Intel Compute Stick Gets The Latest Intel Atom Processor - Cherry Trail
The Intel Compute Stick was introduced in April 2015
and received a luke warm welcome as the tiny HDMI computer stick certainly had a number of faults. Most people need to keep in mind that the Intel Compete Stick was a first generation product and Intel was just testing the waters. At CES 2016 we learned that Intel was greatly expanding their Intel Compute sticks and announced three new Compute Stick models at the show
. If you are an Ultra-Compact Form Factor ( UCFF ) lover, these new models might bring the additional features and performance that you've been waiting for if you were a bit underwhelmed by the original. The old Bay Trail powered Compute Stick that debuted in 2015 has been replaced by a more powerful Cherry Trail powered Compute Stick and two faster Core M models.
Intel will be shipping two versions of the new Compute Stick. The first version will be sold under part number STK1AW32SC and it will be running Microsoft Windows 10 Home (32-bit) for around $159.99 when it launches later this month. The other is a version that comes without any operating system under part number STK1A32SC and is only available in 10-pack bundles. Intel explained to Legit Reviews that the version without an OS is intended for the commercial market and that the only way an average consumer could find one was if a retailer broke up a 10-pack and sold them individually.
- Intel Compute Stick - STK1A32SC Without Windows - Only available as a 10-pack for the commercial market
- Intel Compute Stick - STK1AW32SC with Windows 10 Home 32-bit - $159.99 Plus Shipping
"Amazing meets affordable. The Intel Compute Stick is a tiny device the size of a pack of gum that can transform any HDMI TV or display into a complete computer. But it’s what’s inside that’s really incredible: a quad-core Intel Atom processor that gives you balanced performance for work or play. The Intel Compute Stick delivers an affordable plug-and-play PC in a device that fits in the palm of your hand." - Intel
Intel sent Legit Reviews an early pre-production sample of the Intel Compute Stick with Windows 10 to test out. The part number on this model is STK1AW32SC and this PC on a stick comes with an Intel Atom quad-core 'Cherry Trail' processor x5-Z8300, 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), 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0, two USB ports and Windows 10 Home 32-bit.
Intel Compute Stick Specifications - STK1AW32SC - Windows 10 Home
- PROCESSOR: Intel Atom Processor x5-Z8300 Quad-Core (2 MB Cache, 1.44 GHz base, 1.84 GHz burst)
- GRAPHICS: Intel HD Graphics (HDMI 1.4b output)
- MEMORY: 2 GB Single Channel DDR3L-RS 1600MHz @ 1.35V
- DISK DRIVE: SanDisk 32 GB eMMC built-in for primary storage
- STORAGE EXPANSION: microSDXC v3.0 Card Slot w/ UHS-I Support
- CONNECTIVITY: dual-band 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, 1x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0
- AUDIO: Intel HD Audio via HDMI, Supporting Multi-Channel Digital Audio
- OPERATING SYSTEM: Microsoft Windows 10 Home 32-bit x86
- POWER: 5V, 3A Wall-Mount AC-DC Power Adapter to micro-USB Power Port
- DIMENSIONS: 113mm x 38mm x 12mm
Inside the packing we discovered the Intel Compute Stick, AC-DC power adapter that has a 6-foot long cable on it, instructions and an optional an HDMI extension cable to ensure the best compatibility with the thousands of different HDTVs and PC monitors out there. It should also be noted that the AC-DC power adapter has a 6-foot long cable on it, which is longer than the original model to ensure that it will be long enough to make it to the power outlet on most large TV sets.
The original Intel Compute Stick (left) measures 103 x 37 x 12 mm (LxWxH) and the new Intel Compute Stick (right) is 113mm x 38mm x 12mm. It hasn't gotten any thicker, but it has gotten longer and wider. The housing has more matte finishing touches on it and the fan grill holes look precision cut this time around. The slightly larger size on this years Intel Atom Cherry Trail model doesn't really bother us much as this PC-On-A-Stick will likely be plugged into a side of a TV and won't be seen.
