Performance, Usage Models and Conclusions
A Quick Talk about Performance
Let’s be very clear about this, the Intel Compute Stick is not built for performance. You will not be amazed by the render rates or gaming frame rates when booting up this device for the first time, especially in comparison to higher end tablets or even low end notebooks. But Bay Trail does supply enough performance to get the job done for the kinds of tasks that you would expect for a direct-to-HDMI device would address. This includes video playback, streaming video, basic data processing and web browsing.
But I know that at least a couple of you are going to be curious about performance numbers on a specific scale. With that in mind I have included results from CineBench and 3DMark to give you an overall view of the status of the stick.
In a single-threaded CineBench workload, the Compute Stick and the Atom Z3735F are pulling out a modest score of just 0.28 points. That is 46% slower than the even the Atom Z3770 from a Windows tablet released last year, not even close when compared to the new Broadwell-bases Core M 5Y70. That’s not totally unexpected, even though the Compute Stick has a better showing once you turn on the multi-threaded workload. With a score of 1.08, the Atom Z3735F is 36% slower than the Atom Z3770 and 70% slower than the Core M 5Y70.
A quick look at the 3DMark Ice Storm results shows that while the Intel Compute Stick can definitely handle the test, it performance remains the same and ending up behind the Z3770 and the Core M product. On the graphics test which is most telling from the 3DMark suite, the Atom Z3735F is 44% slower than the Atom Z3770 and more than 2.6x slower than the Core M 5Y70.
As I said before, the Intel Compute Stick wasn’t going to show well in the benchmarks area and no amount of test cherry picking is going to fix that. But the Bay Trail iteration that we have here is more than capable of addressing very specific workloads that the form factor is targeted at. Video playback at high bit rate 1080p resolutions will play back without hiccups and without stutter. I was able to test YouTube 1080p video, using Flash, which runs at fairly high data rates, and the CPU utilization rested around the 70-80% mark. Flipping over to the 2560×1440 video on YouTube started to peg the processing cores, and 4K… well let’s not bring that up, shall we?
Real-World Use Case Discussion
I think a discussion of individual use cases for the Intel Compute Stick are likely more effective in detailing the specifics of our performance observations.
Multimedia and Home Theater
I think it’s clear that the most obvious use case for the Intel Compute Stick is as a multimedia device or as a low cost home theater implementation. With the HDMI connection built right into the form factor, attaching the device to a TV is dead simple and getting up and running nearly as easy. The wireless 802.11n connection allows you to get the device on your local network in a snap, though you might be somewhat limited with VERY high bit rate imagery (if you have a lot of 50 Mbps Blu-ray rips for example). The inclusions of Bluetooth means you can connect and utilize wireless input devices like mice and keyboards, though it is a bit of pain to set it all up – you are going to need to use a wired or nano receiver based keyboard and mouse to setup and pair the Bluetooth accessories first.
With access to a full version of Windows 8.1 on the Compute Stick, users will have the highest amounts of flexibility for streaming media and media playback. That means you can choose to use VLC or Media Player Classic, if so desired. If you want to integrate a Plex server/client infrastructure in your home or office, the Compute Stick can run the client side of this and stream multimedia without issue. If you want to focus on the commercial streaming clients like Netflix and Amazon, you can do that as well.
In our testing, all of these use cases work very well. I was able to view Netflix movies at 1080p, stream Amazon Prime video, and run a Plex client within the performance envelope that the Compute Stick provides. For viewing YouTube video, we were able to reach 1080p streaming resolutions without hiccups and stutter. Now to be fair – you don’t have a lot of performance headroom to do multi-tasking, so don’t load up the Compute Stick with background processes that can slow things down. When you start using lower performance hardware, you need to be more careful with these specifics than you would with a higher-end PC.
Plex at work
The biggest drawback of the Compute Stick as a home theater device is the interface of Windows 8.1. The Fire TV Stick, the Chromecast, and other dedicated devices implement a proper 10ft interface and ship with a remote control to allow for simplified control while sitting on a couch across the room. Windows 8.1, out of the box, does not offer such an interface with the forced use of a keyboard and mouse on the couch not an ideal situation. You can invest in other accessories that improve the interface issue and you can even find software solutions to give you a similar “10ft feeling”. However, many users may feel hindered on first time use of the device. Could Windows Media Center solve this? Maybe…but it’s another question to ask can the Compute Stick offer the capability to run it.
