Introduction and Setup Impressions

The success of the ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) PCs have made vendors realize that small and power-efficient computing platforms are here to stay. ARM SoC vendors, finding that the tablet market had reached saturation, kickstarted 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 announced the Compute Stick at CES to bring one of the first Wintel platforms into this space. Late last month, Google also introduced the Chromebit, a Chrome OS-based HDMI stick. Both of these point to the 'stick' computing platform being more than just a passing fad. The Intel Compute Stick we are reviewing today comes with Windows 8.1 with Bing (32-bit) pre-installed, making it ready to roll right out of the box.

The specifications of our Intel PPSTCK1A32WFC review configuration are summarized in the table below.

Intel PPSTCK1A32WFC Specifications
Processor Intel Atom Z3735F
(4C/4T x 1.33 GHz, 22nm, 2MB L2, 2.2W SDP)
Memory 1x 2GB DDR3L-1333 C9
Graphics Intel HD Graphics
Disk Drive(s) Samsung MBG4GC 32 GB eMMC
Networking 1x1 Realtek RTL8723BS 802.11n W-Fi
Audio Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Operating System Windows 8.1 with Bing x86
Pricing (As configured) USD 150
Full Specifications Intel PPSTCK1A32WFC Specifications

The Atom Z3735F belongs to the Bay Trail-T family - the set of SoCs with Silvermont Atom cores that target the tablet market. Analysis of the Bay Trail SoCs has already been done in some of our previous reviews.

The Intel PPSTCK1A32WFC kit comes with the OS pre-installed. The drivers are available from Intel's site. In addition to the main unit, the other components of the package include a 10 W (5V @ 2A) adapter with a USB port along with a USB Type A to micro-USB cable, a HDMI extender cable and different detachable power plugs for usage anywhere around the world.

We had a very difficult experience managing our ECS LIVA review with just 32 GB of eMMC storage. Fearing a similar situation, we decided to augment our review unit with a Patriot EP series 64 GB microSDXC card.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the Intel PPSTCK1A32WFC against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. In fact, the review model is the only one of its kind that we have evaluated so far. That said, we are including systems that have comparable cost - so that users can get an idea of how much they are sacrificing or gaining with the stick form factor. 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 PPSTCK1A32WFC when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Intel PPSTCK1A32WFC
CPU Intel Atom Z3735F Intel Atom Z3735F
GPU Intel HD Graphics Intel HD Graphics
9-9-9-24 @ 1333 MHz
9-9-9-24 @ 1333 MHz
Storage Samsung eMMC MBG4GC
(32 GB; eMMC 5.0-compatible)
Samsung eMMC MBG4GC
(32 GB; eMMC 5.0-compatible)
Wi-Fi Realtek RTL8723BS 802.11n SDIO Network Adapter
(1x1 802.11n - 150 Mbps)
Realtek RTL8723BS 802.11n SDIO Network Adapter
(1x1 802.11n - 150 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $150 $150
Performance Metrics
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  • Arnulf - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    Looks like a massive fail, but then again what else to expect from such a small form factor ...
  • kyuu - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    If you think this is a "massive fail", the problem is probably more your expectations than the product.
  • jospoortvliet - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    Or he's comparing it to the competition... Chromecast for one. It might not be as powerful but what it does it does well - without an annoying fan or bad/unreliable wifi. And at a very low price.

    Yeah, this doesn't impress me either, mostly due to the failure to make this fanless. The drive size is fine (put Linux with Kodi on it) but the bad wlan - that is a fail, too.

    Still, yeah, first gen, Intel is good at incremental improvement so I bet gen 2 will be much much better.
  • JeffFlanagan - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    This isn't something comparable to a Chromecast. Chromecast is an extremely limited device. I've already replaced one with a much more capable Fire stick, and may replace the other with one of these or another low power PC.
  • usernametaken76 - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    I'm going to have to agree with you on that, Jeff. This does what they say it does, and it runs Windows. So you can build and compile your own local applications and there's no need for a "network" operating system like ChromeOS. For some users, that's what they want and/or need. You could easily build a Plex server and run the Plex app on this device and be quite happy, I'll assume. It would be nice to have more of a "user experience" review. Performance metrics are interesting, but if I spend $150 on an HDMI stick, I don't care how fast it can encode video, decrypt files, etc. I care how it will perform as a media streamer, can it run any games (highly limited here), can it be a remote streamer for Steam (unlikely for this first gen device), etc. That's what matters to me for something like this.
  • Deelron - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    The first thing I thought when I saw it was Plex server, but the networking solution isn't sufficient enough in my book. While I guess you could add a USB to Ethernet dongle (or thumb wireless solution), that seems kludgey at best. It's an interesting step towards something more usable in the future.
  • usernametaken76 - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    If you mean "Plex client" with the server running elsewhere, then I think its existing wireless is already sufficient. Plex "tops out" at 20 Mbps for streaming, and that's adjustable in the client all the way down to sub HD speeds < ~3 Mbps. You have the option to transcode everything on the Plex server when doing this, and Intel's stick here would be more than capable of handling that situation, provided there's not a lot of WiFi interference on the 2.4 GHz band. If it's 5 Ghz (admit I didn't read the full specs) then less so, but distance is the issue.
  • bigkev1978 - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    Massive fail seems like a bit harsh... I will admit that I haven't used the Compute Stick but I have had a Hannspree Micro PC ( for a couple of months and it is very similar spec to the Compute Stick... and it is great... yes it is not an i5 or i7 PC... but it does "light productivity" really well... Word, Excel, Outlook... browsing the web. I've got in plugged into my front room TV (42") and use it occasionally all the time. I agree the WiFI could be better but hopefully this will be a second gen update.
  • Refuge - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    I was reading MAXPC's review, its up on their site. They don't obviously offer the kind of solid quantifiable metrics that I get here, but they are usually good for a user experience overview.

    They said that it streamed everything from YouTube, Netflix, Hulu to steam in home perfectly. Playing games with no noticeable input lag, and that it streamed 1080p videos without a problem.

    The way they described the fan, is that it was just a high pitched hum that you wouldn't hear unless you were in a dead silent room, which is something that I would never deal with if this were on my living Room TV.

    They said they got something like 20 FPS on Portal 1 playing it from the stick itself.
  • azazel1024 - Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - link

    I am a little dissapointed (especially the neutered GPU chops, even compared to other Baytrail SoCs), but at the same time, it seems like it would make a perfectly good LIGHT HTPC. I am not super interested this time around, but if the price stays the same, I might be very interested with Cherry Trail if the drop in process size helps out with maintaining higher frequencies under load, better GPU, etc.

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