Intel Compute Stick Will Make Your Dumb TV Smarter Than Ever!
How we access the internet on a daily basis has drastically changed over the past five years and there has been a clear shift away from the desktop PC. Intel knows that the market is changing and doesn't want to miss out on the shifting market, so they are working on a number of new products that will help keep traditional computers relevant even though they might not look like a PC. One of the products that Intel has been working on in recent months is the Intel Compute Stick. The Intel Compute Stick was designed to allow users around the world to quickly and easily make any HD television a computer. Like it or not it appears that we are entering the era of having an entire PC on an stick!
Intel is admittedly not going after power users with the the Compute Stick, but rather everyday consumers that need a cost effective way to browse the web, stream videos, Skype with others, play basic games and check e-mail. For this reason Intel is shipping the Compute Stick as a full computer – with memory, storage, connectivity and even the Operating System (OS) installed and ready to go out of the box.
Intel will be shipping two versions of the Compute Stick. The first version will be sold under part number STCK1A32WFC and it will be running Microsoft Windows 8.1 (32-bit) for around $149.99 when it launches later this month. Then in June there will be an Intel Compute Stick version running Ubuntu 14.04 LTS (Linux) coming for around $110 that will be sold under part number STCK1A8LFC. The Linux version has some hardware differences that we will talk about in a bit.
Intel sent Legit Reviews an early pre-production sample of the Intel Compute Stick with Windows 8.1 to test out. The part number on this model is STCK1A32WFC and this PC on a stick comes with an Intel Atom quad-core 'Bay Trail' processor (Z3735F), 2 GB of DDR3L memory, 32 GB of on board storage, a micro SD card slot (with support for up to 128 GB of additional storage), 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0, and Windows 8.1 with Bing. The Linux version is obviously different due to the OS that comes installed on it, but it also has only 1 GB of DDR3L memory and 8 GB of on board storage.
Intel Compute Stick Specifications - STCK1A32WFC - Windows 8.1 with Bing
- PROCESSOR: Intel Atom Processor Z3735F (2 MB Cache, 1.33 GHz)
- GRAPHICS: Intel HD Graphics (HDMI 1.4a output)
- MEMORY: 2 GB Single Channel DDR3 1333MHz @ 1.35V
- DISK DRIVE: Samsung MGB4GC 32 GB eMMC
- STORAGE EXPANSION: SDXC Card Slot w/ UHS-I Support
- CONNECTIVITY: 802.11bgn WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 and USB 2.0
- AUDIO: Intel HD Audio via HDMI, Supporting Multi-Channel Digital Audio
- OPERATING SYSTEM: Microsoft Windows 8.1 32-bit with Bing
- POWER: 5V, 2A Wall-Mount AC-DC Power Adapter to USB Power Port
Inside the packing we discovered the Intel Compute Stick, AC-DC power adapter, USB cable for the power adapter and an HDMI extension cable to ensure the best compatibility with the thousands of HDTVs and PC monitors out there.
The Intel Compute Stick is measures 103 x 37 x 12 mm (LxWxH) and is pretty damn small for an actively cooled PC. Yes, Intel managed to stuff a small cooling fan inside the Compute Stick to ensure nothing inside gets too toasty when you have the Intel Atom Processor Z3735F under a heavy load.
On the end of the drive you have the HDMI 1.4a port that goes into the TV or monitor and then all the rest of the goodies are on the sides of the drive. On this side you have the security notch, high-speed USB 2.0 port, power port and the power button.
On the other side you have the microSD UHS-I card slot and that is it other the the ventilation holes that are on either side of the black plastic housing. Let's take a look inside the Intel Compute Stick!
Intel has managed to pack a good number components inside this miniature computer along with a decently sized heatsink and the smallest fan that we have ever seen in a PC! Intel went with a SUNON UB5U3 that is 30mm square with a thickness of just 3mm. This fan puts out around 0.630 CFM of airflow and only kicks in when a certain temperature threshold is reached. Despite the blower fans extremely small size it has a noise rating of just 39.2 dB and you can barely hear it a few feet away in a fairly quite home environment.
