giant pain in the ass—to the point that it’s probably not worth it.

What is it?

An attempt to cram an entire desktop computer into a tiny $150 HDMI-dongle that you plug into any TV—that doesn’t quite stick the landing. Boy, it sure sounded good on paper, though: a quad-core 1.33GHz Intel Atom processor, 2GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage all in a compact, pocketable package? Yes please. The Compute Stick’s tiny case even features a full-sized USB port and a MicroSD card reader. What’s not to like? As it turns out, almost everything.

Using It

The Intel Compute Stick, above everything else, is a failure of expectations. Intel’s website claims that “it’s ready to get to work or have some fun, right out of the box.” Not so much. The Amazon Fire TV is ready to have some fun right out of the box. Google’s Chromecast dongle is ready to go right out of the box. The Compute Stick is not. To get started, it needs things that aren’t in its box—namely a mouse and keyboard.

Intellectually, I knew going in that the Compute Stick wouldn’t come with input devices, but I didn’t quite grasp what that meant. Setting up the Compute Stick for the first time was a painful crash course in reality. When it tried to walk me through the Windows setup process (fun!) I rooted through my office for a spare mouse. Soon it needed me to type something, so I dug up a keyboard too. That’s when it suddenly dawned on me that I needed to have two USB devices plugged into a single port—and that I was screwed.

Okay, there are some other options. I could (and did) buy a USB hub. It worked okay. The Compute Stick can only supply 500mA of power, but it was enough to connect a couple of simple peripherals—though I did run into issues with hungrier devices, and a different USB hub failed. Eventually, I remembered that I could buy a Logitech couch keyboard with a Unifying receiver that can connect a bunch of mice and keyboards to a single tiny dongle. Honestly, it’s the only option that makes sense.

What about Bluetooth peripherals, you say? Utterly worthless. Every device I connected suffered from high input latency and a flighty connection, translating to laggy mouse input and an infuriating keyboard delay. It took other Sean a solid hour to sort out the problem: the Compute Stick uses a single chip for both WiFi and Bluetooth communications, and it’s terrible at multitasking. The only way to fix it is to disable WiFi. Seriously?

It took solving all of the Compute Stick’s innate problems ourselves, but finally I was ready to get to work. As I prepared to work on Gizmodo from the Compute Stick, I cautiously let my optimism for the device swell once more. It’s one of Intel’s newer Atom devices, and I have nothing but faith in the low-powered computing platform: I own ( and love) an Atom-powered Dell Venue 8 Pro and was blown away by the Atom x7 CPU in Microsoft’s low-end Surface 3. Intel Atom isn’t the badge of shit it once was. The Intel-branded Compute Stick is not the best example of the platform’s ability, though.

It started as an offhand brag, but turned into a dare. I was telling my Gizmodo colleagues why I…

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I moved the Stick over to my desktop monitor for the work day, and found it able to begrudgingly handle most of my work tasks. The key was patience—all of my work programs, chat clients and web tools worked fine as long as I gave them time to load. Slack had no problem keeping pace with Gizmodo’s main chatroom, but it lagged a few seconds whenever I clicked over to a private conversation. Most websites looked great, but they took their sweet time to load. The Compute Stick’s not going to do much for you in Photoshop or any other processor-intensive program, but for $150 it’s not totally awful. It’s just not as good as practically anything else.

At the end of a slow but mildly productive day with the Stick, we decided to kick back with some games. I think I told you how other Sean wanted to turn this dongle into a couch gaming PC? Well, we installed Steam and loaded up a few 2D classics like Towerfall, Nidhogg, Worms Reloaded and Hotline Miami... yet even some of these super-simple games weren’t playable. Towerfall ran just fine, as did Jamestown and Metal Slug 3, but the normally lightning-fast fencing bouts in Nidhogg felt more like playing Rock Paper Scissors in slow motion. Hotline Miami chugged at the TV’s native 1080p resolution, and even turned way down to 720p it felt laggy and subpar.

