The success of UCFF PCs have made vendors realize that small and power-efficient computing platforms are here to stay. ARM SoC manufacturers, finding that the tablet market had reached saturation, kick-started 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 joined the game in CES 2015 with the Bay Trail Compute Stick. The first iteration was, to put it kindly, a bit underwhelming. However, Intel showed its commitment to the form factor by announcing three new Compute Stick models at CES 2016. They included one Cherry Trail (Atom) and two Core M models.

Introduction and Setup Impressions

The Intel Compute Stick we are reviewing today is the Cherry Trail model (PPSTK1AW32SC) that comes with Windows 10 Home (32-bit) pre-installed, making it ready to roll right out of the box. The specifications of our Intel PPSTK1AW32SC review configuration are summarized in the table below.

Intel PPSTK1AW32SC Specifications
Processor Intel Atom x5-Z8300
(4C/4T x 1.44 GHz, 14nm, 2MB L2, 2W SDP)
Memory 2GB DDR3L @ 1600 MHz
Graphics Intel HD Graphics
Disk Drive(s) SanDisk DF4032 32GB eMMC
Networking 2x2 Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265 802.11ac
Audio Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with audio over HDMI
Operating System Windows 10 Home x86
Pricing (As configured) $159
Full Specifications Intel PPSTK1AW32SC Specifications

The Atom x5-Z8300 belongs to the Cherry Trail family - the set of SoCs with Airmont Atom cores that target the tablet market. These SoCs are very similar to the Bay Trail SoCs, except that we have a process shrink from 22nm to 14nm and the integrated GPU is a bit more powerful. The clock speeds are also a bit higher compared to the Bay Trail SoCs while maintaining a similar power envelop.

The Intel PPSTK1AW32SC kit comes with a pre-installed OS, but no extra software is provided. Drivers and recovery BIOS (if needed) are available for download on Intel's site. In addition to the main unit, the other components of the package include a 15 W (5V @ 3A) adapter with a micro-USB power delivery port. The cable is more than 3ft in length, which solves one of the complaints about the Bay Trail Compute Stick and the short power cord. We also get a HDMI extender cable to help use the Compute Stick in recessed or otherwise inaccessible HDMI ports.

We had a very difficult experience managing our previous mini-PC reviews with just 32 GB of eMMC storage. Fearing a similar situation, we decided to reuse the Patriot EP series 64 GB microSDXC card that we had used in the Bay Trail Compute Stick review.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the Intel PPSTK1AW32SC against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. 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 PPSTK1AW32SC when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Intel PPSTK1AW32SC
CPU Intel Atom x5-Z8300 Intel Atom x5-Z8300
GPU Intel HD Graphics Intel HD Graphics
RAM 2GB DDR3L
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
2GB DDR3L
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
Storage SanDisk eMMC DF4032
(32 GB; eMMC 5.0-compatible)
SanDisk eMMC DF4032
(32 GB; eMMC 5.0-compatible)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265
(2x2 802.11ac - 867 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265
(2x2 802.11ac - 867 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $159 $159
Performance Metrics
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  • mabsark - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    I'm got a Brix 1900 mini PC which I use as a HTPC / Plex Media Server. It's got 4 GB of RAM and a 30 GB SSD. It runs Windows 10, Kodi and Plex Media Server. There's still about 6 GB free. All the media is stored on my NAS so the HTPC doesn't need more storage.

    Compute Sticks are basically streaming devices. You're not going to be installing a load of apps or media on them so they don't really need much storage space.
    Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Friday, January 15, 2016 - link

    You do have a good argument, but my days of running in home servers and/or NAS units are long over. I don't want to deal with the hassle of being a systems administrator for my spouse and kids when all I really want my computers to do are provide connectivity, data processing, and entertainment at minimal operating overhead (power, space, heat & cooling, and time invested). That means ANY computer coming in the door needs to meet a certain set of criteria in painlessness of operation. 32GB of storage on a Windows box creates more problems than it solves and makes the Compute Stick a poor general purpose computing device. In my case, I don't deal with streaming media much except for the occasional YouTube clip or an Amazon video rental so the "everything else" a Compute Stick can do (or any other computer for that matter) is far more important than video playback and those other purposes do require a little more flash and, ideally, a couple more gigabytes of RAM. Reply
  • mabsark - Friday, January 15, 2016 - link

    Beyond media and web browsing, what else would you be doing on such a weak system? If you need the functionality of a proper PC then you buy a proper PC, not something like a compute stick.

    The same applies to your HP Stream 11 which is clearly billed as a "cloud computer". Basically, you're looking at the wrong type of products for your needs and then complaining that they're not good enough. You may as well be complaining that it's unable to run the latest AA games at 4K.
    Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Friday, January 15, 2016 - link

    My TRS-80 packing a 1.7MHz Zilog Z80 could play games and run a word processor without storage capacity problems. I don't see why 35 years later, a budget PC with a general purpose x86 processor shouldn't be expected to do much, much better. Besides that, the price difference between 32 and 64GB of solid state memory is insignificant, even given the relative cost of the rest of the platform. It's a perfectly valid complaint. Reply
  • Reflex - Friday, January 15, 2016 - link

    A budget PC nowadays does much, much more than your TRS-80 ever did. Granted, more is better, but the comparison you are making is ridiculous. Reply
  • Lord of the Bored - Saturday, January 16, 2016 - link

    Man, I'm still fighting to get the "instant-on" of my old 99/4a on a modern system. But at least boot times are starting to come back down. That's progress! Reply
  • doggface - Tuesday, January 19, 2016 - link

    this argument is the worst. You could probably still play those games, and they would work a lot better. but not new games. and i bet your TRS-80 cost a bit more than $200 too.

    Completely different device. If you are looking to do anything more strenuous than basic internet or streaming.. you are barking up the wrong tree.
    Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Thursday, January 21, 2016 - link

    "Completely different device. If you are looking to do anything more strenuous than basic internet or streaming.. you are barking up the wrong tree"

    That makes no sense at all to me. Cherry Trail systems have vastly more compute power than systems of not so long ago that were fully functional computers (ala 100MHz Pentiums, and TRS-80s). Given their immense computational capacity, there's no reason at all to intentionally limit the usage of such hardware to only a small subset of tasks billions of computers that came before it did perfectly fine with far more limited resources. It's a desktop PC in a small case and therefore it should be accordingly expected to handle any and all desktop PC chores a user requires so they don't need to waste money/time/space/effort buying a Compute Stick only to have to purchase an additional computer in one of many absurdly large, obsolete ATX-derived form factors.
    Reply
  • Gunbuster - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    Does this work on a 4K TV at 4K resolution? Pretty much useless if it doesn't IMHO... Reply
  • dsraa - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    That's not what it's designed for..... Reply

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