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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  • ruthan - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    Even with Windows 10 license price tag is ridiculous, in comparision with ARM machines, remix mini is afaik fanless and for 40 bucks, yeah bigger form factor but who cares.. If someone needs something so small, bootable boot drive also solution, linux kernel booting almost on everything and almost everywhere is some slow pc "terminal" capable boot from usb. Reply
  • ruthan - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    Yeah with present price of memory - is only 2gb and no 64bit 4gb nonsense. Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    "The eMMC capacity is only 32GB and the RAM is only 2GB - two aspects that have an artificial limitation imposed on them by Intel's decision to pre-install Windows 10 Home. Even though the information is not public, it is likely that Microsoft mandates neutering of a PC's hardware specifications in exchange for a lower price for the Windows 10 OEM license." Reply
  • ruthan - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    Yeah is probably true both these companies are masters in crippling hw and sw capabilities just for greed.. i think they maked enough. Reply
  • watzupken - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    After reading this review, I still don't see any value to the Compute stick. Currently, there are too many shortcomings with it, i.e. Limited storage, memory, very average performance, etc. Reply
  • Hector2 - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    I have a fast 3.5GHz 6-core Gulftown Windows PC but use my zippy little Celeron-based $180 Chromebox for almost ALL of my email and internet. The Windows OS needs more memory and compute resources than the Chrome OS. It'd be interesting to see if the Compute stick is as quick as my little Chromebox ... that probably won't happen soon, though. Reply
  • amdwilliam1985 - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    It'll be great if the next version comes with USB type c, so it deliveries video, audio, power from 1 connector. Reply
  • darkich - Friday, January 15, 2016 - link

    I find these kind of devices to be an incomparably more fascinating pieces of technology than the biggest, baddest, most expensive pc towers out there Reply
  • Madpacket - Friday, January 15, 2016 - link

    Thanks for the review Ganesh. While interesting I'll bite once the Core M versions with more local storage and no whiny fan are available. Reply
  • kelemvor33 - Friday, January 15, 2016 - link

    Does it support wiping and reimaging with a Pro/Enterprise version? The original model did not as Intel wouldn't release drivers for it. That made it a pain to use in a business setting since you can't add it to your domain or do much remote management. Reply

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