Small offices that were the target for the original release of the Intel NUC are still a target for the Compute Stick. Any kind of office environment where a user is doing typical office activities like word processing, spreadsheets, form input, etc. will more than likely see the new Compute Stick as having more than enough performance to get the job done. These types of office applications, as well as standard web usage models (watching videos, reading email, browsing the web) are definitely in the wheelhouse of the Bay Trail platform.
Recently I was taking my three mutts to the vet’s office and found that the checkout area where they frequently swipe my credit card was actually powered by an Intel NUC mounted to the VESA connection on the back side of the monitor. The Intel Compute Stick would likely be an equally solid performer for the point-of-sales (POS) terminal that was currently using the NUC, but at a dramatically lower price. A potential pitfall though for general purpose productivity users is the single USB port it provides. Office environments are more likely implementing low cost input devices that require their own USB port. Something like a POS system will require a USB input for a card swiper or signature pad. This means that users will need to complicate the Compute Stick installation somewhat with the requirement of a USB hub.
In part of the documentation from Intel they claim that the Compute Stick could operate as a client for Steam in-home streaming. But that requires some work because the 2.4 GHz 802.11n wireless controller included with the device really won’t up to the task. Intel suggests using a USB to Ethernet adapter to get a hard-wired connection to the Compute Stick or to install a USB-based 802.11ac adaptor. In our testing, both of these suggestions work. We were able to use Steam streaming with the Compute Stick, playing GRID 2, Skyrim, and other titles from a high end gaming PC when connected through a 10/100 Ethernet adaptor or 802.11ac ASUS dongle. The issue with that? It basically starts a deterioration of the entire premise of the Compute Stick to begin with. It no longer appears to be a free-standing computer “on a stick”. So while it is possible to use for this task, I don’t see it as a great option or utilization of resources.
Steam in-home streaming…kind of.
I did find that the device was more than capable of running some basic Steam games locally. If you are a fan of Super Meat Boy or FTL style games, the Intel Compute Stick was able to run those games perfectly. With the resurgence in this classification of gaming, it should continue to be a growing segment of the market. Running the environment in Steam Big Picture mode still works as well, giving you the option to get some kind of adequate 10ft user experience. However, this will require use of a Bluetooth or USB-based gaming controller for the best results.
Some Super Meat Boy!
Thin Client/Mom & Dad
Finally, in a similar vein to the productivity use case for the Compute Stick, I think the device works well as a thin client for schools and libraries as well as that computer you need to buy and setup for your parents or grandparents. Considering the majority of this usage will be through a browser, whether that be looking up medicine dosages on Google or viewing the latest videos of your kids on YouTube, the Compute Stick offers more than enough performance and capability for the task. And because of the low cost of the device, you can feel free to set this device up on several TVs or monitors in a group environment without breaking the bank.
Pricing and Availability
The Intel Compute Stick using Windows 8.1 with Bing, model number STCK1A32WLC, is currently on the market for just $149. That gets you all the hardware and the Windows 8.1 software, preinstalled. The Linux variant, STCK1A8LLC, has 8GB of local storage rather than 32GB and 1GB of system memory rather than 2GB and sells for $110.
These prices make the Compute Stick incredibly compelling in the same way that the low price of things like the Raspberry Pi did. I realize that $150 is a lot more than $40, but when you start to compare the included features of the Compute Stick like the microSD card slot, on-board storage, HDMI and wireless networking that would cost extra for the Pi, you might find the price gap shrinks quite a bit.
As the Intel Compute Stick launches, it will quickly become one of the most cost efficient and capable ways to integrate a Windows 8.1 PC in the world. Powered by a quad-core Bay Trail processor, the Compute Stick has a surprising amount of horsepower to power multimedia playback, office applications, and typical web usages. It does not have enough performance compete with a 15W to 35W TDP notebook by today’s standards, but it doesn’t intend to with its $150 price point.
The feature set of the Compute Stick makes it an easy plug and play device for several usage models which are detailed above. With 32GB of local storage and a microSD card slot, 802.11n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0, and the embedded HDMI connection, you can buy a monitor or TV and a Compute Stick for a fully functional PC environment.
As you might expect, there are some quirks for something this unique and new. First, the need to have a set of USB input devices in order to setup the wireless Bluetooth devices means that setup is not as simple as it should be. A single USB port also means that some use cases will require a USB hub, essentially doubling the physical size of the Compute Stick platform. The standard Windows 8.1 interface is great when installed on a monitor but is problematic with a TV and the TV's need for a “10ft UI”. Also, the need for an external USB power input means the device isn’t quite plug-and-play.