Now that we have a basic understanding of what the Intel Compute Stick is and what makes it tick we can get to the performance testing that you've been waiting so diligently for.
Intel Compute Stick General Performance
In 3DMark Ice Storm we got an overall score of 9,183 points and the CPU temperature got up to 72C during the benchmark run on the Intel Compute Stick. In Graphics Test 1 and 2 the average FPS was right at 40 FPS, so the Intel Compute Stick should do okay with very basic games.
The benchmark built-in 7-zip showed that Intel Compute Stick had a total MIPS rating of 3,479.
A quick look at the memory performance showed we are getting 5 GB/s of bandwidth on the single channel DDR3L 1333MHz memory solution.
In Sandra Processor Arithmetic the aggregate native performance score was 13 GOPS.
The Sandra Processor Multi-Media aggregate performance score was 16.7 MPix/s.
The last performance test that we wanted to run was Bootracer 4.9 to see how fast the system is able to boot Windows 8.1 32-bit. We were ecstatic to find that it takes 13 seconds to get to the welcome screen and another 23 seconds everything ready on the desktop! This meant our total boot time was 36.6 seconds.
The Intel Compute Stick has the basic Intel HD Graphics and lacks support for technologies like Intel QuickSync (hardware accelerated decode and encode) and Intel Clear Video HD (hardware accelerated decode). We were really curious how video playback be handled, so we ran a few tests at 1080P to ensure there were no Full HD issues to be had.
In the screenshot above we played the new Star Wars 1080P movie trailer on YouTube and found that we were using up about 21% of the available processing power once the video was cached. It played smooth and our system had no issues with online HD video unless we were multitasking and then you'd get some delays for caching. The Intel Compute Stick is about doing primarily one thing at a time.
We also downloaded Media Player Classic - Home Cinema along with several 1080P clips at various bit rates and had a good overall experience.
MicroSD and eMMC Storage Drive Speed Tests
No review is complete without a look at drive performance!
We took a closer look at data transfer speeds on USB 2.0 port, microSD slot and the internal Samsung MGB4GC 32GB eMMC storage drive. This eMMC solution won't be capable of mind-blowing speeds, but it should give fairly respectable performance for a tony soldered down NAND Flash solution. Samsung MGB4GC eMMC has also been used in other devices like the HP Stream 7 Windows Tablet, so it is not unique to this particular PC.
A quick run of CrystalDiskMark v3.0.4 showed the sequential read speed at 168 MB/s and the write speed at 78 MB/s! The Random 4K read speed was 16.6 MB/s and the 4K random write speed was 12.9 MB/s.
Taking a look at another storage benchmark called ATTO, we find that the SSD reaching speeds of up to 176.2 MB/s read and 79.7 MB/s write.
To try out the side microSD slot we used a SanDisk Extreme Pro microSDHC UHS-I 16GB memory card that is capable of 95MB/s read speeds and roughly 85MB/s write speeds.
We tested the microSD slot and found that the SanDisk Extreme Pro microSDHC UHS-I 16GB memory card topped out at just under 24 MB/s on the read and write speeds. The microSD slot on the Intel Compute Stick worked with out UHS-I cards, but obviously disn't capable of supporting UHS-I speeds where we have topped 80 MB/s on both reads and writes on this exact microSD card.
Real world file transfers from a microSD card to the Windows 8.1 32-bit desktop shows that we were getting between 20-22 MB/s when moving a file from the microSD card to the eMMC storage drive.
Let's move on and take a look at the wireless performance of the Intel Compute Stick!
Realtek RTL8732BS WiFi Performance Testing & Power Use
When it comes to wireless performance we used LAN Speed Test to check the performance of the included the included Realtek RTL8732BS Wireless LAN 802.11n SDIP Network Adapter. This soldered down card is non-replaceable, so it better be good! The features show that it is a single-band 1x1 wireless card that also supports Bluetooth 4.0 devices.
