Intel Compute Stick (2016), analysis: there is improvement, but do not expect miracles
MiniPCs are in fashion, and the Chromecast fever was soon joined by the one that allowed us to have an entire mini-computer that was connected via an HDMI dongle. That is what he proposed among other Intel, whose first iteration of the Intel Compute Stick we analyzed last year.
On that occasion the proposal of this manufacturer seemed interesting but not especially recommended: the benefits were limited, but Intel has just launched the second review of this product that comes with noticeable improvements, and obviously we wanted to analyze it to find out if this time the Intel Compute Stick (2016) is a rounder product.
Will not win any design awards
HDMI dongles with this orientation do not usually give too many surprises in the field of design, and the Intel Compute Stick (2016) is no exception. The product is bulkier than last year's edition, measuring 123x38x12mm (103x37x12mm) and heavier (60g vs. 54g from the 2015 model), but that difference is offset by the presence of a second USB 3.0 port that undoubtedly adds greater connectivity options, since in last year's model we only had a USB 2.0 port.
Otherwise the design is very inconspicuous and it seems clear that it is not a product destined to win any design award: the casing is spartan, with two grids on the top and a rectangular format and with matte black finishes except for the part of the USB connectors in which the plastic has a different texture that among other things allows showing the blue LED that indicates that the device is working.
On the left side we find the microSD slot for cards up to 128 GB, while on the right is the on / off button, the power connector for the included adapter (5V, 3 A) and the two USB ports. We will also have a small safety hook on one of the sides, but there is no headphone jack: the audio is offered through the same HDMI output, logically.
Finally we have the HDMI connector at one end, which we probably cannot connect directly to the TV. The wide format of the dongle It makes it difficult for this device to share position with other devices that connect via HDMI. To solve it, yes, Intel provides an extension cable with a male and a female HDMI connector at each end, something that makes it possible to take advantage of the Intel Compute Stick without problems.
Improvement in specifications ...
As expected, in this edition of the Intel Compute Stick there have been noticeable improvements in the choice of hardware components. The highlight of all those components is the processor, an Intel Atom x5-Z8300 quad-core at 1.44 GHz and with a 200 MHz Intel HD Graphics GPU (without more) that can offer a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels.
This processor is accompanied by 2 GB of 1,600 MHz DDR3L-RS memory, an amount that, as we will see later, can quickly fall short if we open many browser tabs and several applications at the same time. Here it would have been better to make a greater effort on the part of Intel, and that shows in the overall performance of the system.
14nm, 2MB Cache L2, 2.2W SDP
We have 32 GB of internal capacity, and in connectivity we gained ground thanks to the inclusion of the Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265 chipset, which offers WiFi 802.11ac support (up to 867 Mbps), two antennas, and a dual mode for Bluetooth 4.0.
Another highlight is the inclusion of that second USB 3.0 port that allows you to enjoy more options when connecting external peripherals, especially if we also use Bluetooth connectivity to make use of mice and keyboards of this type.
... but not especially in performance
Once we started using the new edition of the Intel Compute Stick we found a miniPC that can be used effectively for light work sessions, but that despite the hardware improvements does not offer a performance comparable to that of modest computers in both portable and on desktop.
The good news comes in the graphics part: performance tests show that the improvement here has been noticeable, something that we can especially take advantage of when playing multimedia content. Although Intel offers support for 1080p monitors with this GPU, various users have already commented on media and social networks how it can also be used on UHD monitors, although logically the graphics performance at those resolutions is poor.
The second USB 3.0 port is an interesting help, but it is even more relevant that 802.11ac connectivity that allows us to offer better guarantees when using the Intel Compute Stick (2016) as a multimedia device for streaming content. If you have an Xbox One you can also take advantage of this module to be able to play your console games on another TV or monitor thanks to this device.
In normal work sessions the team behaves decently if we do not put it under a lot of "pressure", but things get complicated when we open many applications and many tabs in the browser. That's when that 2GB memory may come up short - we received a warning during one of the work sessions - and where the processor is also somewhat forced to undertake all those tasks. Of course: the cooling based on a small fan seems well resolved and above all it is silent. We hardly noticed a small hum when the processor was working to its full potential.
That makes the Intel Compute Stick a good companion on trips where we have a monitor or a television with an available HDMI port. We don't even need a keyboard and a mouse: the Intel Remote Keyboard (Android, iOS) utility allows you to take advantage of iOS and Android smartphones and tablets to use them as virtual keyboards and touchpads, something that is certainly a success for this type of product .
The performance tests made it clear to us however that despite the improvement in components the performance has not changed especially. The new Intel Atom x5 is hardly an improvement in CPU performance, but there is a noticeable improvement in GPU performance, as can be seen from tests done with 3DMark. It is also unique - and disappointing - to see how the internal storage unit does not improve in performance compared to last year: in fact it is somewhat worse.
Inteel Compute Stick (2016), Xataka's opinion
Although the Intel Compute Stick is a striking product by format, its price makes one quickly begin to consider equally interesting alternatives in the fields in which this product moves.
In the segment of miniPCs, there are mainly striking proposals based on ARM processors - the ubiquitous Raspberry Pi always come to mind - and if you want to set up a small multimedia center, those proposals are much more interesting.
Even so, it is true that having a miniPC with Windows 10 in this small format can be very attractive for users who are precisely looking for that: being able to run any application of this operating system without problems, even with limited performance. Here of course the Intel Compute Stick fights entry-level laptops and convertibles, but it can still be an interesting solution for certain types of users and, of course, for certain scenarios.
The product has been released for testing by Intel. Can inquire our policy of relationships with enterprises