One of the big problems of the original Compute Stick was the lack of USB ports on the device. One USB 2.0 port just wasn't enough and most household don't own Bluetooth peripherals, so there was a fairly substantial cost that was needed after the initial purchase to get a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse ordered in. This time around Intel made the enclosure larger in order to be able to add a second full sized USB port. The Intel STK1AW32SC Compute Stick has a USB 3.0 port and USB 2.0 port for your devices and then uses a micro-USB port for power. We still highly recommend taking advantage of the Bluetooth 4.0 support to free up one or both USB ports.
The Intel Atom x5-Z8300 Processor has a Scenario Design Power (SDP) of just 2W
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 UB5U3-524 fan 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 the new Intel Cherry Trail powered Compute Stick scored a rather impressive 15,123 points and was rated at 76.2 FPS on Graphics Test 1. The overall score in 3DMark Ice Storm is up by 65%, so there is a huge performance gain to be had from the new Compute Stick thanks to the boost improved GPU performance. The original Intel Compute Stick scored 9,183 points overall in the same benchmark test and was rated at 41.3 FPS in Graphics Test 1 to give you an idea of the hard numbers. The Physics test went from 28.9 FPS to 39.4 FPS, so even on the CPU side of things there are nice gains seen on the new SoC. Since the Intel Atom x5-Z8300 Quad-Core Processor did so well in the standard Ice Storm benchmark test we also ran Ice Storm Extreme and Cloud Gate. The new Intel Compute Stick STK1AW32SC scores 10,907 in Ice Storm Extreme and 1,402 in Cloud Gate.
The benchmark built-in 7-zip showed that Intel 'Cherry Trail' Compute Stick had a total MIPS rating of 4,172 versus a score of 3,479 on the original version.
In TrueCrypt 7.1a the Intel PPSTK1AW32SC had a mean score of 452 MB/s in the AES benchmark. The Intel Atom x5-Z8300 Cherry Trail processor has AES-NI support, so it has decent performance for a processor of this power level.
The AIDA64 Cache & Memory Benchmark shows 7240 MB/s read and 8082 MB/s write speeds with the memory have a latency of 129.8ns. AIDA64 shows the 2GB of DDR3 1600MHz memory is running at 11-11-11-28 timings with a command rate of 2T by default.
A quick look at the memory performance showed we are getting 5.56 GB/s of bandwidth on the 2GB single channel DDR3L 1600MHz embedded memory solution. This is up from 5 GB/s of memory bandwith on the original Thumb Stick that had slower 1333MHz memory.
In Sandra Processor Arithmetic the aggregate native performance score was 12.77 GOPS.
The Sandra Processor Multi-Media aggregate performance score was 16..88 MPix/s.
The last performance test that we wanted to run was Bootracer 5.0 to see how fast the system is able to boot Windows 10 Home 32-bit. We found that it takes 15 seconds to get to the welcome dialog and another 21 seconds everything ready on the desktop! This meant our total boot time was right around 36 seconds.
Since the Intel Compute Stick with the Cherry Trail SoC will more than likely be attached to a TV we took a look at a number of video types on the device to see how it would perform as a HTPC as many people might be looking into buying the version without the OS to install Kodi. We took a quick look at DXVA checker and found that the Cherry Trail SoC offers hardware acceleration for MPEG-2, VC1, H.264, HEVC and VP9. When it comes to audio bitstreaming the device supports DTS, Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus.
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 and 2160P to ensure there were no Full HD issues to be had.
In the screenshot above we played 1080P music video on YouTube and found that we were using up about 60% 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 drop frames and run into caching issues.
We tried a random 4K music video on YouTube and found that it used 100% of the CPU and it was unplayable due to all the stutters.
We also downloaded Media Player Classic - Home Cinema along with the Big Buck Bunny, Sunflower 2160p, 30 FPS clip and found that while the Intel Compute Stick STK1AW32SC supports 4K resolutions it is not able to play clips. In just over 70 seconds of 4K video playback we had 41 dropped frames, an average sync offset of -532ms and were getting just 17.39 FPS on the 30 FPS clip.
