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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  • uzm - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    can it output 4K desktop? I'm looking for something that can drive an image slideshow on a 4K TV.
  • zeo - Monday, April 27, 2015 - link

    Probably better off considering something like the Surface 3 with Cherry Trail, the new Gen 8 GPU is significantly better than Bay Trail's Gen 7 GPU and the display port should easily handle a 4K display better than most models with HDMI output...
  • Bansaku - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    I wonder if you could Hackintosh it?
  • azazel1024 - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    I don't know how that can be considered an effective thermal solution. Maybe it is how tiny the chasis is. In my T100 with the z3740 (and plastic chasis, but obviously a larger chasis than the compute stick, but the compute stick has active cooling), I hit 1.83-1.86GHz and the CPU will stay pegged there under max load. I don't think I've ever monitored it for more than ~10 minutes, but running handbrake on it to test, it loaded all 4 cores at 95-99% and over the course of 10 minutes it never dropped the CPU frequency below that 1.83-1.86GHz range.

    The brief bit of testing (VERY brief) running some games (Kerbal space program actually) my T100 runs (after a minute or two to settle the thermals) the CPU at 1.33-1.6GHz generally and the GPU at around 450MHz or so with some brief bursts on both up towards 1.7GHz and 650MHz respectively.

    Also 8w sounds like a LOT of power. Back to the whole KSP thing, I can get a little over 5 hours of battery life on my T100 running KSP, which is on a 31hwr battery, which equates to about 6 watts of average consumption under heavy CPU and GPU load (okay, probably not be as high as prime + furmark) for the ENTIRE platform, SoC, memory, screen, keyboard dock, etc. I'd be shocked if the SoC itself was drawing more than 4w.
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    For this chassis size, I will call the thermal solution effective since the CPU is running at the rated 1.3 GHz without throttling for more than 30 minutes, all the while maintaining the temperature below 85 C for the CPU package. The only time I would call a thermal solution ineffective is if it allows the CPU to reach junction temperature or makes the CPU run at less than rated speed.
  • azazel1024 - Thursday, April 23, 2015 - link

    I guess that is a point, but since it seems to throttle within just a couple of seconds back towards or to base clock, I think I'd call that thermal solution marginal. Does the processor melt down or throttle below base clock? No, but at the same time, the turbo core speeds seem close to worthless, because only occasionally would you ever see them.

    At least something that can manage to hit max turbo for 10-20s, you would likely see real benefits of that in a lot of light work loads, but here you'd only get to experience it for very, very brief periods of time (perhaps a webpage load, but you aren't going to see it in an application load even).
  • zodiacfml - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    Pricey but its probably tested to run 24 7 on a display for ads....than cheaper intel windows tablets. Id reccomend this at my work.
  • valnar - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    The WiFi speed is barely adequate, and that is only 20' away. Given the single radio, any issues whatsoever and video would hiccup. I think for about the same price or a little more, it would be safer to have a slightly bigger box. 'Something in the NUC range. After all, you aren't really saving that much space, and the thing still needs a power plug anyway.
  • cen - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    It pisses me off to no end when Anandtech does not test Linux with these devices.
  • CharonPDX - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    Not a fail to me - just a very specific set of use cases.

    Micro HTPC (car-PC?)

    "Always with you" desktop PC you can plug in to just about any TV (along with a micro Bluetooth keyboard/mouse combo.)

    Business "thin client" type PC.

    Full-function Raspberry Pi replacement.

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