Intel Compute Stick Review - Bay Trail Micro PC for $150
When I first was handed the Intel Compute Stick product at CES back in January, my mind began to race with a lot of questions. The first set were centered around the capabilities of the device itself: where could it be used, how much performance could Intel pack into it and just how many users would be interested in a product like this? Another set of questions was much more philosophical in nature: why was Intel going in this direction, does this mean an end for the emphasis on high performance componentry from Intel and who comes up with these darned part numbers?
I have since settled my mind on the issues surrounding Intel’s purpose with the Compute Stick and began to dive into the product itself. On the surface the Intel Compute Stick is a product entering late into a potentially crowded market. We already have devices like the Roku, Google Chromecast, the Apple TV, and even the Amazon Fire TV Stick. All of those devices share some of the targets and goals of the Compute Stick, but the one area where Intel’s product really stands out is flexibility. The Roku has the most pre-built applications and “channels” for a streaming media box. The Chromecast is dirt cheap at just $30 or so. Even Amazon’s Fire TV Stick is clearly the best choice for streaming Amazon’s own multimedia services. But the Intel Compute Stick can do all of those things – in addition to operating as a standalone PC with Windows or Linux. Anything you can do I can do better…
But it’s not a product without a few flaws, most of which revolve around the status of the current operating system designs for TVs and larger displays. Performance obviously isn’t peeling the paint off any walls, as you would expect. But I still think at for $150 with a full copy of Windows 8.1 with Bing, the Intel Compute Stick is going to find more fans that you might have first expected.
The Intel Compute Stick will ship in two forms: one with Windows 8.1 and one with Linux. The Windows version is the one I will focus on today (STCK1A32WFC) and will also be the first to make it to market. The only difference between the two units besides the OS will be the on-board storage capacity. Windows 8.1 will ship with 32GB while the Linux version only includes 8GB.
|Intel Compute Stick - STCK1A32WFC|
|Processor||Intel Atom Z3735F (Bay Trail)|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics|
|Connections||HDMI 1.4a (male)
|OS||Windows 8.1 with Bing|
|Total Price||$150 - Newegg.com, Amazon.com|
Intel is using the Atom Z3735F quad-core processor based on the Bay Trail architecture and the 22nm process technology, running at a base clock of 1.33 GHz and a peak Turbo clock rate of 1.83 GHz. Even though the processor is capable of 64-bit processing, Windows 8.1 with Bing ships as a 32-bit operating system, so keep that in mind as it might affect a handful of application’s compatibility. The CPU has an SDP (scenario design power) rating of just 2.2 watts and though Intel doesn’t list a TDP for it, expect it to peak around 5 watts. Because of the form factor and
the lack of any kind of active cooling (Edit: there is a VERY tiny fan in there, though I never once heard it spin up!), thermal throttling will kick in rather soon.
Graphics is listed as a generic “Intel HD Graphics” with a clock speed of 311 MHz base and 646 MHz Turbo. Intel HD Audio supports multi-channel digital audio though only through the included HDMI port – there is no optical audio or analog audio connection.
The Z3735F is a relatively under utilized processor that was released in early 2014 but the specifications are very similar to the other Bay Trail based platforms on the market. There are quite a few Windows and a couple of Android based tablets using the Atom Z3000-series of SoC with varying levels of success and acceptance by the market. In general, you should expect the Intel Compute Stick to run slightly behind those tablets in terms of raw performance thanks to the thermal constraints of this new form factor.
The system includes 2GB of single channel DDR3L memory running at 1333 MHz at 10.6 GB/s which is cuts it close for a Windows 8.1 installation. However, the Intel Compute Stick is able to pull it off. This is the physical maximum memory supported by the processor itself, so don’t expect any upgraded iterations of the Compute Stick with this design to hit a 4GB level. Internal storage on this model is 32GB of eMMC that actually runs faster than expected, supplied by Samsung.
Wireless connectivity is supplied in the form of 802.11bgn support that peaks at 54 Mbps theoretical and in our testing was able to reach ~40 Mbps. This is 2.4 GHz only and is likely only a 1x1 radio so you are going to have some limits in terms of streaming capability and even some potential interference in heavy 2.4 GHz areas like apartments, etc. I would have loved the inclusion of a 5.0 GHz radio but obviously Intel is trying desperately to keep costs down. Bluetooth 4.0 is included as well for device connectivity including mice, keyboards and even gaming controllers.
You get a surprising amount of ports and connections on the Intel Compute Stick as well including an HDMI 1.4a connection (along with an extension cable should your HDMI ports get overly crowded), MicroSD slot for storage expansion, a full-size USB 2.0 port for accessory add-ons. I’ll go into more details on the next page during the device walk-around.
In terms of physical space, the Intel Compute Stick looks like a large USB thumb drive. It measures 103mm tall (including the HDMI connection), 37mm wide and just 12mm thick.
It does require external power supplied to the microUSB connection either from a full-size USB port on your TV or through a wall outlet with the included 5V USB power adapter.