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Intel Compute Stick (Core m3) review: The most powerful stick PC yet

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The Good This upgraded Intel Compute Stick has a faster Core m3 processor and extra USB ports on its power brick.

The Bad It's much more expensive than the original Atom versions, and loses one USB port on the stick itself. Onboard storage is minimal.

The Bottom Line The latest Intel Compute Stick takes a big leap forward in power -- and price -- while still being capable of turning any TV into a PC when not traveling in your pocket.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

The Intel Compute Stick was a revolutionary product when first introduced in 2014. It put a full Windows 8 (later Windows 10) PC powered by an Intel Atom processor into a body not much larger than a USB key, all for a remarkable price of around $150 in the US, or £115/AU$229. Similar micro desktops followed, including an excellent Chrome OS version from Asus and an updated Intel version with better performance and two USB ports (handy for connecting accessories or memory sticks).

Still, an Atom-powered PC-on-a-stick can only do so much, and while these micro desktops were fine for streaming video or basic web surfing, they weren't up to being an all-day, every-day PC.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The latest version of Intel's Compute Stick offers a serious component upgrade, along with a few design tweaks. Instead of low-power Intel Atom processors, which still power most laptops at the very lowest end of the price scale, the new Compute Stick uses one of Intel's impressive Core m3 processors.

The Core M line is meant for small, thin PCs, usually laptops or tablets, and offers a balance between price, performance and power efficiency. This second generation of Core M chips are substantially better than the first-gen ones (as found in the original 12-inch Apple MacBook), but much of that gain is in battery life, which isn't going to matter in a micro desktop like this.

The first Compute Stick had a single USB port, which made it hard to connect both a USB keyboard and mouse, unless you had a pair of accessories that worked off a single USB receiver (like Logitech's "Unify" mouse/keyboard combos), or used Bluetooth devices. The second-gen Compute Stick, released in early 2016, added a second USB port, which was one of our favorite new features.


Two USB ports are located on the power brick.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For the Core M version, Intel splits the difference. The Stick itself has a single USB Type A port (along with a microSD card slot and a USB-C port for power), but the included power brick has two USB 3.0 ports built into it. That's more ports overall, but they're now split between the Stick and its power supply. And that power brick is now substantially larger, which may be necessary to run the more powerful processor inside.

There's another big difference between this Compute Stick and previous versions. While the Atom-powered models all cost around $150 in the US, trading up to the Core m3 CPU means a much higher price, $389 (£339 or AU$629). A Core m5 version is also out there, for about $100 more.

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