The Intel Compute Stick: Tiny Computer, Decent Performance
The Intel Compute Stick has been promoted as a device which can turn your TV into a computer, and as a computer which fits in your pocket. Those are both accurate representations of what this inexpensive ($100-$150, depending on OS and storage options) dongle can do – as long as you don’t expect it to perform at levels anywhere close to the machines sitting on your desktop or your lap.
A new, more powerful version of the device is due late this year, and it sounds like it’s worth waiting for. The most important effect the Compute Stick has had, though, is to open the floodgates for the release of competitive stick PCs by other manufacturers.
What Is The Compute Stick?
The device really is a just single-board PC, around the same size as a Chromecast. Intel launched the Compute Stick early this year with an Atom Bay Trail 1.33 GHz processor, two gigs of RAM and 32 gigs of eMMC storage (when fully loaded). The Stick has a microSD card, a USB port, Wi-Fi connectivity and Bluetooth built in, and connects to your TV or monitor through an HDMI port, although it can’t draw power that way and has to be plugged in separately.
The performance of the Compute Stick is good but not great, since the small Atom processor is normally used on tablets rather than full computers. It doesn’t lag or become difficult when browsing or performing other simple tasks, but there’s definitely not enough oomph for video editing or gaming. The Stick’s most efficient use is for media streaming since it provides terrific 1080p Internet video performance, but of course you can find cheaper devices for that purpose. The Bluetooth connectivity is disappointing.
Better Days Are Ahead
It’s risky to read too much into publicity, but it appears that the next iteration of the Compute Stick will be a vast improvement when released later this year.
Intel plans to power version 2 of the Stick with the much more powerful Core m3 or Core m5 processors which have been created for next-generation laptops. The company promises that performance will be boosted by as much as 40%, allowing for much better graphics display and even 4K video delivery, which shouldn’t even be attempted with the first generation of the device.
The company also promises support for wireless display connections, although it hasn’t said whether multiple connections will be supported. Many other details have yet to be revealed, but it’s speculated that the new Compute Stick will support USB-C, and it’s reasonable to expect that Bluetooth performance will be improved to allow wireless keyboards and mice to work as they should. The new processor takes up less space than the Atom used in the original Stick, so there should be room in the device for additional goodies.
With no firm release date or pricing information made public yet, the Core M versions remain "highly anticipate" rather than "must buy". In the meantime, it would be best to wait rather than purchase a first generation Stick, which quite frankly is not as good a deal as some of the other dongle PCs released after Intel broke new ground with its Compute Stick.