Even flipping the stick into performance mode—which requires a trip to the BIOS—didn’t make things right. Nidhogg got a little more palatable, but that’s about it.

So we said screw it, let’s try streaming some games from a desktop PC—a use case that doesn’t require any real processing power, and one that Intel actually advertises for this thing. We turned on Steam In-Home Streaming, booted up a gaming PC across the house, shut down all our internet apps, and fired up Dark Souls II real quick. The result was pure agony.

Not only was the game completely and totally unplayable over WiFi, it actually completely and totally froze the system on a couple occasions. Sure, Intel technically recommends using a USB ethernet dongle or a 5GHz USB WiFi adapter for Steam streaming—and with them, it works great—but that costs money AND takes up another precious USB port. Now we’re talking about investing in a USB hub, a network adapter, and whatever gamepad you’re using, along with the keyboard and mouse you needed to fire this system up. And pray the Stick can provide enough power to that USB port to connect them all simultaneously. Oh, and don’t forget to install drivers first: when I plugged in my tiny $20 Edimax 802.11ac dongle into the Stick, it immediately gave me the Blue Screen of Death and wouldn’t boot until I yanked it out.

But even if you do invest in the extra gear for streaming, you might run into some nasty glitches in Steam’s couch-friendly Big Picture Mode. The longer we tried to play games, the more issues cropped up. The interface became more and more unresponsive, taking longer and longer to respond to presses on the gamepad. On a couple occasions, we even saw sparkly graphical corruption—usually a sure sign of an overheating GPU. Sure, Big Picture Mode uses a little bit of horsepower, but it’s hard to avoid it if you’re playing Steam games from the couch—whether you stream them or not.


I love that the Compute Stick can be powered solely by the USB port on my TV. I expected it to need more power, but it doesn’t. One less plug in my entertainment center’s rat nest.

I’ve been looking for a low-power, lightweight device to use as a Kodi multimedia streaming client for my TV—this could be it. It had no trouble streaming content from network storage and seems like a good solution for those with the patience to set it up. A full-sized USB port on a tiny device. I love it. The box comes with a short HDMI extension cable—just long enough to keep the wide dongle from getting in the way of my TV’s other ports.

No Like

You would think a computer expressly designed to plug into a TV would have an option for overscan correction, yes? You’d be wrong—the Compute Stick doesn’t support that at all. The dongle worked fine on my TV, but my on my friend’s 80-inch projection TV—one of many older TVs where the images don’t quite line up—the top, bottom, left and right edges of our picture were cut off and there wasn’t a damn thing we could do about it. Unless I was using a powered USB hub or a Logitech Unifying Connector, one USB port just wasn’t enough. The dongle is extremely picky about what’s plugged into it. If I left a USB device plugged in, it often wouldn’t boot again until I removed it. It got pretty annoying.

It’s a little unnerving how warm this device gets... and that it needs a tiny fan to cool it down... and that even with that tiny fan, we still pushed the Atom chip out of its comfort zone.

Should You Buy It?

No. The Compute Stick is a good idea at what would be a decent price if it did a good job. But this stick just has too many problems. It’s hard to set up and use. It’s not very powerful. It has weird connectivity issues. It’s not even all that portable: yes it slips into your pocket, but it’s useless without a bunch of accessories that won’t. Maybe if it had some sort of built-in smartphone-based control app things would be different, but it doesn’t and they aren’t.

As damning as all those reasons are, there’s an even better reason not to buy it: it’s just not a very good deal. Need a media center PC? The HP Stream Mini is a better choice—it’s way more powerful, comes with a mouse and keyboard and is still small enough to hide behind your HDTV. (At just $30 more, it costs less than a Compute Stick plus the peripherals you need to make the Compute Stick work.) Just want to browse the web from the couch a little? The Chromebit will do that, and it’ll cost less, too. There are even better options for streaming video games on the way: Valve’s Steam Link will be available this fall for just $50.

