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
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
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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  • AmdInside - Friday, January 15, 2016 - link

    Can you comment how well it works as a Minecraft vanilla server? I picked up a Liva before and it kept crashing on Windows and Ubuntu for some reason so had to return it but wanted to buy something similar again
  • PragmaticPraxis - Saturday, January 16, 2016 - link

    Does anyone have any experience with using a Compute Stick headless, using Remote Desktop? Do you need some sort of HDMI dongle?
    I ask because I see a use for me as a light weight FlexLM license server for a traveling computer lab environment. But I would want to simply plug it in to power and be done. if I need to have it connected to K, V & M then a cheap Windows tablet starts looking more attractive, at least when it comes to travel.
  • jasperjones - Sunday, January 17, 2016 - link

    I used to visit Anandtech all the time. Now I rarely come here. Here's the reason: I think this review has little relevance for real life.

    Instead of what you're doing, I would compare this device with:
    - RPi 2
    - Apple TV
    - Nexus Player
    - Amazon Fire TV

    Also, I would comment on Linux performance. Seriously, 2GB RAM and Windows??
  • andrewaggb - Monday, January 18, 2016 - link

    I somewhat agree. The review is about the technical details, but some actual use cases would be nice as well. I'm actually somewhat interested in the cheap version (32gb, 2gb, atom) but I'd like to know that it can handle my use cases.

    How does itunes and movies/shows/audio from itunes work on it (versus say an apple tv). I'm a
    big fan of the new apple tv, but it cost me more than the compute stick and does a lot less.

    If I use it as a steam link to stream a game from a more powerful pc, how well does it work?

    Does XBMC or a similar front end work well.

    Can you install linux on it, boot from usb (with legacy bios), etc?
  • mkozakewich - Sunday, January 17, 2016 - link

    These are basically the same thing as equivalent tablets, except without the screen. I'd take a Chuwi Vi8 instead.
  • yon1000 - Monday, January 18, 2016 - link

    I truly don't understand the Price of the compute sticks - 150$+
    Windows Tablets cost as low as 100$ with the same processor and RAM these tablets have. and they add an HD display, a battery, Bluetooth and other hardware stuff, and above all they come with Windows 10 Installed and 1 year license of Office 365.
    So how come the compute sticks cost 50% more compared to Windows Tablets?
  • piasabird - Monday, January 18, 2016 - link

    I consider a compute stick to be a toy. Windows will not work on it well. If it came with some kind of Linux like a tablet has it might be comparable to a tablet, but not a desktop. It is just a toy.
  • velanapontinha - Monday, January 18, 2016 - link

    Ads are on overdrive on this website! Seriously, a giant ad for something related to National Geographic and an enormous "find a mexican lady" youporn-like photo is NOT the way to keep this site a respected one. Please stop this. Income is not everything, Purch!
  • 074geodude - Monday, January 18, 2016 - link

    My ad blocker only showed two blocked ads, that's actually really good. I've seen many sites that are a lot worst, some with 30+ blocked ads.
  • BurntMyBacon - Monday, January 18, 2016 - link

    Can we get a mainstream build for comparison just to see how far these miniature systems have come? It would also be a good comparison to show where these systems might be sub par. You could break out a separate section of the article or even a whole separate article on the state of miniature computing. This will be especially interesting when the Core-M sticks arrive.

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