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Intel Compute Stick review: The little PC that almost could

Streaming 1080p over sites like YouTube and Netflix works flawlessly, as did playing local HD media. I'd imagine the Compute Stick would be happiest as the streaming end of your media server, getting the content on other devices on your home network to play on any TV or monitor in your house using something like Plex.

Just plug it into an HDMI port. Nate Ralph/CNET

But I went into this with managed expectations: you can generally rule out gaming or complex tasks like image editing on this Atom processor. For our performance tests, we pitted the Compute Stick against the $200 Intel Celeron-powered HP Stream 11 and the $500 Microsoft Surface 3 , which is running on an Intel Atom processor. The Compute Stick was outclassed, though the margin was a bit closer than I expected in some cases.

The Compute Stick's Bluetooth connectivity is spotty at best, and serves up a jittery experience whenever the Stick's Wi-Fi is active. If you were hoping to pair your Bluetooth devices with the Stick, you're going to be disappointed. This flaw, while fatal, wasn't an issue for me, as I generally prefer wireless USB devices anyway. I turned to my old Lenovo N5902, but Logitech's K400 offers a much roomier keyboard and will set you back about $25. This takes up the only USB port, but I struggled to find another use for it anyway -- a combination of the microSD card slot and cloud services like OneDrive and Dropbox handle all of my file storage needs. Your needs may vary, of course.

Conclusion

The Intel Compute Stick feels more like a proof-of-concept than a consumer device. "Good enough" performance in a compact shape has won me over, and while the Bluetooth performance is unreliable you can use the USB port with wireless USB devices -- an arrangement I prefer anyway. But while I've found plenty of use cases for the Compute Stick, I'm also not the average consumer.

If you're just looking for a simple media-streaming device, you've got far cheaper options -- check out the Roku 2 , Roku Streaming Stick, the Amazon Fire TV Stick or the Apple TV . And there's a good chance you already have a laptop or tablet, so the Compute Stick's portability is a moot point.

The Compute Stick is an exciting device, a $150 dongle with better-than-expected performance, packed into a tiny package. I imagine that a future model will work out the Bluetooth connectivity kinks and run on hardware that's a tad more capable, at which point I likely won't hesitate to recommend it for tinkerers. But this experiment will need a few more tweaks before it's ready for public consumption.

Handbrake multimedia multitasking test

Microsoft Surface 3
764
Intel Compute Stick
1103
HP Stream 11
2112

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

iTunes encoding test

Microsoft Surface 3
300
HP Stream 11
342
Intel Compute Stick
419

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Futuremark Peacekeeper

Microsoft Surface 3
1249
Intel Compute Stick
919
HP Stream 11
901

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance (browser test)

Sunspider 1.0.2

HP Stream 11
304.2
Microsoft Surface 3
524.7
Intel Compute Stick
834.8

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance (in ms)

System Configurations

Intel Compute Stick Microsoft Windows 8.1 (32-bit); 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3735F 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz; 64MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 32GB SSD
HP Stream 11 Microsoft Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 2.16GHz Intel Celeron N2840; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz; 64MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 32GB SSD
Microsoft Surface 3 Microsoft Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z8700; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 128GB SSD

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