Intel Compute Stick STK1AW32SC Review with Cherry Trail

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Final Thoughts and Conclusion

Intel Compute Stick - Intel Atom x5-Z8300 Processor

The Intel Compute Stick (Model Number STK1AW32SC) with the Intel Atom x5-Z8300 quad-core ‘Cherry Trail’ processor was found to have many improvements over the original ‘Bay Trail’ Compute Stick that was released last year. The extra USB port means that a wired keyboard and mouse can be used, the 802.11ac wireless solution is night and day better and the microSD slot supports faster memory cards. Many things felt faster, but our browsing experience and basic computing tasks felt pretty much the same as the original model from last year. We could still play 1080p content, but were unable to play 4k content despite being able to work on a 4K display. We did all of our testing on an ASUS PB287Q 4K Display with a 30Hz refresh rate and had no big issues running at this resolution besides not having enough power to play native 4K content.

hdgraphics

The problems that the new Compute Stick doesn’t solve is that it still has 2GB of RAM and 32GB of primary storage space. When we first booted up the Compute Stick we found that we had 8.32GB of used space with 19.5GB of free space. The problem is that was with Windows 10 (Build 10240) and that is an old build version from before November 2015. Since Intel shipped our pre-production sample Compute Stick with Windows 10 (Build 10240) we had to upgrade it ourselves to Windows 10 (Build 10586).

windows10-space

The screen shot below shows that after the update we had just 8GB of free space before we installed anything. We ended up deleting the Windows.old contents to be able to run our benchmark test suite as we were unable to download and install 3DMark as there wasn’t enough space to download the file, extract it and install it. Once we did that we were unable to activate Windows 10.

windows10-v1511

We also ran into a handful of other major issues when we updated Windows 10. Once we did the update the Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265 802.11ac device became disabled and hidden meaning that we lost network connectivity. Intel explained to us that Microsoft does not include drivers for this specific device in Windows 10 yet, so when a major update is performed like this one that the device becomes disabled and hidden. Intel also noted that the retail versions will come with Windows 10 (Build 10586) from day one and that end users won’t have this issue. Our test unit also came with UEFI version 16 installed and our Cooler Master gaming mouse wouldn’t work in the USB 2.0 port after the Windows 10 update. A quick update to UEFI version 18 fixed that issue, but it just goes to show that Intel is still working out a handful of issues on the Compute Stick to get it working as one would expect it to.

The tiny 30mm cooling fan inside the Compute Stick kicks on and usually runs once you start using the tiny PC. As you can imagine a fan that small needs to spin fast and that means you can certainly hear it running. It didn’t bother us, but if you are bothered by fan noise or are looking for a silent solution with no fan running at all, this is not it.

Priced at $159, the Intel Compute Stick is low enough to get ones attention, but high enough to also get some people thinking about what else they could get in that price range. For $159 you are starting to get into Intel NUC and tablet territory.

At the end of the day the Intel Compute Stick is able to do basic things like surfing the web, streaming 720/1080p videos and running basic office applications. It’s not designed for multitasking as you are limited by the 2GB of memory and of course the Intel Atom processor. We see the compute stick being a streaming device as there just isn’t enough storage space on them to install a ton of apps or media. If you want something more powerful we highly suggest waiting until the Intel Core-M powered Compute Sticks arrive in the months ahead!

 

Legit Bottom Line: The new Intel Compute Stick has some major improvements, but still has the RAM and storage limitations that have been there since day one.

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  • Bobby Kinstle

    I bought this model of compute stick to put my AcuRite weather station online and it’s absolutely the bomb for low power server, IOT, and automation gateway applications. The tiny size and low power make it perfect here as many of the applications above only support windows natively and require a bunch of work to get working on a linux platform. You can pick them up around $100 on ebay, still new in the box. I also had the problem of wifi getting disabled after the five hour long initial update process concluded, but after a reboot I could enable the wifi network adapter and it worked fine since then.

