Ubuntu Intel Compute Stick arrives but specs lag behind Windows

The Ubuntu version of the Intel Compute Stick will be released next week but comes with significantly less memory and storage than the Windows version.

From next week you will be able buy a desktop PC that fits in your hand and runs the open source operating system Ubuntu.

The Intel Compute Stick is a PC the size of a long memory stick that plugs into a monitor or TV, effectively allowing you to carry a desktop in your pocket.

The Intel Compute Stick Image: SJ Portnoy

The Windows version of the stick was released earlier this year, and the Ubuntu version will go on sale next week - but has half the memory and one quarter the storage of the Windows stick.

The specs put the 1GB Ubuntu stick above the minimum requirements for the operating system, yet there is disagreement over whether a 1GB machine can run the desktop edition of Ubuntu smoothly. Even the official guidance for desktop edition recommends 2GB of memory "to properly run a day to day Ubuntu".

The 5GB desktop edition of Ubuntu would also take up more than half of the machine's 8GB storage - although this can be expanded using a microSD card.

Specs

  • Processor: Quad core Intel Atom Z3735F processor
  • Video: Intel HD Graphics
  • Memory: 1GB DDR3 RAM
  • Storage: 8GB eMMC expandable via microSD
  • Display: Connects via HDMI 1.4 port
  • Audio: Integrated HD audio via HDMI
  • Connectivity: One full-sized USB 2.0 port and one micro USB port
  • Wireless: Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Size: 103mm x 37mm x 12mm
  • Power: 5V, 2A wall mounted AC-DC power adapter

Mark Murphy, director of devices sales and global alliances at Canonical - the company behind Ubuntu - said the lower specs of the Ubuntu version of the stick can be explained by the OS' lower system requirements.

"Ubuntu is a highly efficient operating system, typically it works well with a smaller memory footprint and requirements than some other operating systems," he said. For example, the 64-bit version of Windows 8.1 takes up 20GB of space - four times that demanded by Ubuntu.

"Let's not forget that compute stick also has a MicroSD slot, typically you can purchase an additional 32GB of MicroSD for less than $15 today," he added.

On the upside the $110 stick PC, which runs the Desktop Edition of Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, is also cheaper than its $149 Windows 8.1 counterpart.

Another option is to buy the Windows version and replace the operating system with Ubuntu. Tech site Phoronix did just that earlier in the year and found Ubuntu 15.04 ran well, coming close to the performance of Intel NUC mini-PCs in a number of benchmarks.

Unfortunately there's a catch. The wi-fi hardware in the stick wasn't supported by the mainline Linux kernel, meaning you would likely have to delve into the Linux command line to get wi-fi working. More details on how to do that are here and (possibly) here.