Intel Compute Stick review — One Stick to Rule Them All
+ Really small form factor
+ Capable of 1080p 30fps decoding
+ Low power consumption
+ Capable of handling general web browsing and Office tasks
+ USB 2.0 port capable of supporting external hard drive
+ Easy to hide behind displays
- Only one USB 2.0 port
- Insufficient grunt for multitasking
- Still requires an external power supply
Everyone was happy with building custom small form factor PCs to use with their TVs for media consumption… And then everything changed when Intel attacked with their NUCs for an even smaller footprint. Today, we will be testing an even smaller device from Intel, the Intel Compute Stick. The one Stick to rule them all. Full-blown Windows 8.1 on a Stick.
Box contents are very comprehensive. You get a common 10W (5V, 2A) power supply, all the interchangeable plug types which slide and click on to the power adapter so you can use the Compute Stick anywhere in the world, a standard microUSB 2.0 cable, a short HDMI extension cable for displays with insufficient space around the HDMI input, a quick start guide I didn’t bother reading through, a one-year McAfee AntiVirus Plus subscription activation code and you also get the Stick.
The Stick is one of the only devices I have reviewed that really doesn’t require a segment dedicated to appearance. But oh well. It looks like an over-sized USB Stick but with a HDMI connector instead. Very descriptive, I know. As you can see, it looks pretty good there powered up connected to the TV. But I believe most people will have it hidden behind their displays. There is an active fan under the perforations near the HDMI connector. But the fact that it still needs an external power supply detracts from the neatness of it. A full-sized USB 2.0 port is located beside the power port. There is a microSD slot on the other side of the Stick which should be the preferred choice for those who are looking to reduce the number of cables snaking from their TV. A power button sits closest to the HDMI port.
- Intel Atom Z3735F 64-bit quad-core (1.33 GHz, TurboBoost up to 1.83 GHz)
- 2GB single channel DDR3L RAM
- 32GB internal (expandable via microSD up to 128GB)
- Windows 8.1 32-bit with Bing
- Integrated WiFi 802.11bgn and Bluetooth 4.0
At first, I was ranting to the other writers on the Pokde.net team about not having wireless peripherals. Then I remembered Unified Remote, which allows control of Windows PCs via WiFi. Setting it up was quite a hassle and I faced a lot of frustrating moments, but finally I got it to work properly. And my, was it good. But more on that later. I will still recommend you to get a Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse set with the nifty Unifying technology allowing you to use your keyboard and mouse wirelessly with only one USB receiver. It will save you some time waiting for the Unified Remote service to start. Of course using wireless peripherals will stop you from using the USB port for storage, but it’s alright if you use cloud storage, NAS storage or just utilize the microSD slot instead for storage. From other reviews I noticed a common complaint whereby Bluetooth peripherals will not work properly if you are using the WiFi connection, so maybe you should stay away from those.
So I finally got everything up and running. So what did I do first? Watch movies, of course! I installed KLite codec pack, and proceeded to test 1080p 24fps, 1080p 30fps mp4 video files located on my external hard drive and it plays them all faultlessly. No problem at all! Using the Unified Remote app, I did not need a keyboard on my lap or a flat surface to use a mouse, I just used my phone. Simple. Control was quite efficient, with the touchscreen of the phone acting like a touchpad the Stick never had. I couldn’t help but think that this is the very reason the app was created. 1080p 60fps streaming from YouTube just didn’t play smoothly though. I just made my dumb LCD TV smarter than any smart TV out there.
After installing the codec pack, Fraps, Chrome, Office 2013 and CoreTemp, I was left with 7.48GB free in my C: drive. I tried surfing with Chrome on the Stick, and needless to say it takes it all in it’s stride. On the TV with Unified Remote, the experience sucked. But that’s because I couldn’t pony up the cash needed for a Logitech K400 wireless keyboard with touchpad. Surfing is something I need my real peripherals for, so I unplugged it from my TV, plugged it into my monitor and surfed. I will spare you the horror of staring at the many cables snaking from the stick when I am using it like that. YouTube video playing in the background, editing this article, with a tab of Facebook. But audio from the YouTube video skipped a beat every once in a while. One of the drawbacks of the low-powered processor and only 2GB of RAM, I guess.
Oh and that little fan we mentioned in the appearance segment? Nah don’t worry about it. You can only hear it if you put your ear around 30cm away from the Stick and if you use it like I do, connected behind a TV, you will never ever hear it kick in. If you are that close to the Compute Stick though, be assured it’s a very quiet buzzing noise. Won’t affect your enjoyment of whatever you are doing with the Stick. Out of curiosity, I set it to High Performance mode by going through the BIOS, and ran Intel Burn Test to push the temps up. At above 70°C the fan noise becomes a low-pitched whine, like it’s telling you to stop torturing it, it’s just a Stick. But it’s not any Stick. It’s the Stick and it will take what I throw at it, and more.
I was lazy to plug in the power supply, pull the cable across the table and plug it into the Stick. So on a whim I just grabbed my Xiaomi 10400 mAh power bank and plugged it in. IT’S ALIVEEEEEEEEEEE!!!! And it works!!!!
I have got to add that the Atoms nowadays are not the Atoms of yore like those in those pitiable Netbook 1Malaysia.
Possible Usage Scenarios
Now since this is the one Stick to rule them all, we will go through some other possible scenarios.
- Load the Stick with your presentation files, bring it and and a power bank along with your smartphone (who leaves their smartphone behind nowadays), plug it into the projector in the meeting room, and pitch your ideas like a boss to your…er… boss.
- Load the Stick with your files, bring it and the power adapter along wireless peripherals to a hotel with a TV with a HDMI input, and watch movies/work on that document/surf the net.
- Replace your mom’s (or your own) vintage Pentium 4 PC which consumes way more electricity, dumps way more heat into the room it is in and way slower too. So slow your mom can cook a 7 course dinner before it finishes booting up. Get a full HD monitor for her while you are at that, will you.
The Stick can be summed up in one word, awesome. It turns any TV with a HDMI input into a smart TV. The Intel Compute Stick is quite the cili padi I expected it to be. Tiny but with just enough kick to not be easily overlooked. The only improvements I can think of are more USB ports or a beefier processor, but both will change the form factor and power consumption levels. More integrated memory is always welcome though. Or a USB 3.0 port instead of 2.0. Oh and did I mention it costs only RM599? So all in all, the Compute Stick is a job well done by Intel. Such a good job that I am very reluctant to return it. I will award it a Gold Award for the cili padi-ness of it.
My most heartfelt gratitude to Achieva Technology Malaysia for providing us with the review sample.