Ever since Intel released the Compute Stick, we’ve seen a rush of tiny PCs built into HDMI dongles. Some take advantage of the free-to-manufacturers Windows with Bing offering, while others use more traditional free operating systems such as Android and Linux. While a number of stick PCs use Intel’s reference design and specs, these options stray from the norm to provide extra value.
Intel Compute Stick ($160)
Intel launched the first iteration of the Compute Stick back in March of 2015, and ever since, a number of other stick PCs have picked up on the Intel’s standard specs and carried them. The most recent version of the Compute Stick is powered by a quad-core Intel Atom x5-Z8300 processor and 2GB of RAM, with 32GB of eMMC storage. As for connectivity, it attaches to a TV or monitor via HDMI, and utilizes a pair of USB ports — one 2.0 and one 3.0 — a MicroSD slot, and a micro-USB for power. It also features Bluetooth 4.0 for keyboard and mouse support, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
There’s also an older model, which is currently more readily available than the new one. It has an Intel Atom Z3735 processor, which offers compute performance similar to the Z8300, but slower integrated graphics. The old model also has one less USB port and only 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. It’s probably wise to wait for the new edition, unless you can grab the old one at a bargain price.
Asus Chromebit ($85)
If you’ve used Chrome OS recently, you know it has become a robust and utilitarian operating system with a large variety of uses. The Asus Chromebit puts all of the functionality of the OS into a small dongle that plugs right into your HDMI port for less than $100. The Chromebit is powered by a RockChip RK328, an increasingly popular quad-core chip, and connectivity is bolstered by Wi-Fi, built-in Bluetooth, and a USB port. Chrome OS makes for an excellent portable computing solution, the cloud-based nature of which can’t be rivaled.
InFocus Kangaroo Mini PC ($99)
While not technically a stick PC, the Kangaroo’s tiny form factor renders it perfectly suitable for many of the same uses as the other systems on our list. While the specs under the hood are fairly standard — it houses an Atom Z3735 and 2GB of RAM — the Kangaroo ups the ante by packing in a battery that allows the device to run for more than three hours of casual Web browsing. It’s a useful addition to an otherwise stationary product design, and is even less expensive than the Compute Stick.
The Azuelle is a take on the original Intel Compute Stick, and has most of the same hardware, right down to the Intel Z3735F quad-core processor. However, unlike the Compute Stick, this particular model of the Quantum Access has an Ethernet port. That’s a handy extra, particularly if you’d like to use your stick as a lightweight media and file server. Also, unlike a lot of other Compute Stick variants, this particular model ships with Windows 10. It’s free to upgrade from 8.1 anyway, but it’s nice to have that taken care of beforehand.
Lenovo Ideacentre Stick 300 ($100)
Lenovo’s response to the Intel Compute Stick isn’t as much an improvement as it is almost a carbon copy. The Ideacentre Stick packs in the same internal components – including the same Atom Z3735 processor, with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. It’s also available for $20 less than the Intel offering, with an optional bundle that includes a keyboard-and-mouse remote control. It’s not the most exciting stick PC, but represents a solid option close to the reference design.
This article was original published on December 13, 2015, and updated on February 4, 2016, to include info regarding the newest Intel Compute Stick.