Introduction and Setup Impressions

The success of the ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) PCs have made vendors realize that small and power-efficient computing platforms are here to stay. ARM SoC vendors, finding that the tablet market had reached saturation, kickstarted 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 announced the Compute Stick at CES to bring one of the first Wintel platforms into this space. Late last month, Google also introduced the Chromebit, a Chrome OS-based HDMI stick. Both of these point to the 'stick' computing platform being more than just a passing fad. The Intel Compute Stick we are reviewing today comes with Windows 8.1 with Bing (32-bit) pre-installed, making it ready to roll right out of the box.

The specifications of our Intel PPSTCK1A32WFC review configuration are summarized in the table below.

Intel PPSTCK1A32WFC Specifications
Processor Intel Atom Z3735F
(4C/4T x 1.33 GHz, 22nm, 2MB L2, 2.2W SDP)
Memory 1x 2GB DDR3L-1333 C9
Graphics Intel HD Graphics
Disk Drive(s) Samsung MBG4GC 32 GB eMMC
Networking 1x1 Realtek RTL8723BS 802.11n W-Fi
Audio Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Operating System Windows 8.1 with Bing x86
Pricing (As configured) USD 150
Full Specifications Intel PPSTCK1A32WFC Specifications

The Atom Z3735F belongs to the Bay Trail-T family - the set of SoCs with Silvermont Atom cores that target the tablet market. Analysis of the Bay Trail SoCs has already been done in some of our previous reviews.

The Intel PPSTCK1A32WFC kit comes with the OS pre-installed. The drivers are available from Intel's site. In addition to the main unit, the other components of the package include a 10 W (5V @ 2A) adapter with a USB port along with a USB Type A to micro-USB cable, a HDMI extender cable and different detachable power plugs for usage anywhere around the world.

We had a very difficult experience managing our ECS LIVA review with just 32 GB of eMMC storage. Fearing a similar situation, we decided to augment our review unit with a Patriot EP series 64 GB microSDXC card.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the Intel PPSTCK1A32WFC against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. In fact, the review model is the only one of its kind that we have evaluated so far. That said, we are including systems that have comparable cost - so that users can get an idea of how much they are sacrificing or gaining with the stick form factor. 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 PPSTCK1A32WFC when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Intel PPSTCK1A32WFC
CPU Intel Atom Z3735F Intel Atom Z3735F
GPU Intel HD Graphics Intel HD Graphics
9-9-9-24 @ 1333 MHz
9-9-9-24 @ 1333 MHz
Storage Samsung eMMC MBG4GC
(32 GB; eMMC 5.0-compatible)
Samsung eMMC MBG4GC
(32 GB; eMMC 5.0-compatible)
Wi-Fi Realtek RTL8723BS 802.11n SDIO Network Adapter
(1x1 802.11n - 150 Mbps)
Realtek RTL8723BS 802.11n SDIO Network Adapter
(1x1 802.11n - 150 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $150 $150
Performance Metrics
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  • jabber - Thursday, April 23, 2015 - link

    Yeah I was wondering this. Once you have Windows fully installed you can usually claw back 3-5GB easy. I've got fully setup Windows 10 preview installs down to around 11GB doing such things. DiskCleanup works wonders. 32GB is plenty for a light on the go setup. Why do folks still need to carry around TBs of data?
  • zodiacfml - Friday, April 24, 2015 - link

    Speaking of storage, Ganesh can you confirm if this runs using WIMBoot?
    I worked on WIMboot using a 32GB tablet with 19GB free space which includes educational software, latest updates, and Office 365 in the recovery image/partition.
  • ganeshts - Friday, April 24, 2015 - link

    I suspect not, because I saw only 17.1 GB of 23 GB free after initial setup - no other programs installed.
  • zodiacfml - Saturday, April 25, 2015 - link

    Thanks. I wonder why they didn't bothered. I find that it works pretty well, might be even faster if the storage device has slow read speeds.

    I hope I could convince people in the office to purchase one of this. It looks fun especially after seeing the fan and heatsink in Tom's review.
  • Laststop311 - Thursday, April 23, 2015 - link

    So basically the only use for this thing is turning a dumb tv into a smart tv? If you already have a DLNA compatible tv with a built in web browser what extra does this little stick bring to the table? I can already use DLNA streaming to stream movies, tv shows, and mp3's to my tv and I can use the built in web browser to browse the web and the built in youtube and netflix apps to use those services. I guess this thing is cool if your tv is a very basic model with no extra features or older before those features became almost standard.