Unless you absolutely need a tiny computer hidden behind your monitor (maybe you’re a sadistic office manager hell-bent on forcing your employees to use tiny thin clients? Or you really like LCD-based mall kiosk signage) I can’t think of a single reason to recommend the Intel Compute Stick.

Maybe there’s still a future in dongle-based computing, but that future doesn’t start here.

Intel Compute Stick (2016)

Last year, Intel fulfilled futurists' dreams with the 2015 Intel Compute Stick. While not a powerhouse, the pocket-size, Windows-equipped PC lets you turn a monitor or an HDTV into a large-screen, all-in-one desktop in seconds. The latest iteration, the Intel Compute Stick STK1AW32SC ($159), is an update in a new wrapper, with an Intel Atom x5-Z8300 (Cherry Trail) processor replacing the old Intel Atom Z3735F (Bay Trail) CPU. This Windows 10 PC still looks like a jumbo USB stick, albeit with an HDMI plug, but there are a couple of new features that improve its connectivity. Ultimately, the new Compute Stick is more evolutionary than the radical upgrade it needs to distinguish itself from up-and-coming competitors like the Asus Chromebit.

Design and Features The Compute Stick is built into a matte-black casing that looks like a large pack of chewing gum, and it measures 0.47 by 1.5 by 4.5 inches (HWD). That's a bit longer than last year's version (0.5 by 1.5 by 4 inches), and a bit more compact than the Asus Chromebit (0.67 by 1.2 by 4.8 inches). Other small-form-factor desktop PCs, like the HP Pavilion mini, the Zotac Zbox CI320 nano Plus Windows 8.1 With Bing, and the Zotac Zbox Pico PI320, are much larger in comparison. Both Compute Sticks and the Asus Chromebit have removable caps to protect the HDMI plug when they're not in use. The matte finish on the new Compute Stick seems like it will be more scratch resistant over time than the older model, but both have a similar design, with relatively large cooling vents and a prominent Intel logo on the top surface.

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There's now a USB 3.0 port in addition to the USB 2.0 port, so you can connect a keyboard and a mouse simultaneously. Alternately, you can plug in a USB dongle for a wireless keyboard and mouse, and keep the USB 3.0 port free for hard drives. You still need a wired USB mouse to connect a Bluetooth keyboard or mouse, however, since Windows 10 doesn't automatically search for devices. In comparison, the Asus Chromebit looks for Bluetooth devices during its initial setup procedure. For wireless connectivity, the Compute Stick has Bluetooth 4.0 and has upgraded to dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi.

As with the previous iteration, there's 32GB of integrated eMMC flash storage, with 19.6GB free after accounting for the Windows 10 Home OS and its recovery partition. While not a huge amount, it's certainly better than the 16GB of storage on the Asus Chromebit, and you can add storage via the Compute Stick's microSD card slot (up to 128GB). The 32GB capacity is becoming common on other budget Windows PCs like the Zbox Pico PI320 and the original Intel Compute Stick. Budget systems come with smaller amounts of storage, mostly to reduce the overall price, but it's an acceptable tradeoff because you can supplement the local drive with inexpensive cloud-based storage. For instance, the Asus Chromebit comes with 100GB of Google Drive for free, which is a lot more than the 5GB of OneDrive storage you get with every Windows 10 system, including the Compute Stick.

Setup is fairly straightforward. First, you plug the Compute Stick into a free HDMI port on your computer monitor or HDTV. You may need to use the included HDMI extension cable in tight quarters, but as long as you have enough space behind your display, the device is light enough to stay plugged in. Connect the included AC adapter to the micro-USB port on the device, and you can then switch it on using the system's Power button. You can also power the Compute Stick by connecting to a USB port on your HDTV, a convenience that the Asus Chromebit lacks. The AC adapter that comes with the Compute Stick has a permanently attached cable, however, so you'll need a spare micro-USB cable (like from your smartphone) to connect the system to your HDTV's USB port for power. The system comes with a one-year warranty.

