The success of UCFF PCs have made vendors realize that small and power-efficient computing platforms are here to stay. ARM SoC manufacturers, finding that the tablet market had reached saturation, kick-started a new product category in the form of 'HDMI sticks'. As a computing platform, they were smaller than the ultra-compact form factor PCs - just looking like an oversized USB key. Intel joined the game in CES 2015 with the Bay Trail Compute Stick. The first iteration was, to put it kindly, a bit underwhelming. However, Intel showed its commitment to the form factor by announcing three new Compute Stick models at CES 2016. They included one Cherry Trail (Atom) and two Core M models.

Introduction and Setup Impressions

The Intel Compute Stick we are reviewing today is the Cherry Trail model (PPSTK1AW32SC) that comes with Windows 10 Home (32-bit) pre-installed, making it ready to roll right out of the box. The specifications of our Intel PPSTK1AW32SC review configuration are summarized in the table below.

Intel PPSTK1AW32SC Specifications
Processor Intel Atom x5-Z8300
(4C/4T x 1.44 GHz, 14nm, 2MB L2, 2W SDP)
Memory 2GB DDR3L @ 1600 MHz
Graphics Intel HD Graphics
Disk Drive(s) SanDisk DF4032 32GB eMMC
Networking 2x2 Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265 802.11ac
Audio Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with audio over HDMI
Operating System Windows 10 Home x86
Pricing (As configured) $159
Full Specifications Intel PPSTK1AW32SC Specifications

The Atom x5-Z8300 belongs to the Cherry Trail family - the set of SoCs with Airmont Atom cores that target the tablet market. These SoCs are very similar to the Bay Trail SoCs, except that we have a process shrink from 22nm to 14nm and the integrated GPU is a bit more powerful. The clock speeds are also a bit higher compared to the Bay Trail SoCs while maintaining a similar power envelop.

The Intel PPSTK1AW32SC kit comes with a pre-installed OS, but no extra software is provided. Drivers and recovery BIOS (if needed) are available for download on Intel's site. In addition to the main unit, the other components of the package include a 15 W (5V @ 3A) adapter with a micro-USB power delivery port. The cable is more than 3ft in length, which solves one of the complaints about the Bay Trail Compute Stick and the short power cord. We also get a HDMI extender cable to help use the Compute Stick in recessed or otherwise inaccessible HDMI ports.

We had a very difficult experience managing our previous mini-PC reviews with just 32 GB of eMMC storage. Fearing a similar situation, we decided to reuse the Patriot EP series 64 GB microSDXC card that we had used in the Bay Trail Compute Stick review.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the Intel PPSTK1AW32SC against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. The relevant configuration details of the machines are provided so that readers have an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are skewed for or against the Intel PPSTK1AW32SC when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Intel PPSTK1AW32SC
CPU Intel Atom x5-Z8300 Intel Atom x5-Z8300
GPU Intel HD Graphics Intel HD Graphics
RAM 2GB DDR3L
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
2GB DDR3L
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
Storage SanDisk eMMC DF4032
(32 GB; eMMC 5.0-compatible)
SanDisk eMMC DF4032
(32 GB; eMMC 5.0-compatible)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265
(2x2 802.11ac - 867 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265
(2x2 802.11ac - 867 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $159 $159
Performance Metrics
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  • zepi - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    How about testing the H265 as well? I'm sure people will stumble upon it more and more as everyone wants to save in bandwidth costs. Reply
  • ddriver - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    Come on now, would it kill you to put 4 gigs of ram instead? That would significantly improve the usability. Reply
  • utroz - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    Probably has something to do with the fact that it has a 32bit version of windows so they skimped on the ram. Or they used 32bit windows because they skimped on the ram.. Either way it was a bad call. 64bit windows and 4GB of Ram or more are a must.. Reply
  • nathanddrews - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    I think that's intentional in order to push people up into the Core m3 and m5 Compute Sticks. Reply
  • Blibbax - Friday, January 15, 2016 - link

    Iirc it's because (if you're an OEM) you can get a cheaper Windows license for a low-end system like this. Reply
  • mkozakewich - Sunday, January 17, 2016 - link

    2 GB is usable, at least. Windows takes up about 1 GB after boot, so the devices of 2014-2015 were horrible after the eMMC ran out of spare blocks. Reply
  • andychow - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    The cpu only supports max 2 gigs of ram. So 4 gigs is impossible. Reply
  • Samus - Friday, January 15, 2016 - link

    It's also windows licensing issue. Until basically get windows 10 for free on these devices if they ship with <32 GB NAND and 2 GB RAM. Reply
  • Teknobug - Saturday, January 16, 2016 - link

    The X5 Z8300 is a 64bit processor, just like Samus said, devices with 32GB storage and 2GB or less memory gets free Windows license. Reply
  • ddriver - Sunday, January 17, 2016 - link

    So they crippled that poor product so it can get free spyware/spamware with it :) Reply

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