Review: Intel Compute Stick – 2016 Sterling City Model

Today we’re looking at the Intel Compute Stick (Sterling City model) which is pre-installed with Windows 10 Home (32-bit). Essentially, it’s a full Windows 10 PC on a stick, which features an Intel Atom Z5-Z8300 Quad-Core Processor. Intel has shown its commitment to the ‘PC on a stick’ by announcing three new Compute Stick models at CES 2016 – Atom (Sterling City) and two Core M models (Cedar City).

This version of the Compute Stick ships with: Windows 10 Home, a power adapter with a micro-USB power delivery port, and an HDMI extender cable – useful for those awkward to reach HDMI ports.

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The original Compute Stick was launched last year but fell short in a few areas, such as: an underpowered processor, choppy video whilst watching 1080p content, shortage of USB ports, and sometimes a poor Wi-Fi connection – this year’s model looks to address these problems.

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The specifications of Intel’s latest model are shown below:

Specifications

  • Processor: Intel Atom Processor x5-Z8300 Quad-Core (2 MB Cache, 1.44 GHz base, 1.84 GHz burst)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics (HDMI 1.4b output)
  • Memory: 2 GB Single Channel DDR3L-RS 1600MHz @ 1.35V
  • Disk Drive: SanDisk 32 GB eMMC built-in for primary storage
  • Storage Expansion: MicroSDXC v3.0 Card Slot with UHS-I Support
  • Connectivity: Dual-band 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, 1x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0
  • Audio: Intel HD Audio via HDMI, Supporting Multi-Channel Digital Audio
  • Operating System: Microsoft Windows 10 Home 32-bit x86
  • Power: 5V, 3A Wall-Mount AC-DC Power Adapter to micro-USB Power Port
  • Dimensions: 113mm x 38mm x 12mm

This year, we get two USB ports – a 3.0 and 2.0. This makes the initial setup smoother as you can now insert a separate USB keyboard and mouse to setup Windows. If you are using a wireless keyboard and mouse which uses one dongle, the extra USB 3.0 port will allow you to insert an external hard drive to boost up the 32GB internal hard drive.

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If you don’t fancy using a physical keyboard and mouse, try out Intel’s Remote Keyboard app. Just download the Intel Remote Keyboard Host App on your Compute Stick and make sure you’re connected to the same Wi-Fi network – now you can control your Compute Stick with your smartphone!

Wi-Fi connectivity has improved too, now with 802.11ac and improved wireless antennas – this is much speedier than the previous standard (802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n). Also, Bluetooth 4.0 gives you more potential to connect further peripherals and devices.

Given the size of the stick, you also get a MicroSD slot, allowing you to have a neater option for adding even more storage.

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Everything seems good so far, but how about the new processor? Last year’s processor featured an Intel Atom Z373F whereas this year’s is loaded with the latest Intel Atom x5-Z8300. See below for benchmark tests sourced via CPUBoss. Results show that the CPUs perform almost identical. However, with the 3D Mark 06 test, the latest Atom Z5-Z8300 outperforms the Atom Z3735F. This is reflected in watching HD 1080p video, which is nice and smooth, whereas last year’s model seemed to struggle.

CPU Boss

When we tested for multi-tasking capabilities, we had three Microsoft Edge tabs open in total. One was watching 1080p HD video, the other was on dabs.com and the last one was the Intel Compute Stick webpage. We were pushing the memory to around 79% usage, but video still played smoothly and we were able to navigate webpages. The RAM maxes out at 2GB, which is considered low these days, but for the Compute Stick it’s just enough for its capabilities. If you require more RAM, we suggest you take a look at the Intel Core M models which feature 4GB RAM and 64GB storage, however they are more expensive.

benchmark

This year’s Compute Stick addresses the negative remarks of its predecessor. Intel has offered an additional USB port, Wi-Fi has improved, and video performance is much smoother than before.
This probably can’t be used as your one and only PC, due to its lack of multi-tasking capabilities as it’s restricted to only 2GB of RAM. However, it could sit nicely in your living room hooked up to your TV, where you can stream media over your network or browse the web on the big screen. Furthermore, it’s a no-brainer for taking it with you on your travels, which is far more convenient than carrying a laptop around.

The Compute Stick still wows us at the fact it’s a Windows 10 PC crammed into such a small space. There are other options on the market that will stream media and allow you watch HD videos etc. but do they have Windows 10 installed?

Fancy owning your very own Compute Stick? Purchase yours here.

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