Our review unit has an Atom x5 processor, but other versions will be available soon with either an Intel Core m3 ($399) or Core m5 ($499) CPU. Both of these models come with a USB-C port, 4GB of memory, and 64GB of eMMC flash storage. The Intel Core m3 configuration comes with Windows 10, The Core m5 vPro model, which is aimed at the business sector, doesn't come with an operating system. Business customers for that model will need to work with a value-added reseller (VAR) to choose which version of Linux or Windows 10 (Enterprise, Pro, Education, etc.) will work best for their needs.

Performance The Compute Stick features an Atom x5-Z8300 processor and 2GB of memory, which helps keep the price low, and the system compact and cool to the touch during operation. The Cherry Trail-based Atom x5 is a quad-core CPU that only requires a minuscule, quiet fan to keep it from overheating.

The Compute Stick's score of 1,324 points on the PCMark 8 Work Conventional test is on par with other inexpensive desktops. It was slightly slower than last year's Intel Compute Stick (1,414 points) and the Zotac Zbox CI320 nano Plus (1,496). The Zotac Zbox Pico PI320 couldn't complete the PCMark 8 test.

See How We Test Desktops

The Compute Stick was at the back of the pack on the Handbrake test, returning a time of 8 minutes 53 seconds. The older Compute Stick (8:20) and the Zotac Zbox Pico PI320 (8:14) ran neck and neck, while the Zotac Zbox CI320 nano Plus (7:22) and the HP Pavilion Mini (7:19) were significantly speedier, thanks to their faster-clocked processors. Both Compute Stick models nor the Zbox Pico PI320 could run the CineBench and Photoshop tests with their 2GB of memory and a 32-bit operating system.

3D performance is good for the category, but that doesn't really mean a whole lot if you're, say, a gaming enthusiast. The Compute Stick returned a good score of 1,606 points on the 3DMark Cloud Gate test, beating the other sub-$250 systems handily. Only the $449 HP Pavilion Mini was better (2,814 points). Its frame rates on Heaven (5 frames per second or fps) and Valley (6fps) at Medium-quality settings were practically slideshows, but that's still better than the 1fps that the Zotac Zbox Pico PI320 fared on both tests. You might be able to play Minecraft on the Compute Stick at low resolution with the Optifine mod installed, but you'd probably be happier playing simpler games like Candy Crush Saga.

Conclusion The new Intel Compute Stick is a solid update for one of the smallest PCs available. The 802.11ac Wi-Fi, USB 3.0 port, and improved 3D graphics performance are certainly welcome additions. However, having only 2GB of memory and 32GB of storage, both of which aren't upgradeable, are drawbacks if you're an early adopter who wants something significantly better than the previous model. But on the other hand, you're getting an instant Windows 10 PC you can stick into an HDMI slot on your TV for $160.

The first Intel Compute Stick was an Editors' Choice on the strength of its innovation. While evolutionary, we don't believe that the new model's relatively minor improvements merit a repeat. That decision comes sharply into focus when you consider that the Asus Chromebit has much of the Compute Stick's media viewing and online functionality for $74 less. True, the Chromebit doesn't run Windows, but if your primary activities are viewing movies on Netflix, shopping for deals on Amazon, and updating your Facebook status, it does the job just as well.If you must have a Windows PC connected to your HDTV, the $199 Zotac Zbox Pico PI320 is a worthy alternative that's almost as compact as the Compute Stick. We're also currently testing the $279 Shuttle XPC Nano ultra-small-form-factor desktop, which shows promise (stay tuned for the full review).

Intel Compute Stick mini-computer (with Windows) review

The Intel Compute Stick is a desktop computer that’s so small it doesn’t have to sit on your desk at all. Just plug the HDMI connector into a TV or monitor, connect a power source, and you can basically turn any display into a fully functional PC.

The Compute Stick comes in two models: there’s a Windows version with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, and a cheaper Ubuntu Linux model with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage… although you can install Ubuntu on the Windows model yourself if you want the extra memory and disk space.

The Compute Stick isn’t actually the first device of its type. Chinese companies have been producing similar mini PCs with ARM processor and Android software for a few years and a handful of those companies started producing Intel and Windows models before the Compute Stick hit the streets.

