Intel has used the CES Show to preview its forthcoming ‘Compute Stick’, an over-sized USB drive designed to run either Windows 8.x or Ubuntu Linux when plugged into a monitor or PC via an HDMI port.

The idea of putting an OS on a USB stick isn’t brand new – Windows to Go aimed at remote workers is a parallel if more specialised example - but Intel’s latest attempt is a curious mix of intriguing hardware with some limitations.


Physically, the Compute Stick is designed around the 1.86Mhz quad-core Atom Z3735F Bay Trail processor with the $129 (roughly £100) Windows version coming with 2GB or RAM and £2GB of onboard storage. In terms of power this is like a cross between a tablet and a set-top box.

The Ubuntu version makes do with only 1GB of RAM and a reported 8GB of storage but with the plus of a cheaper $89 price tag – as ever Linux wins in the value for money stakes. A MicroSD card slot allows the storage to be boosted if necessary.

The whole unit is powered through a micro-USB port on the same side that contains the power switch and a full-sized USB port. Wi-Fi up to 802.11n with Bluetooth are also built in.

As several show attendees noted, the lack of ports is a limitation for any device that wants to wear the clothes of being a fully-fledged PC of sorts. Intel hopes it can power the Compute Stick through the HDMI connector in future which sounds like a plea for end users to wait for version 2.0.

Intel has a history of coming up with clever ways of wrapping the firm’s processing power in unexpected packages that don’t turn out to be terribly important. Remember the Next Unit of Computing (NUC) idea?  Coincidentally Intel also launched version 2.0 of that platform featuring more powerful Broadwell processors so perhaps this product has a future after all.

In fairness, Intel’s purpose with these devices isn’t to create a market so much as stimulate others to carry on that work.  If that argument follows for Compute Stick, Intel is really making the case for the market to look more closely at its Raspberry Pi-like platform in its own right.

Intel said the Compute Stick would ship in the US by March.