Introduction and Setup Impressions

The success of the ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) PCs have made vendors realize that small and power-efficient computing platforms are here to stay. ARM SoC vendors, finding that the tablet market had reached saturation, kickstarted 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 announced the Compute Stick at CES to bring one of the first Wintel platforms into this space. Late last month, Google also introduced the Chromebit, a Chrome OS-based HDMI stick. Both of these point to the 'stick' computing platform being more than just a passing fad. The Intel Compute Stick we are reviewing today comes with Windows 8.1 with Bing (32-bit) pre-installed, making it ready to roll right out of the box.

The specifications of our Intel PPSTCK1A32WFC review configuration are summarized in the table below.

Intel PPSTCK1A32WFC Specifications
Processor Intel Atom Z3735F
(4C/4T x 1.33 GHz, 22nm, 2MB L2, 2.2W SDP)
Memory 1x 2GB DDR3L-1333 C9
Graphics Intel HD Graphics
Disk Drive(s) Samsung MBG4GC 32 GB eMMC
Networking 1x1 Realtek RTL8723BS 802.11n W-Fi
Audio Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Operating System Windows 8.1 with Bing x86
Pricing (As configured) USD 150
Full Specifications Intel PPSTCK1A32WFC Specifications

The Atom Z3735F belongs to the Bay Trail-T family - the set of SoCs with Silvermont Atom cores that target the tablet market. Analysis of the Bay Trail SoCs has already been done in some of our previous reviews.

The Intel PPSTCK1A32WFC kit comes with the OS pre-installed. The drivers are available from Intel's site. In addition to the main unit, the other components of the package include a 10 W (5V @ 2A) adapter with a USB port along with a USB Type A to micro-USB cable, a HDMI extender cable and different detachable power plugs for usage anywhere around the world.

We had a very difficult experience managing our ECS LIVA review with just 32 GB of eMMC storage. Fearing a similar situation, we decided to augment our review unit with a Patriot EP series 64 GB microSDXC card.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the Intel PPSTCK1A32WFC against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. In fact, the review model is the only one of its kind that we have evaluated so far. That said, we are including systems that have comparable cost - so that users can get an idea of how much they are sacrificing or gaining with the stick form factor. 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 PPSTCK1A32WFC when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Intel PPSTCK1A32WFC
CPU Intel Atom Z3735F Intel Atom Z3735F
GPU Intel HD Graphics Intel HD Graphics
RAM 2GB DDR3L
9-9-9-24 @ 1333 MHz
2GB DDR3L
9-9-9-24 @ 1333 MHz
Storage Samsung eMMC MBG4GC
(32 GB; eMMC 5.0-compatible)
Samsung eMMC MBG4GC
(32 GB; eMMC 5.0-compatible)
Wi-Fi Realtek RTL8723BS 802.11n SDIO Network Adapter
(1x1 802.11n - 150 Mbps)
Realtek RTL8723BS 802.11n SDIO Network Adapter
(1x1 802.11n - 150 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $150 $150
Performance Metrics
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  • Refuge - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    There are other reviews, that have not ran into any such problems installing the updates to the stick.

    So no, that isn't the case.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    Did they even mention whether they tried to do the update ? In any case, after the 'Refresh', I installed 1.3+ GB of updates all over again, and the second time went without a hitch. I think it depends on a lot of factors - eMMC behavior etc. , but, in general, it would be preferable to have plenty of free space on the primary drive for OSes such as Windows. Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    Great review as always, but the Compute Stick isn't quite enough and it really doesn't have much to do with the CPU, but storage. The 32GB of storage problem has really been the biggest turn off of these kinds of small computing platforms. It'd work fine for most Linux distros, but Windows needs a good 16-32GB more, I think, before the device becomes flexible enough to use for things beyond very basic content consumption. I'd had hopes about Cherry Trail systems sticking around the same price point while offering a generational improvement in storage capacity, but with Intel's pricing, I have doubts that there'll be a sub-$150 device that ships with 2GB of RAM and 64GB solid state storage in the near term. Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    PPSTCK1A32WFC? Uhm, how much do you want to bet that people start calling it the peepee stick. I wonder if this was the marketing guys having a laugh, or if they honestly didn't think the name was questionable. It should be standard practice to run marketing material past a fifth-grader to see if they laugh(or me, apparently). Reply
  • BMNify - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    Intel Compute Stick is the name of the product, looks pretty simple and self-explanatory to me, the detailed product code number is not marketed by anyone. Reply
  • biofishfreak - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    Ganesh, do you know/ can you test if you can add this Compute Stick to a Windows domain? Reply
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    It is running Win 8.1 with Bing - not Pro or Enterprise - as far as I can see, it is not possible to add this to a Windows domain. Reply
  • Kinemaxx - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    So, the question that runs through my mind in every single one of these types of reviews, yet never seems to be given consideration: How well can these units play back Hi10p encoded h264 video? (either 720p or 1080p) Hi10p can't be GPU accelerated, so can they play video like that back at all, or will it be like watching a slideshow (as was the case on a friend's very early netbook)? I know Kodi is capable of playing back 10-bit video, so since they used Kodi in the test, it should certainly be testable. Reply
  • zeo - Monday, April 27, 2015 - link

    Bay Trail is a good step up from the older Netbook ATOMs... 2-3x the performance... Chippy, from UMPCPortal, has a video demonstrating Hi10p playback. X.264 10-bit encoded file on a Bay Trail based Intel NUC... if you want to see how well Bay Trail handles such videos...

    Basically, Bay Trail's can usually handle Hi10p encoded videos, though, they can struggle a bit with 1080p Hi10P w/ FLAC audio... but it's watchable in most cases, depending on what you're watching and whether anything else is going on that also adds CPU load...

    However, the SoC in this PC stick is on the lower end of the scale... So it may struggle a bit more and may require lowering expectations to 720P for smooth playback...
    Reply
  • Twingo - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    Price seems steep. You can get a tablet like the HP Stream 7 for < 100 dollars. Not sure why this would cost > 50% more when there is no battery or screen to drive up cost. If this were priced in the 70-80 dollar range that would make much more sense. Reply

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