Now that Intel has entered the space though, folks that might have been wary of buying hardware from companies like MeegoPad, Esense, or Hannspree might be willing to give these Windows PC-on-a-stick things a try.

Intel loaned me a Windows model for the purposes of this review. The little computer measures about 3.9″ x 1.5″ x 0.4″ and weighs less than two ounces. It features an Intel Atom Z3735F Bay Trail quad-core processor, 2GB of DDR3-1333 MHz RAM, and 32GB of eMMC storage. It runs Windows 8.1 with Bing software.

So what exactly are you supposed to do with a computer this small?

What’s it for?

In some senses, the Intel Compute Stick can do just about anything a larger PC can. It’s got quad-core Intel x86 processor, WiFi, Bluetooth, a full-sized USB port, and support for Windows 8.1 or Ubuntu 14.04 Linux. You can use it to watch movies, play (some) games, edit documents, or perform many other tasks.

But it’s a low-power computer that doesn’t have the graphics chops for bleeding edge gaming and doesn’t have enough ports for some common activities.

Intel is positioning the Compute Stick as a device for consumers or businesses. You can plug it into any television to transform it into a smart TV for streaming internet music or video, playing games, web surfing, and more. Hook up a USB webcam and you can use it to Skype from your TV.

Intel says you could even use it to stream PC games from another room in your house using Steam In-Home Streaming (although I haven’t tested this, since I don’t have a gaming PC that meets the requirements).

Enterprise users can treat it like a thin client: plug it into a screen, connect a keyboard and mouse and you can use remote desktop software to connect to a more powerful machine (or you could always use Office or other apps on the Stick itself). You could also use it to power digital signage, kiosks, or other solutions.

There’s a lot you can do with the Compute Stick. The question is whether you really want it to do those things, or if other devices might serve your needs better.

In some ways the Compute Stick and similar mini PCs might exist partly because they can. A few years ago it would have been tough to cram all the components of a fully functional PC into a case this small. But computer components have been getting smaller and smaller. Take apart the Compute Stick and you’ll find a system board with a processor and integrated storage and memory that looks a lot like something you’d find in a recent smartphone or Windows tablet.

Basically the Compute Stick is like a Windows tablet without a screen, but with a full-sized USB port and an HDMI connector. It’s small enough to slide into your pocket, allowing you to take your PC with you wherever you go. Or you can plug it into the back of your TV and forget it’s even there until you need it. Whether it’s something people will regularly use or ignore remains to be seen, but I’m still kind of impressed that we live in an age where this sort of technology exists at all.

What’s in the box?

The Compute Stick looks a bit like a large USB flash drive, but instead of a USB connector on one end, it has a full-sized HDMI connector. There’s a full-sized USB port and a micro USB port (for power) on one side, as well as a small power button.

On the other side there’s a microSD card slot which you can use for removable storage.

There are vents on the top, left, and right sides of the Compute Stick, and if you place your hand over the smaller vent in the top while the system is running, you may feel a warm gust of air since there’s a tiny fan inside the case which helps keep the system from overheating.

The fan is pretty quiet, but it does make a high-pitched whirring sound which you can hear in an otherwise quiet room, or when you put your ear near the Compute Stick. Even with the fan, the little computer can get warm to the touch.

Under the hood the device features a processor, memory, storage, WiFi, Bluetooth, and just about everything else you’d find in a larger computer. There are just fewer ports and options for expansion. There’s no room for a hard drive or disc drive. And since there’s just a single full-sized USB port, it can be tough to connect a keyboard, mouse, and USB flash drive all at the same time.

You can get creative though: use a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard and the USB port is free for other peripherals. Personally I tested the Compute Stick with equipment I already had handy, so I connected a Logitech wireless keyboard & touchpad combo unit with a single USB dongle.

