For fans of low-power or small form-factor PCs, the world just became a more awesome place. At CES this week, Intel showed off its new “Compute Stick” line of computers – small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, powerful enough to run a real OS.
Intel’s new device is not much larger than the USB dongles of devices like Google’s Chromecast or legacy Wi-Fi connectors for many Smart TVs, but it leaves those systems in the dust when it comes to what you can do with it. Rather than being limited to a particular stripped OS, the Compute Stick crams a complete x86 quad-core Bay Trail-based Atom SoC into its tiny frame. It’s not quite the powerhouse of a well-built micro-ATX HTPC, but it can provide a lot more power than anything in the low-power segment to date.
It connects to any monitor or TV using HDMI and boasts a USB port, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as standard connections, and takes its power from a micro-USB port (which must be connected separately to a power adapter or a USB plug that supplies power). The device also has a microSD card slot to expand its available storage. This means any monitor or TV with an HDMI port can become host to your own personal thin-client computer that you carry in your pocket.
Best of all, the Compute Stick comes in two (extremely reasonably priced) models – a 32GB storage Windows 8.1 model with 2GB of onboard RAM, and an 8GB Linux model with 1GB of onboard RAM. Both systems will come with an OS pre-installed, but since they are full PCs instead of SoCs, either one should be easy enough to switch around to something else if you feel inclined. Both models should be available in March for $149 USD (Windows) and $89 USD (Linux).
You can read a few more details over at Intel’s site – and rest assured, we’ll be trying to get our hands on each of these models for a test run as they get closer to release.