  • CyberGusa

    Uh, Intel ATOM GMAs have supported QuickSync since Bay Trail… Here’s a link for a detailed brief on the x5-Z8300…

    http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/embedded/products/braswell/atom-x5-processor-z8300-product-brief.html

    Intel just doesn’t always list everything anymore in their general listings but things like QuickSync are practically standard now even on Celeron/Pentium models that previously excluded them…

    The only thing is the encoding hardware acceleration is usually limited, except for phone SoCs, but decoding is pretty much standard now…

  • kyone

    Microsoft also needs to recognise these type of devices with only 32G drive space and allow for half of the operating system to be installed on the microSD card. I would be certain that half of the files (probably many more) would not be needed for high speed instant access.

    With my stick I map all of the “doc”, “pic”, “downloads” etc folders to the SD card. Saves space and more importantly if the system dies you still have access to your very important files. And its great when doing a clean install of an operating system.

    • basroil

      Microsoft has been one step ahead of you for a few years now! What they allow on certain systems is WIM booting, where they compress the entire OS image back down to ~4GB (even for 64bit) for use in systems with disk sizes as small as 8GB. If you don’t know how to use all the (pretty awesome) features of the OS it’s your own fault, they have plenty of documents on how to manage WIM images on technet/msdn

      • kyone

        From the first article I read about it
        “Microsoft does offer a guide to creating WIMBoot images, but it’s not intended for the average Windows geek. Besides, if you already have a Windows PC — even one with a small 64 GB of storage — you’re probably better off not using WIMBoot. Using WIMBoot will just slow down your PC, even if you go through the trouble of setting it up properly. Sure, you could theoretically get some additional space — but it probably isn’t worth the cost.”

        As I said they should factor in stick computers having a microSD card and allow for a large portion of the file systems to reside there, uncompressed !!

        • basroil

          It’s called compromise, use WIM, gain space, lose CPU performance for some functions; use SD (not possible, but if it was), gain space, lose a ton of disk performance and slow access (250us minimum latency); just use the SD for programs and data and deal with a tiny SSD space. Right now WIM is actually pretty great for the purpose of compact installs that this very device benefits from

        • kyone

          Stick computers, currently, don’t have any processing power to compromise.. so keep 50% on the eMMC that is CPU sensitive and the non critical ones on the SD card. WIM is ok but I think, im not sure, that my way would be better.

          Doesn’t really matter.. I’m sure in about 6 months from now 64G will become the standard and CPU will be faster.

        • basroil

          1) You CANNOT install to SD (even WindowsToGo), and Windows (and in fact most OSes) can never be installed on two volumes. No sense considering it.
          2) The point is that you do have to compromise one way or the other. Do you think writing to SD is cheap? (computationally)

          3) These sticks are meant to be used in single tasks, not as general computers. That also means that Windows will be mostly just what’s loaded in memory, so WIM or not there’s little disk access. Why do something complicated when at most you might have a 5% performance increase?

  • timoric

    Sounds like it is still isn’t quite powerful enough. I think 4K video playback is a must for these to be really cool. Believe upping to 4gb of Ram and a better processor will do that. If you have a 4K TV you should get 4K video playback.

  • Ken McIntosh

    OK, it looks like there is a single screw holding the unit together at one end and hinged tabs at the other. Thank you for notating what model fan they are using. Is the fan replaceable? I went out to the SUNON site, but cannot find that part. Small fans are notorious for having sort life spans. That is why I ask.

    • Nathan Kirsch

      Correct, there is one Philips screw that is under a rubber pad and then you need a ultra-thin pry tool to pop the clips along the seam. Here is a link to the Sunon product catalog that has a similar UB5U3 fan listed – http://bit.ly/1JYLJxw I’m not sure how easy it is to buy a replacement Sunon Mighty Mini Blower fan, but it is likely possible.