This didn’t leave me with many options for connecting other peripherals, but I did pair the Compute Stick with a Bluetooth speaker for a little while to confirm that Bluetooth does work — although it took multiple attempts to get the speaker to pair with the Compute Stick. Other reviewers have noted similarly unreliable Bluetooth performance, but Intel is reportedly working on a software update that might address the issue.

The device is basically a self-contained computer that requires nothing more than a power source to operate — although you’ll probably want to connect a display, keyboard, mouse, or other controller unless you want to use the Compute Stick as a headless system like a file server.

Intel ships the Compute Stick with a few accessories. There’s a short HDMI extender cable that you can use if it would be awkward to plug the stick right into the HDMI port on your display for some reason.

The Compute Stick draws power from a micro USB port and Intel includes a USB to micro USB cable and a 5 volt, 2 amp power adapter that comes with four different sets of prongs so you can use the adapter in most regions around the world.

Note that the USB cable isn’t very long, so you may need a different cable if your TV or monitor isn’t very close to an outlet. But you don’t necessarily need to use the included adapter: I was able to plug the power cable directly into the USB port on one TV in our house with no problems. The Compute Stick ran for hours with no interruptions while drawing power from the TV itself.

Some TVs may not provide enough power though: when I tried the same thing with a different television, the Compute Stick would occasionally reboot or turn off unexpectedly.

How well does it work?

The Intel Compute Stick isn’t a supercomputer. But it’s definitely a computer. You can use it to view presentations or edit documents using office software. Fire up a web browser and you can surf the web, play online games, or stream online videos. Install image, audio, or video editing software and you can use it as a cheap (and relatively slow) media editing workstation.

Just don’t expect bleeding edge speeds. While the Compute Stick boots relatively quickly and handles simple tasks with ease, it offers the kind of performance you’d expect from a cheap Windows tablet… because it has the same kind of hardware as a cheap Windows tablet.

Want to play PC or mobile games on your TV? It can handle Window Store games like Asphalt 8, but don’t expect it to perform as well with graphically-intensive games like Crysis 3 or Far Cry 4.

You may have some luck with some older or less graphically-intensive games though. I installed Superborthers Sword & Sworcery: EP and played through the first level. The adventure game is known for it’s beautiful soundtrack and attractive design… but it was initially designed for iOS devices and it’s not exactly taxing on the Compute Stick’s Intel Atom processor. Still, it’s fun to play on a big screen.

The Compute Stick also makes a decent media center. I was able to stream online video from YouTube, Netflix and Hulu. I installed the Kodi media center application and streamed 720p videos from a shared network drive with no difficulty.

I also tested the system with a few other apps including LibreOffice (for editing documents), Handbrake (for transcoding videos), and 7-zip (for creating compressed ZIP archives). It was able to handle all of those tasks… it just wasn’t exactly the fastest computer I’ve tested.

In fact, even some computers with similar hardware seem to run faster. The Mele PCG03 and Zotac ZBOX PI320 pico are both small desktop computers with Intel Atom Z3735F processors, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and Windows 8.1 with Bing software. They both performed my audio and video test more quickly than the Intel Compute Stick (although the Compute Stick did come out a little ahead of the curve in the Folder Zip test).

Interestingly the results of a Hanbdrake video transcoding test were a little different: the Compute Stick was faster than the Mele PCG03, but slower than the Zotac ZBOX PI320 pico.

Note that none of these systems were as fast as the Asus Zenbook UX305 laptop with an Intel Core M-5Y10 Broadwell processor. While it’s kind of unfair to compare an Intel Atom and Intel Core processor, the Core M chip is a 4.5 watt processor that doesn’t use much more energy than the Atom Z3735F chip found in these mini-computers. But it clearly offers significantly better performance.

All told, the Intel Compute Stick offers reliable performance for certain tasks. But it’s pretty clear you shouldn’t expect miracles from a small, cheap machine.

The biggest problem I encountered while testing the little computer was mediocre WiFi range. The system has built-in support for 802.11n 2.4 GHz WiFi networks. I got strong WiFi performance when using the system with a TV that sits right next to our router in the living room on the first floor of my house. But when I tried plugging the computer into a TV in my third floor office, performance was spotty at best, and non-existent at worst.

