So, there’s the good and the bad with that topic. Let’s start with the good.
Some time back (May actually), I wrote about the Intel Compute Stick — a remarkable computer on a stick that plugs into the HDMI port on a monitor or TV. I just got one.
The original versions included Windows 8.1, and I decided to forgo that particular “Windows experience” (for hints on why, see an even earlier column, called “It’s Great to Hate Windows 8”); the newer versions have Windows 10 pre-loaded, and it’s very much worth the extra $20. Even so, it costs just $135, which is remarkable.
You do have to add a keyboard and mouse, but I’d recommend the Logitech USB wireless keyboard that has a mouse pad built-in on the right side. The Stick does have Bluetooth built in, but some reviews have noted that it is a bit flakey, so USB is the way to go.
The Stick comes with 32GB of memory incorporated. Windows and other pre-canned files take up half of that, but that still leaves 16GB for programs and files. Adding an $11 32GB memory card took care of extra space. You can also attach an external hard drive; to do so, and to have the keyboard, you need to add a USB hub, preferably a powered one if you intend to use a smaller external drive that sucks its power from the USB port, since the Stick has only one USB port. I was then able to move a bunch of picture and video files from the external drive to the added internal memory card. Sweet.
The Stick plugs in and fires up. I was really quite surprised at how simple it was to set up and get running. It immediately recognized the keyboard/mouse, signed into my home network and accessed the Internet to download updates. I quickly downloaded the Google Chrome browser to replace Microsoft Edge (the replacement for Internet Explorer), which worked fine. I was able to tie into other computers on my network and download files, etc.
So Far, So Good
But, the questions remains: Can it be used for real tasks?
Yes, and I loaded Office Suite 2010 to test it out. Since the Stick has no DVD integrated (it is only 4 inches by 1.5 inches by .5 inches thick), that entailed copying the contents of the Office DVD onto an external drive (a flash drive would also do) and then running the Setup program from the plugged-in drive. That worked just fine, and soon I was able to create documents or pull older files off the network and change and save them. I was also able to hook up to a printer on another networked computer in another room and print to it.
This was all being done while sitting in a recliner with a wireless keyboard, looking at a TV. Who could ask for more?
Next up, video tests. I went to Amazon.com and signed into my Prime account, which has streaming movies. Starting one, I was somewhat dismayed by the quality of the picture. Mind you, there was no stuttering or buffering going on, it was just not the greatest video.
As a comparison, I fired up the Sony box attached to the same TV (an older model that is the equivalent of a Roku or Chromecast stick), and looking at the same movie was much clearer on the exact same wireless connection.
On the other hand, I was able to access web content easily. For instance, firing up Comedy Central on the web (http://cc.com) enabled me to view full episodes of The Daily Show. The video, in that case, seemed fine, about the equivalent of normal TV.
So, all-in-all, it has been a positive experience. The other nice thing about a computer-on-a-stick is that it can be taken anywhere and plugged into a normal TV. It has much more storage capacity than a tablet and doesn’t rely on apps. It uses regular programs.
Some users have complained of large hidden files being downloaded to their Windows 7 or 8 machines. It turns out that Microsoft has been pushing down copies of the files needed to update to Windows 10, “just in case” or “so you’ll be ready.”
This involves anywhere from 3 to 6 gigabytes of data, which eats your disk space but, more importantly, uses your bandwidth and connection. People who are on limited data plans with extra charges for overage are particularly miffed. It doesn’t matter that you’ve been ignoring that little Windows Upgrade icon in the lower right tray. They know you need it, so you’re going to get it.
In at least one release of Automatic Updates, the Windows 10 upgrade was pre-checked. If you didn’t watch it, it would start installing as a recommended upgrade by itself. Microsoft has since stated that this was an error, and unchecked it, but you should still be wary. Although Win10 is a great upgrade from Win8, Win7 users may not want to partake. Be careful out there.
Cliff Feldwick is owner of Riverside Computing and does PC troubleshooting, data retrieval and network setups — when not sitting in a recliner with a wireless keyboard. He can be reached at 410-880-0171 or at [email protected]. Older columns are online at http://feldwick.com.