Ever since Intel first released the Compute Stick, we’ve seen a rush of tiny PCs built into HDMI dongles. Some take advantage of the free-to-manufacturers Windows with Bing offering, while others use more traditional operating systems such as Android and Linux.
As we see it, the best stick PC is still Intel’s Compute Stick, with the different versions offering serious versatility to potential buyers. Intel may not be developing any new versions, but there are still plenty of options available now. Beyond the Compute Stick, we like a few other designs too, especially if you’re looking for an option for media streaming or just for budget-conscious web browsing.
The best stick PCs at a glance
- The stick PC: Intel Compute Stick
- The best stick PC under $100: Asus Chromebit
- The best portable stick PC: Kangaroo Mobile Desktop Plus
- The best stick PC for streaming: Azulle Access Plus
Why you should buy this: Intel’s Compute Sticks helped launch the stick PC market and they’re still going strong today with some serious power inside.
Who it’s for: Anyone — just pick the right one for you.
Why we picked the Intel Compute Stick:
Intel launched the first iteration of the Compute Stick back in March 2015, and ever since, a number of other stick PCs have picked up on the Intel’s standard specs and carried them. There are several versions available today with a choice of 2GB and 4GB of RAM, with 32 or 64GB of eMMC storage, and a MicroSD slot if you need a bit more space. As for connectivity, it attaches to a TV or monitor via HDMI, is powered over USB-C, with one USB-A 3.0 port on the unit itself, and two more on the power adapter.
The big difference is in the processing power, though and that’s what swings the price tag North and South by large margins. You’ll find the entry-level, CS125 with an Atom CPU for not much north of $100, but there are much more powerful Core m3 and even Core m5 versions available if you’re happy to spend a few hundred dollars more.
For a basic PC experience, the Atom-equipped entry-level model is more than enough to be getting on with, but Intel’s range of chip options give plenty of versatility in the range.
Why you should buy it: For under $100 you get a perfectly functional stick PC with high-speed wireless access.
Who it’s for: Students, families who don’t mind Chrome OS.
Why we picked the Asus Chromebit:
Chrome OS isn’t just for Chromebooks any more. It can also form the basis for an affordable entry-point for stick PCs and Asus’ Chromebit is one of the best. It puts all of the functionality of the OS into a small dongle that plugs right into your HDMI port for less than $100. The Chromebit is powered by a RockChip RK3228C, a popular quad-core chip that’s paired with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of eMMC flash storage. As with every Chrome OS device, it also gets 100GB of Google Drive space free for two years.
Connectivity is bolstered by Wi-Fi, built-in Bluetooth, and a USB port. Chrome OS makes for an excellent portable computing solution, the cloud-based nature of which can’t be rivaled.
Why you should buy it: Its got a great CPU, plenty of storage space, and ports — the Ethernet port accessory is a great touch too.
Who it’s for: Those who want a stick PC and don’t mind it stretching the definition.
Why we picked the Kangaroo Mobile Desktop Plus:
Even though it’s not technically a stick PC — it’s more of a rectangle — the Kangaroo’s tiny form factor renders it perfectly suitable for many of the same uses as the other systems on our list. This is the one you’ll want if you’re looking for a small, portable desktop that can handle everyday work and play.
Its specs won’t stand up to the most powerful Intel Compute stick, but it houses a respectable Atom Z8500 CPU and some options for RAM and storage. The Plus model features 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of on-board storage space, while the Pro model features 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage space, and comes with a stationary dock which increases the number of ports available. The Pro Dock features three additional USB ports and an ethernet port.
The Pro dock also features a hard drive bay, making it an excellent choice if you need a stick PC capable of competing with a typical PC. Though it won’t hold a candle to our best laptops, you’ll still be able to get some serious work done.
Why you should buy this: It’s not high-powered, but it’s incredibly capable, with great connectivity options and wireless reception.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants to kick back and stream straight from their TV.
Why we picked the Azulle Access Plus:
Building on the success of its predecessor, the, Azulle’s Access Plus is a supremely capable stick PC. It has the same ethernet port at its base and a pair of USB-A connections (2.0 and 3.0) for getting yourself online or connecting accessories and peripherals. Its dual-band Wi-Fi support gives it great wireless connectivity too, and the external aerial ensures no matter where you are you should get great coverage.
The solid wired and wireless connections this device sports make sure that you’ll have as little buffering and stuttering as possible when watching your favorite stream services.
Internal hardware has seen an upgrade too. This version sports an Intel Atom Z8300 and 4GB of RAM with a choice of 32GB and 64GB of storage space. There’s also a micro-SDXC slot giving you the option of up to 256GB of additional space if you need it.
It ships out with a full version of Windows 10 Pro too, so you’ll get all the great admin features you need, like Bitlock encryption and remote access.
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