The Intel Compute Stick looks like a long media streaming dongle or rather a large thumb drive that plugs into any HDMI port. However, it’s not just any ordinary stick, it’s a PC that runs Windows. It’s amusing how Intel has managed to shrink a computer on a stick! Yes, plug it into any HDMI port equipped screen and convert that device into a fully functional PC. But is the device ready for prime time? We take a look in our review…
Build, design and setting up
The Intel Compute Stick looks like a pen drive on steroids, larger in terms of both width and length. The design is utilitarian at best and won’t win any laurels for its looks. Made from plastic, the front has a glossy finish with big vents for fans (yes the stick even houses fans for cooling!) an LED light and the Intel logo (printed very casually). The right edge has a microSD card slot along with a vent while the left edge sports a full-fledged USB port , a micro-USB port to power the device and a plasticky power button in addition to another vent. The back has certification labels and product information. The bottom edge features an HDMI connector to help the drive fit into any HDMI port.
In its current avatar, the Compute Stick is not a very attractive looking device and lacks refinement. Having said that, in most cases it would be hidden behind big screens so you’ll not really see much of it.
Setting up the Compute Stick is not a difficult task. You just need to plug it into an HDMI port and connect a USB cable with a power adapter or a built-in USB port to turn it on. We were able to power the stick through a Samsung SUHD TV’s built-in USB port. Since the stick features a single USB port you’ll need to use a USB hub if you don’t have a wireless keyboard and mouse. We used an RF-mouse and a Bluetooth keyboard with the device and did not experience any issues. Connecting other USB peripherals would be problematic if you don’t use a hub. Beyond these issues, the Compute Stick works like any other PC.
Hardware & performance
The Intel Compute Stick is powered by a 1.33GHz Intel Atom quad-core processor (supports speed bursts of up to 1.8GHz via turbo boost) and 2GB RAM, and comes with 32GB storage. As we mentioned, there is a microSD card slot to expand the storage capacity in case you want to play your collection of music tracks or movies.
We connected it to a Samsung 4K TV but the maximum resolution the device supports is full-HD.
In terms of performance, the device is good for moderate use and for web browsing, casual games and multimedia, and for apps like office suites, and social media clients, among others. If you open too many browser tabs and multitask between many apps, it becomes a little sluggish. Graphics-intensive 3D games don’t run smoothly though we were able to run Windows 8 games like Asphalt 8 with minor frame drops.
The stick doesn’t come with its own speaker or microphone. You’d be able to use Skype with a webcam that features a microphone and sound output is through the device you plug the stick into.
We also recommend that you change the stick’s power settings to disable sleep as we encountered some issues while trying to wake the device up and ended up losing our work as we had to hard reboot the stick. We also noticed that the stick doesn’t have a great Wi-Fi antenna and had some problems getting good signal reception at times.
The Intel Compute Stick comes with a 32-bit Windows 8.1 with Bing version of the OS. The latest version of the OS features power and search buttons, ability to pin Modern UI apps to the taskbar, and boot directly to Desktop, among others.
It also offers a better desktop experience and streamlines Modern/ Windows 8 apps with desktop apps.
We were able to upgrade to Windows 10 without encountering any problems and the new OS runs smoothly.
Is it worth a buy?
Intel and Microsoft are targeting different sets of consumers with diverse use cases with this device. For the connected, urban consumer who has a number of computing devices at home, this has the potential to convert a dumb screen into a computer or a media streamer with access to a full-fledged web browser and legacy applications. For people who don’t have a computer at home and are primarily using mobile devices for internet access, the Compute Stick can turn their TVs into desktop computers. For enterprise users, small businesses and shop owners, this can act as a relatively inexpensive thin-client or embedded PC kiosk.
At Rs 9,999, the Compute Stick is one of the cheapest computers around. However, it is not self sufficient and this is what makes the adoption process so cumbersome. Not counting an HDMI port-enabled screen, you still need additional accessories like a wireless keyboard and mouse, a USB hub and webcam to get a ‘complete’ PC experience. If you need a media streamer you can go for a simple device like the Chromecast or Tewee that doesn’t need all the additional peripherals just to function.
While it’s amazing how Intel has managed to shrink a PC into a stick, the device is not a great performer and can be recommended majorly for casual use. We’re guessing it’s for people who just want an additional, super portable computer for occasional use or for business owners who want a thin client for employees or a smart kiosk.