[UPDATE] PC on a Stick?

Category: Hardware , Mobile

It’s been over two years since I wrote about a “new generation” of PC sticks - tiny computers that fit into a pocket and turn any TV set or monitor into a fully featured PC, anywhere. It’s high time to look at the latest generation of these portable and powerful devices. For starters, the generic name for them has changed. Read on…

"Mini PC? Hmmm, Sounds Familiar..."

In an ironic twist, the term “mini PC” is now used to refer to computers that can range from the size of a USB thumb drive (or “memory stick”) up to the size of a deck of playing cards. Many readers will remember when a “mini computer” was the size of a refrigerator.

A mini PC is not a “My First Computer” toy or a hobbyist platform (like the Linux-based Raspberry Pi); nor is it a special-purpose computer like the tiny Chromecast streaming-media player. (See my previous articles Really... A $9 PC? and What is a PC Stick?)

A mini PC is a general-purpose computer that can run even business applications like Microsoft Office on its internal processors, RAM, and storage, without resorting to cloud-computing; a mini PC does not need an Internet connection, though most support it. That said, mini PCs vary from barely-enough bargains to startlingly capable and pricey bundles; the latter even have their own constellations of miniaturized and futuristic keyboards, pointing devices, and other peripherals.

PC Stick = Mini PC

The Intel Compute Stick CS325 is one of the chipmaker’s offerings in the Mini PC arena. The CS325 is priced at $339, and includes an Intel Core m3 processor, Intel HD graphics, and Windows 10 Home. Four gigabytes of RAM memory and 64 GB SSD for file storage are ample for on-the-go business or serious pleasure. An 802.11ac WiFi adapter, Bluetooth 4.2, one USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports (on the separate power adapter) provide plenty of connections.

The CS325 is the middle child in Intel's mini PC family. They also offer the $120 CS125 (Intel Atom processor, 2GB RAM, and 32GB storage) and a high-end CS525 model ($430), which sports the more powerful Intel Core m5 processor, 4GB RAM, 64GB storage, but no operating system.

In the middle of the mini-PC road, the ASUS VivoStick costs $130 on Amazon. It measures only 5.3” x 1.4” x 0.6”. Its Quad-core Intel® Atom™ x5-Z8350 processor runs Windows 10 on up to four cores, but has only the bare-minimum 2 GB of RAM and a fixed 32 GB of SSD storage. Bluetooth 4.1 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi connect to wireless printers, TV sets, keyboards, mice, and more. (Note that 802.11ac is not the latest, fastest WiFi standard, but it’s perfectly adequate for most needs).

One USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 (powered) ports support wired keyboards, mice and external storage. No spare keyboard, TV or monitor in your closet? No problem. The ASUS VivoRemote app (for iPhone or Android) lets your smartphone function as the VivoStick’s keyboard and display.

In the bargain lane, the Asus Chromebit is a popular $85 choice. It runs Google’s Chrome OS, saving the cost of a Windows license. It plugs into the HDMI port of a TV for display functions. The 802.11n WiFi adapter supports the latest wireless standard and all previous ones. A RockChip 3288-C processor is supported by 2GB of RAM and 16 GB of file storage. Those specs would be light for Windows, but Chrome OS requires fewer resources so performance is zippier. The Chromebit also gives you access to 100 GB of Google Drive space to store files in the cloud.

Need a keyboard for your mini PC? Logitech’s K400 Plus Wireless Touch Keyboard ($20) has a trackpad built-in, so it functions as both keyboard and mouse. Need just a mouse for your mini PC? Grab this $9 Logitech Wireless Mini-mouse and you're good to go!

I can see a mini PC as a decent low-cost solution for someone who wants to run Windows 10 or Chrome OS on an existing large-screen HDTV. Just plug it into the HDMI port, add keyboard and mouse, and you're done. I know one person who did exactly that for his octogenarian mother, and she loves it. (Running Windows on a 52-inch TV would definitely be easy on the eyes.) The ASUS VivoStick with VivoRemote app might be an acceptable laptop replacement for on-the-go users who already own an iPad or Android tablet.

Would you buy a Mini PC? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[UPDATE] PC on a Stick?"

Posted by:

20 Dec 2017

Do you have any information on how the $9 CHIP would function in this way?

Posted by:

20 Dec 2017

I have a Raspberry Pi 3 I assembled, started as a KODI box but evolved into a full platform. Web browsing, streaming, games... everything at the touch of a source button on the remote. Definitely a cheap and fun option.

Posted by:

David Sparkman
20 Dec 2017

In my young adult days a Main Frame Computer was one where the CPU was several boards. A Mini Computer was where the CPU was a single board. And a Micro Computer was where the CPU was a single chip. I guess the next step my children and grand children will see will be an Android computer.

Posted by:

20 Dec 2017

“Not yet, Toto, we have not even left Kansas!”
These are still stop-gap hardware solutions on the quest for continued miniaturization. After the introduction of the PC; the cellphone had looked to be a disruptive unification device. Attaching a one-inch thingy to a 65-inch other thingy sounds ugly. Connecting a keyboard/mouse to this 1-inch thingy is worse than putting lipstick on a pig.
I am saving up my $339 until it will get me a credit card size thingy which NEVER leaves my wallet and replaces all the hardware thingies that I have amassed. Technically, all of the needed technologies are there/here to equip each user with a single thingy with no cables or connectors.
Version 2.0 may need to include a visual cortex interface but remember that not even the Tesla was built in a single day!

Posted by:

20 Dec 2017

As an old guy, I can assure you it doesn't matter how humongous your TV screen is, you've still got to sit pretty close to it to read anything not in giant bold print without serious eye strain.

Posted by:

Ross Cameron
20 Dec 2017

Any heating problems with these mini comps?

Posted by:

21 Dec 2017

Logitech’s K400 Plus Wireless Touch Keyboard for $20 sounded like it fit the bill for me. But i hope you don't have the same experience as this one. TOTALLY SCHIZO. Jumps to other parts of the page with a single keystroke. It's tamed down some. I can actually post a comment lately. Or enter username and password most of the time without something CRAZY happening. Made it to the last line in this post before- WTF?
Awhile I had an Adesso trackball media keyboard. Loved it but it lasted a year. Couldn't Justify $66 for a second. Bought an Adesso knock-off for $32. It lasted 3 months.
And GuitarRebel, I know what you're saying. Resolution has to be adjusted away from stock resolution. Can be a pain in some operating systems. When trying to use my sister in law's laptop, high resolution with no font size increase, time to whip out the reading glasses! Web pages are much easier to resolve. Pressing control and the plus or minus sign. To read more comfortably.

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