Intel seems to know that the WiFi performance is nothing to write home about. The company provided a reviewer’s guide that made recommendations for testing Steam’s in-home game streaming. Intel says you’ll want a “high-speed low-latency connection” which you can get by connecting a USB-to-Ethernet adapter or a USB 5.0 GHz 802.11ac WiFi adapter. In other words, the built-in WiFi probably isn’t good enough for streaming games.

Can I run other operating systems?

Intel offers the Compute Stick in two configurations: you can buy a model with 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and Windows 8.1 or a cheaper version with 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, and Ubuntu 14.04 Linux.

Want to load Ubuntu or another operating system on the higher-priced model? You can do that… maybe.

You can access the Compute Stick’s BIOS/UEFI settings by hitting F2 when the device boots. From there you can enable or disable Secure Boot or adjust other hardware settings. In order to run Ubuntu you’ll need to find the option that says “Select Operating System” and change it from Windows 8.1 32-bit to Ubuntu 14.04 LTS 64-bit then save your options and shut down the computer.

Next, you’ll want to either follow our guide for installing Ubuntu 14.04.2 LTS 64-bit software (which will prevent you from being able to boot into Windows unless you alter the bootloader every time you want to switch operating systems), or our guide for installing Ubuntu 14.10 64-bit with a 32-bit bootloader (which is a bit clunkier, but which lets you dual-boot both Windows and Ubuntu and choose between operating systems whenever you turn on the computer.

Next, you’ll want to download a 64-bit build of Ubuntu or a similar operating system and then create a bootable microSD card using Unetbootin or a similar tool.

Insert the microSD card in the Compute Stick, turn on the computer and hit the F10 key to bring up the boot menu. You should see two options: the first is internal storage, and the second is the microSD card. If you only see one options, you probably didn’t prepare the card properly (or tried an unsupported OS).

I was able to load Ubuntu 14.04.02 64-bit using this method, as well as Ubuntu 15.04 64-bit. But WiFi didn’t work out of the box with either operating system.

Linux Mint 17.1 and Fedora 21 wouldn’t load at all. I was able to access the GRUB bootloader menu with these operating systems, but I couldn’t get the full OS to load.

You may have better luck with other operating systems, but it’s worth noting that the BIOS does say only Windows and Ubuntu are supported. I checked with Intel, and I was told that the software that will ship with the Ubuntu version of the Compute Stick is a version of Ubuntu 14.04 LTS that has been tweaked to work properly. Users may be able to load Ubuntu or other operating systems on their own, but there’s no guarantee WiFi, audio, or other hardware components will work.

Intel plans to ship the Ubuntu version of the Compute Stick in June. It’s possible the company could offer software that will let you load Ubuntu on the Windows version or integrate the driver stack into other operating systems at that time. But if you really want to run something other than Windows on the Compute Stick, for now the company is suggesting you buy the Ubuntu model.

There are a few things to keep in mind: You’ll need a wired keyboard or one with a USB dongle in order to hit F2 and F10 at boot. Bluetooth keyboards won’t work.

That means you’ll need to use the computer’s only USB port for a keyboard, which is why you need to prepare a bootable microSD card to load an alternate operating system. There’s no free port to connect a USB flash drive or disc drive.

What alternatives are there?

If Intel had released the Compute Stick a few years ago, it might have been a revolutionary device. These days it’s just the latest in a line of small, inexpensive devices that can transform any display into a computer.

As mentioned above, there are already a handful of other mini PCs with Intel Atom processors and Windows software from device makers including Zotac, Mele, and MeegoPad.

There’s an even larger number of devices with ARM chips and Android software.  The Rikomagic MK802 with an Allwinner processor and Android 4.0 software launched almost 3 years ago, and since then we’ve seen dozens of similar devices.

Want to run Android apps (including Netflix, YouTube, or Kodi) on your TV? You can pick up an Android box or stick for about a third the price of a Windows-powered Intel Compute Stick. Some of these devices can also run Ubuntu or other Linux-based software.

