Thanks to Moore’s Law, the semiconductor industry has been on full throttle for the past few decades, with personal computers, mobile phones and tablets more popular and more ubiquitous than ever before. Intel has always been at the forefront of this revolution, specializing in manufacturing microprocessor chips that power almost every computing device on the planet. Recently though, Intel has looked to up the ante even more, with the release of the Intel Compute Stick: its affordable, palm-sized, HDMI-pluggable full Windows PC.
The Intel Compute Stick is a PC in a teeny tiny package. Similar to Google’s popular Chromecast device, the Intel Compute Stick plugs into an HDMI port to give you instant full Windows 8 PC experience pretty much anywhere, anytime. It is now available for approximately $150, with a cheaper, Linux-based alternative also in the works.
Powering everything is a quad-core 1.3GHz Intel Atom Z3735F processor with 2GB of RAM and 32GB (about half of which is free and usable space) of onboard storage. A microSD card slot is available though for expansion up to 128GB. A USB port is available, so external devices such as a keyboard, mouse, or an external hard drive may be mounted. WiFi connectivity comes standard out of the box, as is Bluetooth 4.0, with the latter providing additional connectivity options for your peripherals provided the limited single USB port.
Given this configuration, don’t expect too much heavy usage from the Intel Compute Stick. The Atom processor, which is now usually found in many Intel-based tablets, can’t do much image editing or HD gaming. Nevertheless, streaming HD video content from YouTube or Netflix is great with the device, as is light gaming. Mobile-friendly games like the Halo Spartan Assault and Minecraft will work just fine, although the gaming experience isn’t every smooth especially when you try to crank up the game visual effects. But then again, this is not the target use case for the likes of the Compute Stick.
Navigating around Windows 8 should be no trouble with the Intel Compute Stick, with apps opening effortlessly. Stuttering around the menus is also very minimal to none at all. Boot-up time is also impressive, needing just a few seconds to wake up. Light productivity usage such as browsing the web, working on spreadsheets and word documents should be just fine with this device, although of course don’t expect maintaining 30 open tabs in Google Chrome will result to an acceptable computing experience.
Of course, the Intel Compute Stick is not perfect. Since it’s powered via a microUSB port, and has no battery, using it around certain places might prove to be problematic. For example, if you have small children or pets going around or near your TV, where the Compute Stick is plugged in, there is a good chance that a good tug can shut down your device immediately. Personally though, this is not a huge problem for me, as you can easily use an available USB port (something that is mostly present on modern TVs) as a power source.
Another drawback we saw is the operating temperature. Rated to work within the 0°C to +35°C range, we feel that this is quite limiting, especially considering that in hot and humid places like in Southeast Asia (which I presume, is a prime target market for the Intel Compute Stick) temperatures hover around +35°C during the summer.Lastly, there is also the competition, which include the likes of the Google Chromecast and Asus Chromebit. Although not full-fledged PCs, these are very capable devices at a lower price point that allows users to consume media content on their HDTVs.
In this very competitive tech landscape, it might be very difficult for the Intel Compute Stick to standout and be a winner. It is very capable and a solid bang-for-the-buck lightweight full Windows PC, but I feel that Intel might be a few years late into the competition. Power-users who multitask a lot will feel the Compute Stick to be underpowered, although travellers, young kids and the elderly might see the device as a portable device that converts your standard TV into a cheap Windows machine able to do simple computing. And that might be just enough.