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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  • fallaha56 - Friday, January 15, 2016 - link

    not much point IMHO, you need hevc 10bit for proper UHD bluray support...
  • nathanddrews - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    "However, given the other limitations of the form factor and the system, it is unlikely that the absence of HD audio bitstreaming will bother too many consumers."

    The only content I'm aware of that uses HD audio bitstreaming is Blu-ray and this device doesn't appear to struggle with playback of 1080p24 H.264. Looks like a deal-breaker to me. Maybe the Core m3 unit won't be nerfed.
  • eanazag - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    Does it play Crysis?
  • nathanddrews - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    I'd settle for 1:1 Blu-ray playback.
  • Flunk - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    It would have been nice if they shipped this with a useable amount of storage, 64GB at least. The $5 price difference isn't going to hurt anything.
  • kaidenshi - Friday, January 15, 2016 - link

    It's more than just the $5 hardware difference. Above the 32GB storage/1GB RAM mark, Microsoft considers this a full computer and not a so-called "limited device", therefore the licensing fee for Windows 10 jumps from $0 to $15, which Intel will then pass along at a $50 or more increase. At that point, the consumer may as well buy the m3 or better version.
  • BrokenCrayons - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    Yay, you guys reviewed the new Compute Stick! The benchmark numbers are encouraging, but as was already mentioned, 32GB is pretty much a deal breaker for me. I'm using an HP Stream 11 as my primary Windows computer and it absolutely requires a 64GB SD card for storage and most of my programs are installed on SD which is a sub optimal situation. Upgrading to a next generation device of any sort, even one that will fill the mundane role of video streaming is not something I'm interested in doing if it puts me in a similar squeeze due to a lack of storage capacity. Any future devices I purchase must have at least 64GB of internal storage so while the rest of the Cherry Trail refresh looks nice, this just isn't doable.
  • rpg1966 - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    Just add a micro SD card.
  • Flunk - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    Installing your applications on a micro SD card isn't a great idea and embedded flash memory is cheap as chips, this is inexcusable.
  • nathanddrews - Thursday, January 14, 2016 - link

    I'm not arguing against the the miniscule amount of NAND for the OS, that's a travesty. However, SD cards work as well as any other storage medium in Windows. I've got a 128GB SD card in my 32GB W10 Bay Trail tablet and I don't have any issues. It's not breaking any speed records, but it's faster than is needed for a tablet of this magnitude.

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