Despite these challenges, I came away more impressed with the Intel Compute Stick as a device than I expected to. While on the surface and immediately following CES I thought it would be a gimmick at best or as a way to show the power efficiency of Intel SoC going forward, I now find that the form factor could be very compelling to a very specific subset of users. And for enthusiasts that are looking for an easy to setup an extension of their main PC for media streaming and MAYBE game streaming, the $150 investment seems worth a shot.
POS applications sure, but
POS applications sure, but how does this type of tech handle running remote desktop connections? I can totally see this device being used in tons of call centers where the various reps log onto the stick locally to log time, emails, etc, and then from there connect to a remote desktop to run whatever apps they need for their daily work routine.
These would work great to run
These would work great to run a thin client.
Will these devices support
Will these devices support external CD/DVD/Blu-ray. It would be a great device if it does. If not they kind of missed part of the market they intended.
Of course, so long as it’s
Of course, so long as it's USB-based.
Thanks. I never had any luck
Thanks. I never had any luck with these SOC’s in tablets (Asus transformer for one) running an external Blu-ray drive. Just wondering if they had fixed the issue.
Why do the video streaming
Why do the video streaming testing in Chrome? That is possibly the worst browser choice on low end hardware. Chrome has one of the biggest memory footprints and its video decoders (looking at you VP9) are NOT hardware accelerated in any way.
Try your Youtube test again in Internet Explorer or in h.264 mode in Firefox and I bet you see that CPU usage cut in half for 1080p.
Well, one school of thought
Well, one school of thought would be see the toughest it can do and assume it would do better on lighter.
True, this is worst case. We
True, this is worst case. We actually did test Amazon and Netflix in FireFox and it worked a little better.
Cool device. Looking forward
Cool device. Looking forward to utilizing one as a JRiver music streamer.
Does the Compute Stick work with an HDMI to DVI or DP adapter? For those who want to use it with a display lacking HDMI input.
+1 on the question weather it
+1 on the question weather it works on a HDMI to DVI adapter.
I have a mom and dad application in mind, but they are limited to DVI imput on a rather old but awesome 24″ monitor
If it does work, don’t forget
If it does work, don’t forget to get an HDMI->DVI with an audio splitter. Or get an USB sound card.
$69 for this stick may be
$69 for this stick may be better.
HP Stream 7 has similar specs except 1 GB memory, but it also has a 7 in screen and a battery built in. It is usually $80. Plus, it has one year for Office 365, some Skype minutes, and Windows Store credit.
That’s not a stick it’s a
That’s not a stick it’s a tablet you dope. JC
Exactly my point, a tablet is
Exactly my point, a tablet is cheaper than that stick with similar specs.
I wonder if you can power
I wonder if you can power this device with a portable battery like you would use to charge a cell phone with. That would make it easier to take the device with you and not have to attempt to crawl behind someone’s TV to plug it in. Use Wifi tethering from your phone and fire up teamviewer on your phone for control of the device and it might make a decent portable solution. Given the fact that it isn’t going to be much larger than a thumb drive it’s not a deal breaker to add to your pocket. (Especially if you are already carrying a portable battery around)
Yes, you should be able to do
Yes, you should be able to do this, just make sure it's up to the task amperage wise.
“Because of the form factor
“Because of the form factor and the lack of any kind of active cooling, thermal throttling will kick in rather soon.”
Pretty sure you said the same in the video review…
Processor Intel® Atom™ Processor Z3735F
Base frequency: 1.33 GHz
L2 cache: 2 MB
Spec code: SR1UB
Active fan cooling
Well crap, I totally missed
Well crap, I totally missed that. Ken looked for me and it DOES have a fan, though we never once heard it spin up.
Sorry, corrected in the story!
Hey, PcPer guyse, do you
Hey, PcPer guyse, do you think maybe you could test this thing with a couple of most popular low-power emulators out there (like, NESTOPIA for NES/Famicom, Fusion for Genesis, ZSnes/BSNES for SNES/Super Famicom and pSX/ePSXe for PSOne) to see how it performs with those? If it performs at all, that is.
That is what I am hoping it
That is what I am hoping it will be able to run too.
The HP Stream 7 with the same CPU was able to run PSP emulation and some ps2 games (not the most graphical ones however).
Doing some youtubes on the HP stream 7; people have had a few decent games running, Fallout New Vegas / crysis at 15-25fps isn’t really playable, but it is impressive none the less.
A gen 2 with a celeron chip would be amazing if they ever make it, however might as well go with a NUC for a faster CPU/APU.