    Other than streaming video and browsing the web there is nothing else this stick will be powerful enough to do and good smart tv's can already do all of this. You need an HTPC if you want to do other PC things on your tv as this stick doesn't have the power.

    I have an ncase m1 htpc running an i7-3770t undervolted to 1.05v at stock clocks cooled with Noctua NH-C12P SE14 140mm fan with the ULNA adapter attached and coollaboratory liquid metal ultra TIM and the Noctua NF-B9-1600 92mm rear exhaust with ULNA adapter attached. Asus P8Z77-I deluxe mobo. 4x 120mm noctua intake fans all with ULNA attached (2x side 2x bottom). Silverstone 600 watt SFX PSU 80+ gold semi fanless mode. No optical drive have 512GB samsung 840 pro in slim optical drive bay. GSkill TridentX 2x8GB 2400Mhz Cas 10 DDR3. Recently added EVGA 4GB GTX 960 custom repasted with coollaboratory liquid metal ultra which replaced the GTX 660ti mainly for the hardware HEVC decode and the ability of the fans to shut off completely below 60C and a little for the gaming increase also for the decrease in power and heat. It has no standard HDD's and uses my NAS for bulk storage of movies and tv shows connected via 1Gbit ethernet as my house was completely wired for ethernet before wifi became a reliable thing. OS, apps and games installed on SSD.

    Even though this system has infinite more power than the compute stick believe it or not it actually runs dead silent and may actually even be quieter. Even though this has 6 fans + 2 gpu fans and 1 psu fan the 6 noctua fans with ULNA adapters cannot be heard over ambient noise at all. The psu fan and gpu fans do not even turn on unless you are playing a demanding game and even then they can only be very slightly heard if there is a lull in the noise coming from inside the actual game. Haven't tested how demanding the hardware HEVC decode is on the gpu if it's enough to push the gpu over 60C to turn the fans on as I don't have a 4k tv yet but the way the ncase is set up the 2x 120mm intake fans on the bottom are just centimeters away from the GPU so the gpu gets cold air forced on to it at all times whether its fans are on or not which really helps from keeping the noisy gpu fans from ever coming on in all but the most demanding situations.

    Yes I know the price difference is massive. As my system was 10 times the cost of the compute stick 1500 vs 150 and that doesn't even count the NAS system used to augment it. But I think it's money well spent as I can do more than 10 times the tasks the compute stick can at more than 10 times the speed.

    I can only see the most casual of casual users ever wanting a stick like this. A real enthusiast will build a real HTPC and the 1500 is a large initial outlay but most of the parts can be reused for a long time coming. I won't need a new cpu and mobo till at least the 7nm tock and won't get a new ssd till the new cpu and mobo upgrade which will be an nvme ultra m2 with 1TB capacity and won't get a new GPU till at least 10nm as well unless major progress is made on video decoders. The case will be a forever thing as well as the PSU and fans at least until they die. Will have to get new ram only because of DDR4 taking over by the time the 7nm tock rolls around but prices will be like ddr3 prices now by then. The stick is so underpowered you will be buying new generations of it every single year out of desperation for more power and pretty soon the money difference isn't as large as it initially looks and you get so much more enjoyment out of a real HTPC.
  • Haravikk - Thursday, April 23, 2015 - link

    I could understand the problems and compromises (like the fan) in a prototype, but this seems really poor for a final product. They could easily have avoided the fan by making the casing out of aluminium; sure it would be added cost, but not much, and would have resulted in a far superior product, as I don't know about anyone else, but I expect a stick computer to be silent like any good mobile phone.

    The Wi-Fi performance is also pretty shocking; this is a device that, by its nature, is likely to be stuck on the back of a monitor, so it's not an ideal location for good Wi-Fi reception to begin with, which means that good Wi-Fi performance is a prerequisite to any device of this type.

    It's a shame, as it's not a bad processor with all things considered, and the other specs seem decent as well.
  • elbert - Thursday, April 23, 2015 - link

    Were is the 1GB linux version for $89?
  • stefstef - Thursday, April 23, 2015 - link

    nice product. adds some value to a tv and fits perfectly in the gap between pc and mobile gadgets. would be already enough for me to do my work but, as with other products, the usability seems to be cut down due to the 2gb ram.
  • Teetu - Thursday, April 23, 2015 - link

    This is a good first effort. The second version, or competitors follow up, will be good enough to replace my ps3!
  • mofongo7481 - Friday, April 24, 2015 - link

    It might be fun to stream some Steam games from a gaming machine to it while hooked up to the TV.

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