We used a desktop with Gigabit Ethernet to run LAN Speed Server that was hard connected to the ASUS RT-AC68U 802.11AC wireless router on the 2.4GHz band and moved it 15-feet away from the Intel Compute Stick PC to check out performance with both 1MB and 100MB packets. After running LAN Speed Test on the Intel Compute Stick with the wireless card to test the throughput we discovered that the card topped out at 9.6Mbps (1.2MB/s) average write speeds and 38.7Mbps (4.8MB/s) average read speeds. Most people would consider these extremely poor WiFi speeds, so we are a bit disappointed by the results.
With the Intel Compute Stick w/2GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMC running Windows 8.1 the entire system was consuming just 3.2 Watts of power from the wall outlet when idling! When surfing the web we topped out at 5.6 Watts of power and when watching Youtube videos we topped out at just under 8.3 Watts of power draw. When running 3DMark Ice Storm we topped out at 8.9 Watts at the start of the test.
Let's wrap this up!
Final Thoughts and Conclusion
The Intel Compute Stick left us with mixed feelings at the end of the day. It's a very cost effect device that has all functions f a basic PC and certainly won't break the bank. When looking at the Intel Compute Stick you must realize that there were some tradeoffs that needed to be made to get something this small and inexpensive. You aren't getting super-high end hardware, but you get a fairly robust feature set that makes for an easy plug and play Windows 8.1 device. At the end of the day you end the Intel Compute Stick was able to surf the web, stream videos and run Microsoft Office applications with ease. It's only when you stated multitasking or that you remember that this is not the most peppy little PC and you need to have patience when asking it to do some hard work.
If you are looking for a Windows 8.1 desktop PC experience that will work on any HDMI display for under $150 you don't have too many choices. The Intel Compute Stick could be the solution to thin client, digital signage, point-of-sales (POS) and HTPC needs!
As noted in the introduction we are using a pre-production Intel Compute Stick with early drivers and we ran into some serious issues with the integrated Bluetooth. Since there is only one USB port on the Intel Compute Stick you'll likely need to pair it with a wireless keyboard or mouse straight away. We got our Intel Compute Stick up and running using a wired Corsair K70 keyboard with a Bluetooth Wireless Gigabyte GM-M7700B mouse, but ran into some pretty severe issues. For example whenever the CPU was under a heavy load or the Wireless Internet connection was being heavily used we discovered the Bluetooth connectivity would drop and leave us without a mouse. Sometimes the Bluetooth mouse wouldn't connect again and we finally just gave up trying to use Bluetooth altogether. Intel is aware of this issue and is working on a new driver that fixes the issue, but with the retail availability of the Intel Compute Stick happening within the month they are on a tight deadline to figure it out. It appears that Intel designed the Compute Stick to work with an RF mouse/keyboard combo set and that is what we suggest you use. We had no issues with the RF mouse/keyboard combination that worked off a single USB port and that is what we recommend. Since the Intel Compute Stick is small enough to fit in your pocket and be transported around the world it stinks that you need a keyboard and mouse to go along with it. Someone needs to make a good keyboard/mouse app for smartphones that will connect via Bluetooth or RF to make this truly a portable device as you really can plug it into any HDMI display and have a PC in seconds!
When it comes to pricing you are looking at $149.99 Plus Shipping
for the Intel Compute Stick with Windows 8.1 that is being sold under part number STCK1A32WFC.
That price includes Windows 8.1 32-bit and it is pre-installed, so you end up with something that many would consider in the impulse buying price range. People in developing countries that are looking for an affordable PC that can get them online could be one demographic that Intel can really tap into with the Compute Stick.
The Intel Compute Stick is a great first generation product and we like to see innovations like this coming out of Intel. We can only hope that they solve the Bluetooth 4.0 issues with driver updates or in future generations as that was our biggest grip with the unit.
Legit Bottom Line:
The Intel Compute Stick isn't the fastest PC around, but it gets the job done!