PC Stick Showdown: Intel Compute Stick Vs. Google Chromebit
Imagine that your computer is in your pocket and you can carry it with you wherever there is a screen with which you can do your job. Sure, the laptop works, but a USB stick gives you some serious freedom and flexibility, and the Google Chromebit and Intel Compute Stick make that dream come true pretty much. We took both for a test drive.
Google made a splash when it introduced the Chromebit last year and finally started selling it a few months ago . In comparison, the Intel Compute Stick has been around for a while, but it is gaining momentum around the same time. They are different products (with some big differences), but they clearly play in the same space. Here’s a quick rundown:
- Chromebit ( $ 85 at Amazon ) : Made by ASUS, the Chromebit runs Google Chrome OS, connects to your display (or TV) via HDMI, connects to your keyboard and mouse via Bluetooth (4.0), and connects to the Internet via Wi-Fi. -Fi (802.11 a / b / g / n / ac supported.) Once you set it up and run, you can install apps from the Chrome Web Store to work, and each Chromebit comes with 100GB of Google Drive storage for documents. , photos and other files as there is practically no onboard storage (actually only 16GB). Just in case, there is a USB port for external storage or input devices. It is powered by a Rockchip RK3288 processor and has 2GB of RAM. Since there is no built-in storage and everything works over the Internet, you don’t have to worry about losing data if you lose your device or leave it at work when you want to at home. You can check out the full specifications here .
- Intel Compute Stick ( $ 146 at Amazon ) : The Intel Compute Stick is manufactured by Intel itself. If you’re considering one of these, make sure you get the 2016 model because the 2015 model, while available, won’t hold up too well . The newer version is much better . The new model includes 32GB of internal storage, a microSD slot for expandable memory, is powered by an Intel Cherry Trail Atom x5-Z8300 processor and 2GB of RAM, and also supports Wi-Fi 802.11 a / b / g / n / ac (versus last year’s chipset / b / g / n-only) and Bluetooth 4.2. There are two USB ports (one of which is USB 3.0) up from last year’s single USB 2.0 port, which is another big improvement. The Compute Stick also comes preloaded with Windows 10. The hardware is pretty impressive for its size.
These are the basics. Sure, the Compute Stick and Chromebit aren’t the only stick-based PCs available, but they are two of the most popular and two of the most mature. There are many Android devices out there with an ancient version of Android and an HDMI port, many of which use the same chip as the Chromebit, but we are not interested in that. Let’s dive into our comparison.
Compute Stick runs on Windows, but Chromebit is easier to use
Installation and use are two of the first places where the Chromebit and Compute Stick start to separate from each other. Sure, the Compute Stick runs on Windows, which makes it much more user-friendly, and the setup and installation process is probably more familiar to many, but Chromebit is pretty easy to use.
With Chromebit, you simply plug in the Chromebit, plug it into a power source, switch to that HDMI input, and pair your peripherals. Once you’re paired, log in to your Google account and you’re done. It’s worth noting that the Chromebit does not have a power button, which means it is always on and connected until you unplug it. Anyway, Chromebit pretty much connects, logs in and gets busy. The Chrome Web Store has apps for pretty much everything you probably need to do, especially if your job, web browsing, or social life forces you to stay online, and even a few light games here or there (more on that later .)
The Intel Compute Stick, on the other hand, is clearly the hardware winner here, with more powerful components and a full Windows on board that you can use for all your favorite applications. This is definitely an advantage, but it is also a disadvantage. After the first round of Windows updates, which are tiresomely time-consuming to install – not downloads, but simply installs – you can see why. Also, while it has 32GB of internal storage, most of it will be used by Windows and its updates. Combined with updates – even if you use every possible trick to free up space , you still have space to install multiple apps, but not enough space to store your data. You will need a microSD slot. However, once you’ve done all the tweaks, updates, app installations, and more, you’ll have a fully functional Windows PC.
Both travel well, but Chromebit wins a prize for portability
Both laptops are tiny and easy to slip into your pocket or take with you. They are more or less everything you need to get your job done, but if we had to hand out a mobility prize, Chromebit would get it. Chrome OS is designed to work without a ton of built-in and attached storage, and the Chromebit, even though it has a USB port, doesn’t need one. At its best, all you carry with you is the Chromebit itself and its power adapter. In the worst case, you will need to bring a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse with you. Update: A previous version of this article said Chromebit supports MHL, but it doesn’t and I should have known better. I just assumed that the TV I tested the Chromebit on did not support MHL, whereas the Chromebit was all along!
