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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  • augman2384 - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    Are you going to review the Kangaroo PC? It's also Cherry Trail and has other similarities but priced much cheaper at $99. It would be interesting to see it compared in the benchmarks. Reply
  • Wombat2013 - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    Yes, a Kangaroo PC review would be interesting/useful. Reply
  • KenA - Friday, January 15, 2016 - link

    I picked up a Kanagroo PC at newegg for $99. It's great. And it has 4K Hdmi! I use it on my Vizio 4K 43" TV. Reply
  • ToTTenTranz - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    Well a high-pitch fan in a product like this is really a huge turn-off...

    One question and one request that may be of interest to many users:

    1 - It won't pass-through DTS-HD or Dolby TrueHD, but does the HDMI sound codec support a linear-PCM output up to 7.1, and if so can it decode the compressed lossless formats and send through 24bit PCM?

    2 - Please, if not for this review then at least for the next ones, could you include a test with Steam In-Home Streaming in your suite?
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    Yes, it supports Linear PCM, Dolby Digital, DTS and Dolby Digital Plus up to 5.1 for sure. I will check and report on 7.1 later tonight.

    I have to check on the Steam In-Home Streaming - if there is a typical benchmark that can quickly assess the capabilities. If I need to have another PC running Steam and actually need to launch a game and play, then I fear it might be too much overhead to our benchmarking routine.
    Reply
  • ToTTenTranz - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    Thanks for the clarification! Then it's probably a matter of licensing alone.

    As for In-Home Streaming, you can just start a timedemo from any game from the client PC and watch the network statistics in it (it's an option in the In-Home Streaming settings).
    Since IHS supports the execution of pretty much any executable from the host PC, you can probably just run your already existing batch file from there.
    Reply
  • jasonelmore - Friday, January 15, 2016 - link

    its a simple streaming test. What quality setting can it do? You can measure FPS. Use a game that gets good frame-rates like Portal 2 or TF2. As long as the Steam PC can do 60 FPS, then all of the other variables are moot.

    Use a usb ethernet adapter
    Reply
  • BillyONeal - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    Typo:
    maintaining a similar power envelop
    ->
    maintaining a similar power envelope.
    Reply
  • bill.rookard - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    Very cool little devices, and while I can appreciate the tiny form factor, it still doesn't seem to be as good as my Raspberry Pi quad core running OpenELEC, especially when factoring in the price. Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    At any given moment, there are a dozen Z8300 equivalent tablets on sale for less than $200. As messed up as it is, I doubt we will ever see prices on these compute sticks go lower than the sale prices of atom tablets. Reply

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