At last year's CES, Intel gave the nascent PC-on-a-stick market its imprimatur by introducing its Compute Stick, which placed its Atom processors and Windows or Linux in a device the size of a piece of chewing gum and designed to connect to your HDTV. A year later, the chip giant is back with new versions that can provide a more powerful computing experience, but for a literal higher cost.
Last year's Compute Sticks included an Atom Z3735F processor and were priced at $149 for the Windows 8 model and a little less for an edition that ran Ubuntu Linux (albeit with lesser specs). For 2016, Intel has split the Compute Stick into two branches: one that continues to use an Atom CPU, and one that uses Intel's new (and more powerful) Core M Skylake processors.
The latest Atom-based Compute Stick upgrades to the Cherry Trail quad-core x5-Z8300, which, if nothing else, should provide improved graphics performance over its Bay Trail predecessor. As before, it also includes 2GB of RAM and 32GB of on-board storage. Intel has also upgraded the wireless capabilities of the 2016 Compute Sticks, using its own 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology instead of the Realtek solution in last year's model. For these improvements, you can expect to pay a little more, as the new Windows 10 Atom Compute Stick will cost $159, instead of $149, and should be availability imminently. There are no details about a new Linux version, however, so we'll see if the company discloses details at a later date.
Those looking for more power in the same form factor now have a new option with a pair of Compute Sticks that take advantage of Intel's new sixth-generation Core M processors (a.k.a. Skylake). These devices also get twice the RAM and double the built-in storage of the Atom Compute Sticks, along with three USB ports instead of two. There's a Windows 10 version that ships with the Core m3-6Y30 chip, but perhaps even more intriguing is a version that features the faster Core m5-6Y57 processor. That CPU includes Intel's vPro technology for data security, and comes without an operating system installed. The combination looks like an obvious appeal to enterprise customers, who could wind up being a bigger market for stick PCs than home buyers.
Not surprisingly, you'll pay more for the beefier new Compute Sticks -- a lot more. The Windows 10 version will cost $399, whereas the Core m5 without OS installed will cost $100 more than that. Both are expected to ship next month, so we'll see then if Intel's upscale strategy for PC sticks will be a success.