It should be noted that we tested our device with UEFI version 18 that came out on January 7th, 2016 along with Windows 10 Threshold 2 (Build 10586) and Intel HD Graphics Driver 126.96.36.19931. We've seen higher scores from this Compute Stick model on other sites, but they were done using UEFI Version 16 and an older version of Windows 10. Our system was fully up to date on January 19th, 2016 when this article was published!
MicroSD and eMMC Storage Drive Speed Tests
No review is complete without a look at drive performance!
The Intel PPSTK1AW32SC uses a SanDisk DF4032 32GB eMMC storage drive and we wanted to take a quick look at the performance of this embedded device.
A quick run of CrystalDiskMark v5.0.1 showed the sequential read speed at 173 MB/s and the write speed at 103 MB/s! The Random 4K read speed was 11.8 MB/s and the 4K random write speed was 14.7 MB/s.
Taking a look at another storage benchmark called ATTO, we find that the SSD reaching speeds of up to 173 MB/s read and 100 MB/s write. Not bad performance numbers and this is about what we expected the performance to be around.
To try out the side microSD slot we used a SanDisk Extreme microSDXC UHS-I 64GB memory card that is capable of 80MB/s read speeds and roughly 50MB/s write speeds.
The SanDisk Extreme microSDXC UHS-I 64GB memory card topped out at 93 MB/s on the read speed and 51 MB/s on the write speed, which is over its rated speeds! Much better than the original version that topped out at just 24 MB/s read/write due to design limitations.
Real world file transfers from a microSD card to the Windows 10 Home 32-bit desktop shows that we were getting roughly 20MB/s when moving a file from the SanDisk microSD card to the eMMC storage drive. It hit about 40MB/s for a split second, but settled down to 20 MB/s for much of the remainder of the folder transfer.
Let's move on and take a look at the wireless performance of the Intel Compute Stick!
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265 WiFi Performance Testing
When it comes to wireless performance we used LAN Speed Test to check the performance of the included the included Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0 module (product page
). Intel says that this dual band 802.11ac 2x2 solution can transfer data at up to 867 Mbps for 3x faster speeds than 802.11n solutions.
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 of 1MB packets on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. After running LAN Speed Test on the Intel Compute Stick with the wireless card to test the throughput we found that we were averaging 63 Mbps (7.9MB/s) average write speeds and 73 Mbps (9.1MB/s) average read speeds on the 2.4GHz spectrum. When we switched over to the 5GHz network we found that performance jumped up to 147 Mbps (18.4MB/s) average write speeds and 316 Mbps (39.5MB/s) average read speeds. This is a night and day difference between the original Compute Stick that couldn't get over
In case you are wording what the maximum speeds were... We got 229 Mbps (29.6MB/s) write and 431 Mbps (53.875MB/s) read speed on the maximum results on our particular test setup.
The new Intel Compute Stick with the Intel Atom 'Cherry Trail' processor is night and day better than the original Intel Atom 'Bay Trail' processor that was on the original model. The improvements have made internet usage more than acceptable on the Compute Stick!
Compute Stick Temperatures and Power Consumption
When it comes to temperatures, the Intel Atom x5-Z8300 Quad-Core Processor inside the Compute Stick idled around 51-53C. When we ran the AIDA64 System Stability Test we found the temperatures topped out at 75-78C on each of the cores when the test was run for five minutes. No throttling of the processor was observed, but the fan could most certainly be heard when the system was under full load.
After we ran this test we discovered that that playing a simple 4K video clip would put the SoC at a higher load level and that put the temperature at 78-80C on all four cores.
The Intel Compute Stick w/2GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMC running Windows 10 Home would idle around 2.6 Watts of power from the wall outlet. When streaming 1080P video clips from YouTube we hit 7.7W and general web browsing was in the 5-7W range. The highest power consumption seen was when running 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited as we topped out at 10.1 Watts during the benchmark test.
Let's wrap this up!
Final Thoughts and Conclusion
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.
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).
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.
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.