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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  • 074geodude - Monday, January 18, 2016 - link

    Very technical review, but overall not very useful if you're a consumer. Things I would like to know that weren't answered in this review:

    - How long does it take to boot up?
    - Can it stream 4K video?
    - How's gaming performance? Are casual titles like Minecraft or League of Legends playable?
    - How's web browsing with only 2 GB of RAM? How well does Chrome run?
    - Can you clone the eMMC drive onto a microSD card and boot from that instead? (That way your external storage acts as your primary drive and you can have a 128 GB primary drive).
  • fackamato - Friday, January 22, 2016 - link

  • wyewye - Tuesday, January 19, 2016 - link

  • trivor - Tuesday, January 19, 2016 - link

    Actually, I think micro PCs like the Dell 3050 or HP Stream are much better options. They have plenty of output options (4 or more USB ports, the Dell has a "real" M.2 SSD (user upgradeable up to a 2260 SSD - the 32 GB one is 2242), Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11AC WiFi, Celeron J1800). I think it will be fine as a media streamer with 13 GB left after installing the latest build of Windows 10. It may top out at 1080P but I think it's a couple of years before I'll worry about a 4K TV and 4K streaming. OBTW, I snagged the Micro 3050 over XMas @ $129. It also has both HDMI and Displayport and the RAM was easily accessible to upgrade to 8 GB for $30.
  • ComputerExpertsCA - Thursday, January 21, 2016 - link

    Why aren't there more ultra small PCs, tablets, and netbooks with 4GB of ram. Even smart phones have 4GB of ram. Do Microsoft's discounted OS license require a small amount of RAM?
  • Teknobug - Tuesday, January 26, 2016 - link

    Yes 2GB ram and 32GB storage is the point where Windows 10 is free and doesn't need a key.
  • SilverBlade - Sunday, January 24, 2016 - link

    No HD audio = not interested.

  • floobit - Monday, January 25, 2016 - link

    Ganesh or other staff writers - The W10 space restrictions seem to be an issue for all of these "limited devices". Presumably some thought from the Microsoft marketing dept has gone into the thresholds, and I can't imagine they intend for the whole market segment to be crapware. Have you reached out to your contacts at MS (or Intel) to ask how they recommend making this category of device usable?

    Incidentally, some quick googling doesn't show anyone else with your deactivation issue, which doesn't sound like intended behavior. Have you reached out to MS about this?
  • Asherlying - Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - link

    I do not know exactly the advantage of Intel chipset, which is more commonly used in laptop, and the price exceeds the MINIX ,
  • hindi-tips - Monday, October 9, 2017 - link

    Does this work on a 4K TV at 4K resolution?
    Please help me.

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