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First Look: Intel Compute Stick

It’s not often I can fit a fully functioning computer in my pocket. The new Intel Compute Stick is a computer the size of a candy bar. It’s designed to be an easy-to-use device for home or travel.

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The Compute Stick plugs into an HDMI port on a TV or monitor. This means you can access a full Windows 10 PC wherever you have access to a screen. It has two full-size USB ports (one of which is USB 3.0) and a micro-SD memory card slot, which adds to the small on-board storage (32GB). It has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth connections, 2GB of memory and a quad-core Intel Atom x5-Z8300 processor.

The problem is power.

Unlike similar-sized but more basic devices, such as the Roku Streaming Stick or Chromecast, you can’t power the Compute Stick via a TV’s USB port. It needs to be plugged into the mains. This means more cables and an unwieldly plug to deal with.

You also need a mouse and a keyboard to operate it. So it’s likely at least one USB port will be taken up with those — and that’s something else to carry. So perhaps it’s not the perfect little device to take with you when travelling, as cool as it would be to turn your hotel TV into a computer.

What it is good for is turning your home TV into a decent computer. It handled 4K resolution images (on my 65” Samsung 4K TV, flaws would be spotted quickly) but don’t expect it to be a blazing powerhouse or gaming rig.

I found it slower than my laptop for most tasks, including browsing. You won’t want to run programs directly on the Compute Stick. So instead of downloading files and installing Microsoft Office, use online services such as Google Drive and Dropbox. It does these sorts of things well.

So you might want the Compute Stick as a cheap extra computer or as an option for streaming Netflix. I’m currently using it to watch YouTube and streaming services without needing to fiddle with my SmartTV. If the Compute Stick had a bit more grunt I’d love to play PC games on my TV. While the model we tested had an Atom x5 CPU there are more powerful and pricier versions available with m3 and m5 processors.

Intel Compute Stick (STK1AW32SC 2nd Generation)
Price: $260
Processor: Quad-core Intel® Atom x5-Z8300 processor (Cherry Trail)
Memory: 2GB of DDR3L memory
Storage: 32GB (with support for up to 128GB of additional storage via Micro SD slot)
OS: Windows 10 Home
Wireless: 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2
Ports: USB and USB 3.0 (Micro-USB for power only).

by Hadyn Green

First Looks are trials of new or interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.