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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  • watzupken - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    Looking at the performance as a whole, it is nowhere near impressive. But if you consider the price of this, there is not much to complain to be honest. I am looking forward to something like this with the new Cherry Trail chip to use as my HTPC.
  • mathew7 - Thursday, April 23, 2015 - link

    Are there any interoperability issues with BT and WIFI? I'm asking because I have a Tronsmart 4-core stick (actually 2) and when I am connected to 2.4GHz Wifi and use a BT mouse, I cannot watch anything. I noticed this first with HBO go, where using a BT mouse would result in not playing. but even in play store I had lots of "retry" messages.
    Then I saw this about a Hanspree clone:
    "The WiFi and Bluetooth can get a bit flaky if used together. Using one causes the other to slow down or drop out completely. I've got a USB network adapter attached so I can use a bluetooth controller. Those wanting to use this as a steam machine might want to either do the same, or use a wireless 360 controller with its adapter to avoid using the bluetooth and WiFi together."
    This led me to the conclusion that 1x1 2.4GHz radio cannot work reliably with BT and Wifi.
  • mathew7 - Thursday, April 23, 2015 - link

    Strange to reply to my own mail.
    But I've seen some posts about people realizing a slower Wifi connection when BT is active (even about Apple devices).
    So maybe this stick does has a stable connection, but the wifi performance is degraded by Bluetooth activity.
    So please, please, tell us how you tested (BT mouse+KB ?) and also report the other way. This is really important for this class of devices.
  • ganeshts - Friday, April 24, 2015 - link

    I got curious and tested out by disabling Bluetooth completely. Peak TCP Wi-Fi performance with our test router gave around 15 Mbps in the same physical setting. A slight improvement, but I suspect the BT interference is not that bad in the Compute Stick.
  • mathew7 - Monday, April 27, 2015 - link

    Actually, in my experience, it's the BT transfer that's problematic. As in: if I click on something and don't move the mouse, it works correctly, but if I keep moving the mouse, cursor is jerky and network problems appear.
    So you tested with BT completely is a good info. But did you also move the BT mouse while testing?
  • SilverBlade - Thursday, April 23, 2015 - link

    Saying that the absence of HD audio bitstreaming will not bother too many consumers is flat out entirely false.

    Any HTPC MUST have the ability to bitstream HD audio. It is a 100% REQUIRED and ESSENTIAL ability.

    Why bother having an HTPC that can only output DVD quality? Makes zero sense. May as well get a proper blu-ray player or a media player from 5 years ago that is quite capable of bitstreaming HD audio.

    It is a complete and utter fail.

    Sorry, Intel screwed this up. This is entirely, 100% useless to me until they give it the ability to bitstream HD audio.
  • mathew7 - Thursday, April 23, 2015 - link

    So I guess you don't travel and use the hotel's (maybe) stereo TV, where HD audio is impossible.
    To listen to HD audio you already need a serious 5.1 (or more) receiver, which means size does not really matter and most likely you already have a BD player. So go buy the NUC.
    Also videos with HD audio tracks need so much storage that the compactness of this device is useless , as it can't power directly a 2.5"HDD or BD reader, which means you need an additional power brick. This is before I get to the single USB port.
  • ganeshts - Friday, April 24, 2015 - link

    Having HD audio bitstream would be nice, but, if you are having an AVR capable of bitstreaming I strongly suggest you spend a little more and get a NUC or some other 'capable' HTPC for playback purposes.

    Anyways, Netflix DD+ bitstreaming works.
  • Tranzaction77 - Thursday, April 23, 2015 - link

    The Netbook of Compute Sticks.
  • damianrobertjones - Thursday, April 23, 2015 - link

    "32 GB, simply put, is just not enough after Windows installs a couple of updates."

    Although I do agree there are other options. Remove the recovery partition, disable virtual memory, disable hibernation etc to grab back all of the space. Also after installing updates run disk cleanup to recover even more space taken by the updates.

    Not sure why this is never mentioned.

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