But if all you’re looking to do is turn your dumb TV into a smart TV your best bet might be to buy a dedicated device like an Amazon Fire TV Stick, Google Chromecast, or Roku Streaming Stick. These are all devices that look a bit like an Intel Compute Stick, but they’re designed specifically for bringing smart TV functions to a television.

They’re easy to use, don’t require a Windows license, and sell for around $35 to $50.

Want the full Windows experience? You could always just connect a Windows notebook, tablet, or larger desktop PC to your TV. All you need is an HDMI cable or an an Intel WiDi or Miracast wireless display adapter.

Most notebook or desktop computers are more powerful than a Compute Stick… but they’re also typically more expensive. If you’re using a PC you already have though, this could certainly be a better option. And if you don’t already have a PC or don’t want to bother with constantly connecting and disconnecting it from your TV, there’s another option: buy a cheap Windows tablet.

Some models with HDMI output and USB 2.0 ports sell for about half the price of an Intel Compute Stick.

But note that there are pros and cons to any of these options:

  • A Windows tablet, notebook, or full-sized desktop isn’t as compact as a Compute Stick. It’ll take up more space in your office or living room when in sue and probably won’t fit in your pocket when not in use.
  • Roku, Amazon Fire, Chromecast, and other dedicated TV devices cannot run Windows apps and many don’t even have a basic web browser.
  • Android boxes with ARM chips can’t run Windows apps either, and while you can install Ubuntu or other GNU/Linux software on some models, you often have to make do without hardware-accelerated graphics.
  • Other Windows TV boxes tend to be a bit larger, with the exception of models that seem to be based on the same design as a Compute Stick… but most of those come from Chinese companies which may not have the same kind of name recognition (or customer service) as Intel.

Should I buy a Compute Stick?

Maybe. I mean, it depends what you want to do with it, right?

The Intel Compute Stick makes an interesting option for folks looking to create a home media center. Not only can you install Kodi or other media center software for local playback, but you can also stream internet video from just about any service that supports a web browser.

Among other things, that means you can stream TV shows and movies from Hulu without paying $8 per month for a Hulu Plus subscription (which you’d need to pay if you wanted to stream Hulu content to a Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, or most smart TVs or smartphones).

On the other hand, there’s not a lot of built-in storage space for storing your music or movie collection, there’s only a single USB port and a single microSD card slot for expanded storage, the built-in WiFi adapter doesn’t have a very strong range, and there’s no optical disc drive. So this might not be the best solution if you were planning to watch DVDs or Blu-ray discs, add a TV tuner for streaming live TV, or storing downloaded, ripped, or recorded videos.

Looking for a cheap way to add an extra computer to your home? The Compute Stick is relatively affordable, compact, and versatile. You can use it for email, web browsing, casual gaming, productivity, and much more. But it’s hardly the only device that fits that description: you might be better off with a cheap laptop.

Still, the Compute Stick could be a useful addition to your home. It’s small enough to leave plugged into the back of you TV all the time, even if you only use it some of the time. It’s low-power enough that you could connect it to a large hard drive, connect it to your home network, and turn it into a personal media server or home backup solution. And it’s compact enough that you can slide it into you pocket and carry from place to place so that you can take your personal computer form home to school, work, vacation, or anywhere else.

As a consumer device, I certainly don’t think the Compute Stick is a must-buy. But it’s also not a must-avoid. As long as you have a good idea of what it can do and how you plan to use it, the Compute Stick might make a useful addition to your home.

Things become more interesting when you start to consider it as a device for enterprise users or for the DIY/maker set.

Businesses could buy a bunch of Compute Sticks, load some enterprise software on them, and distribute them to works for use at home or while on business trips, where they may not have access to a company’s more powerful computers. Or they can be loaded with remote desktop software, making it easy to remotely login to those work PCs from other locations.

Tinkerers could use the Compute Stick to build their own laptops, home automation systems, robots or other devices that I haven’t even thought about yet.

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