Intel Compute Stick First Impressions

Posted on July 23, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware with 0 Comments

Intel Compute Stick First Impressions

It seems like everything is available in HDMI stick form lately: Miracast, Roku, Amazon FireTV and now even full-functioning PCs. Intel’s entry, the Intel Compute Stick, packages low-end PC innards into an inexpensive and surprisingly tiny package you can tuck behind an HDTV. My question is whether anyone actually needs such a thing.

First up, I probably erred in getting the Ubuntu Linux version of the Stick, which costs about $150. But you can get the Windows version now on Amazon for that same $150 price tag right now (it’s normally $170). So I’m stuck with bland world of Ubuntu.

But no worries there. The promise of the Compute Stick are still quite obviously in place. This is an incredibly portable device—as advertised, it can fit in your shirt pocket—though it’s also one that is useless without at least a few hardware peripherals. A screen, of course. But also a keyboard and mouse for normal PC-like usage. And those, alas, will not fit in your pocket.

ports

We shouldn’t pretend to be surprised by the compromises here. The processor and basic specs are fairly anemic—an Intel Atom processor, 1 GB of RAM and just 8 GB of storage—but it has 802.11bgn wireless, Bluetooth (for non-tethered peripheral usage), a full-sized USB port, microSD expansion and micro-USB for charging via an included USB cable and (if needed) power plug (with multiple international adapters). Intel also packages an HDMI extension cable for those hard-to-reach places, a nice touch.

all-the-stuff

As a fan of “just enough” computing, I’m intrigued by the Compute Stick. But I also sort of wonder about the lack of computing horsepower here, which would be a problem in some key usage scenarios like media streaming in the living. A simpler, cheaper Roku device, for example, offers more of a turnkey solution for you Neflix and Amazon Prime Video fans out there, and it comes with a remote control.

And for not much more money, a low-end PC laptop like the HP Stream 11—just $180 at Amazon.com—provides so much more value, providing more RAM (2 GB), more storage (32 GB), better expandability, Windows compatibility and a free year of Office 365 Personal, hours of battery life, and a dedicated screen, keyboard and pointing device.

hdmi

But the Intel Compute Stick is clearly aimed at a different crowd, and I’d guess that there is more crossover between Compute Stick and Raspberry Pi 2 users than there are with Roku or Stream users. And it’s likely that most Compute Stick users will already have the other devices in question anyway. That is, it’s additive, a polished solution for those leaning towards the tinkerer end of the spectrum.

What I can say is that it works. It boots up … slowly … lets you set up your user account, and then configures the system. And from then on in, it looks and works just like a real Linux PC (in my case) because, well, it is. Ubuntu Linux appears to run acceptably well on this hardware, which is perhaps the point of this offering.

Long story short … I don’t know. The Intel Compute Stick is inherently interesting. I’m just not sure what I’d do with the thing.

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