Both the PSP (PPSSPP) and PS
Both the PSP (PPSSPP) and PS 2 (PCSX2, obviously) emulators depend much more on cores and their PPC, rather than on graphics. To run at 40~55 FPS almost all of the PS 2’s games currently capable of running on PCSX 2 (on lowest/slightly above low settings/graphical tweaks, but still…), all you really need is a decent (read “above Pentium 4 HT”, lol) two-core processor (usually a mid-range Core2Duo is already enough. In AMD’s case, though, you need to have at least Phenom II X4) or better. Same goes for PPSSPP. PPSSPP in particular works especially well with modern two and four core CPUs, almost completely disregarding your video (seriously, there was a point when I was testing latest PPSSPP with an i3 2130 at 3.3GHz while using pretty old and weak HD 4730 as a video solution at the time of testing, and I was easily getting out 60+ FPS out of the 3rd Birthday, Crisis Core, Dissidia, and Uncharted Golden Abyss, all maxed out/with most best graphical tweaks applied. When I tried same video in combination with i7 2600K and FX 6300, results were INSANE).
I’ve managed to get nearly
I’ve managed to get nearly half of my 200 game steam library running at 45fps or better using a 1GB first generation Bay-trail tablet that cost as much as this “stick”. It also has HDMI out, you can put in ANY micro-sd size and install games on there. (I really didn’t notice any performance hits..)
My prime achievement was getting the game War Thunder to work at 60fps.
Seeing as how that’s what Nvidia’s 400 dollar tablet promised.
Intel is Wintel.
You must understand, though,
You must understand, though, that this here “compute stick” (seriously< I still can't get used to this naming scheme) is a much smaller and, very obviously, very cramped device. Even though it's Bay Trail, it probably heats up quite significantly, especially if you try running games on it (let alone emulators).
The tablet is
The tablet is SEALED, and this not only has exhaust for heat but FAN as well. If anything, it should run better.
What I want is a device that
What I want is a device that I can plug into a laptop’s USB port(2.0, or 3.0) and have it show up as a networked computer. A mini device that could be utilized to augment the computing power of a laptop, and deliver through a client interface some extra computing power to a laptop. Better yet some way for the device plugged in through the USB port that would actually show up to the system as extra processing/cores to the OS and begin having workloads sent directly to it via the OS, without having to have a client/middleware intermediary to send work to the mini computing device(a little bit harder to implement).
Augmenting a laptops rendering(Ray Tracing), or for other uses, capabilities via a client/s running on more than one computer(Laptop and networked computer) is already available in Blender 3d, but no one has made such a device that could network interface through USB, and it would be a simple as having a driver written for the task, If someone would just make such a device to network over USB, and the device could be powered by the USB port, the USB Type-c plug standard has more than enough available power to run a small device like this.
USB isn’t really the best bet
USB isn’t really the best bet for something like this. The bandwidth is low and the latency is high.
Also, to really be of a significant benefit, the device you’d be plugging into your laptop would need to draw much more power.
If you tried to do what you are talking about with this Intel Compute Stick, the overhead would probably make everything slower.
So, what was the consensus on
So, what was the consensus on Media Center?
I’d get the Linux version and
I’d get the Linux version and simply put on Linux+Kodi (probably done at once with Kodibuntu).
You can try Kodi with Windows and it works quite well once you learn how to use it. I’d need a REMOTE though so if that’s all you want then a ROKU or similar device may be better.
The x86 Kodi approach will have much more codec support than ROKU.
Does this work with the first
Does this work with the first gen kinect and media center?
You will probably need a USB hub or splitter of some kind.
The review didn’t say if the
The review didn’t say if the stick supports HDMI-CEC. I use Kodi on a RasPi and with CEC the TV remote becomes the input device. Would be silly to not include support.
Is it possible to install a
Is it possible to install a different OS on this stick like Windows 8.1 pro?
I’ll be going with Ubuntu
I’ll be going with Ubuntu instead of Windows 10 if someone purchases it before the first year of launch. I done with Windows and the mount of Maintenance it takes. Oh and I know noting about Linux, all but making love to the Terminal.
I want one !
I want one !
Wow…never thought a person
Wow…never thought a person could ever buy a pack of gum and a monitor and have a fully functioning PC.
“when you start to compare
“when you start to compare the included features of the Compute Stick like the microSD card slot, on-board storage, HDMI and wireless networking that would cost extra for the Pi” Nice article, but someone had to point out that only two of the four things you listed as extras for the Pi are not already built in. It does have HDMI and microSD already.
I wonder how to use the
I wonder how to use the Webcam with Audio in( Mic) and Audio out ( Speaker) for this device. Any body help me in this regard.