The Intel Compute Stick, on the other hand, is just as portable, even slightly smaller. It has a power button (which the Chromebit does not have) and two USB ports, which are handy for connected devices. Like the Chromebit, the Compute Stick requires an AC adapter. However, given the fact that extra storage is more critical to the Compute Stick, that means at best you’ll carry the stick itself, AC adapter, and microSD card wherever you go. In the worst case, you add either a keyboard / mouse combo or Bluetooth peripherals to this. There’s a dongle for the HDMI end of the Compute Stick, but your microSD card seems to be in the slot, and while it’s safe for most use cases, I wouldn’t want to carry it in my pocket or whatever.
Anyway, in terms of portability, if you’re traveling with either of them, your bag is a lot lighter than if you’re carrying even the lightest Ultrabook, so comparing them this way can be a trifle. What the Chromebit does stand out a little more is how its OS handles portability. Google has made Chrome OS completely portable, even across devices. Since all of your data is stored in Google Drive, and your Chromebit only remembers the apps you have installed – and even these are just Chrome web apps – you can connect this thing wherever you have a display, input devices, and an Internet connection. and you are ready to go. If you lose it, it’s a small loss and you won’t lose a ton of data, which is huge for a portable device. The Compute Stick, on the other hand, is still Windows, and while Windows is as portable in many ways, it is less geared towards internet connectivity, and if you lose your microSD card, you lose both your apps and data. Hardware is great, but consider the portability of your data as well.
The Compute Stick has the edge on paper, but in practice they are both equal.
If you’re just reading the specs, the Compute Stick, especially the latest 2016 model, clearly has the edge. It includes a more powerful processor, more memory, better RAM (both the Compute Stick and the Chromebit have 2GB, but the Compute Stick has 1600MHz DDR3 RAM and the Chromebit has 1066MHz DDR3 RAM. The Compute Stick’s optional USB port is great. especially considering that it’s USB 3.0, and the expandable storage is too much (even if needed), but once you put all these features into use, the end result is one that doesn’t feel exactly like a powerhouse it sounds like. In fact, Chromebit looks smoother and faster to use.
If this sounds crazy, it is – using both seems odd. I’ve been thinking all along that Chromebit shouldn’t be as smooth as it was, even if it was limiting by its very nature. When you use a Chromebit, you’re playing in the garden of Google’s Chrome OS, and Google is trying to manage the synergy between hardware, software, and available apps. You get a less rewarding experience, but one that works better, especially if your needs don’t exceed the walls of the garden. However, on a Compute Stick, you have Intel and Windows hardware as software, and that synergy simply doesn’t exist. Windows works just like Windows and cracks in the hardware show up pretty quickly. DDR3 1600MHz RAM doesn’t save the Compute Stick from the fact that there is only 2GB left to use Windows 10. 32GB of storage doesn’t save the Compute Stick from the fact that Windows can easily eat 20+ GB on its own, and after installing a few apps, you’re struggling with running out of space warnings.
And don’t take my word for it. PC World has some great Compute Stick benchmarks , and Engadget felt the hardware limitations , impressive as it sits in a tiny stick, pretty quickly as they buckled under Windows load – and when using Windows, as most users would do. When it comes to performance, the difference in specs makes the Compute Stick look like it’s worth the money. The difference in performance in use casts doubt on this notion and makes you wonder if you should just grab a Chromebit and save fifty dollars.
Verdict: Chromebit Today, Find Out What Intel Will Do Tomorrow
The video above, from YouTuber Austin Evans , compares the latest generation Intel Compute Stick to a Chromebit and comes to roughly the same conclusions as me. In short, they both have their pros and cons, but the Chromebit does almost the same in a more attractive and cheaper package than the Compute Stick, and if you don’t need Windows – for example, you are a Microsoft Office addict or need to run something- anything heavy like PhotoShop (which scanned to a Compute Stick by the way), you can probably get by with a Chromebit for everything you need to do.
If you want Windows – and you know who you are – the choice was made for you 1000 words ago. If you need Windows because you’re a gamer, well, you probably aren’t considering one anyway, but if so, stay away. They are too underpowered for anything intense, especially gaming or anything graphically heavy. 1080p video is ok (4K video isn’t that much), so Netflix, Hulu, and everyone else is ok, but anything heavier? Avoid it.
If you enjoy a Google-centric life, using Hangouts for chat, Facebook and Twitter to keep up with friends, and even web apps like Feedly for reading news, Chromebit will be fine. You will track less when you move and lose less if something goes missing. Even if you’re looking for a cheap way to turn an old display into a PC, or get something more reliable for your TV than a Chromecast, the Chromebit is a good compromise between the simplicity of a set-top box and the power of an HTPC.
Still, it’s impressive that Intel managed to squeeze into this tiny stick-sized PC, and with a few small tweaks they inexplicably ditched in this year’s recently unveiled version (bumping up to 4GB onboard RAM and adding MHL support). they can have a near-perfect PC on a stick. Unfortunately, the fact that they didn’t do it means you can save some money and have the same (or better) Chromebit experience.