Install an aftermarket operating system on the Intel Compute Stick and you’ll void the warranty

Intel Compute Stick top angle

Intel’s Compute Stick, the tiny HDMI enclosure that houses an Atom-based computer, is compact, quiet, and inconspicuous, but a little less than the sum of its parts. The Compute Stick’s lower-end hardware struggles to keep up with the modern competition, and it suffers from an acute lack of ports and storage (32GB). And it’s now become clear that even its price — $109 for the Linux-based model — has a caveat: if you migrate from the preinstalled operating system, you’ll void the warranty.

That’s according to language spotted on the Intel Compute Stick support site by Softpedia. “Operating systems other than the ones listed” — either Windows 8.1 32-bit or Ubuntu 14.04 LTS 64-bit, depending on the model of Compute Stick — “are not supported and do not have drivers available,” the page says. “Installing a different operating system voids the Intel Compute stick warranty.”

While this policy could be seen as a way to discourage buyers from opting for the cheaper, Linux-based Compute Stick and installing Windows (the Windows model costs $149), Intel’s purpose might be less odious. The cheaper variant ships with the absolute minimum amount of RAM (1GB) that Microsoft recommends for Windows 8.1 installations and half (8GB of storage) the required hard disk space. Even so, these limitations probably won’t stop some foolhardy owners from attempting the install anyway. So it could be said that Intel is just covering its bases.

But the warranty-voiding clause is concededly broad as written (it encompasses lightweight Linux distributions, too), and may not even be legal. The Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act, a 1975 United States federal law, prohibits companies from requiring that “only branded parts be used with [their] product[s] in order to retain warranty.” That’s not to say Intel’s required to support all aftermarket alterations — as the company notes, it doesn’t provide official drivers for third-party operating systems — but it’s likely bound to continue offering warranty replacements to owners who make customizations.

If nothing else, the Intel Compute Stick’s warranty implies that it’s intended to be minimally tinkered with. While its legality may be subject to a court challenge, the state of the dongle’s drivers pretty much relegates the Compute Stick to the “set it and forget it” category of computers. (We found it best for media streaming.) In other words, hardware hobbyists need not apply.