All you need is a monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse. Both the Compute Stick and the Chromebit are about the size of an older thumb drive, although a closer comparison form-factor-wise is a Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV Stick, thanks to the HDMI connector. But which one should you get? Should you pre-order a Compute Stick now, or wait for the Chromebit? Let’s take a closer look.
The top-level $149 Intel Compute Stick is full Windows 8.1 PC, with a 64-bit quad-core Atom Bay Trail CPU, 2GB RAM, and 32GB of flash storage. You plug the Compute Stick into a free HDMI port on a computer monitor, and you’ve got an entire PC. There’s a microSD slot so you can transfer media or expand the internal storage, as well as a USB 2.0 port for connecting peripherals. It has 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. A micro USB port supplies power, although eventually Intel wants to power the entire thing via HDMI; we’ll see what happens with that later on.
If you couldn’t care less about Windows and want to save money, an $89 version will run Ubuntu instead of Windows 8.1. That model steps down to 1GB RAM and 8GB of flash storage. In addition to possible future HDMI-only power, Intel has also hinted it may build additional versions with Core M processors.
The Asus Chromebit, meanwhile, won’t be around until this summer, according to Google. But clearly there’s a showdown in the making here. The Chromebit will also cost less than $100, although we don’t know exactly how much yet. Like the Compute Stick, it plugs into an HDMI port, and contains both a USB port and Bluetooth for connecting a keyboard, mouse, and other peripherals.
Like the inexpensive Chromebooks Hisense and Haier just released, the Chromebit contains a quad-core ARM Cortex A17 Rockchip CPU and a quad-core ARM 760 Mali GPU, drawing as little as 3 watts of power, and the Chromebit contains 2GB RAM and 16GB flash storage. 802.11ac and Bluetooth are on board, with the latter meant for connecting a keyboard or mouse; an additional USB 2.0 port is for hooking up a drive or other peripherals. There’s no microSD slot on this one.
The idea is that with either of these things, you could turn an old monitor into a PC, or ditch a sluggish, virus-prone desktop PC from 2004 and use one of these instead for up-to-date Web apps and accessing cloud storage. Schools and businesses could also upgrade scores of older PCs in one shot with stick computers in the back of monitors, assuming the existing displays have HDMI ports.
Which one is better? I admit that between the Ubuntu Compute Stick and the Chromebit, I’d personally rather have real Linux than Chrome OS. But I’m a bit old school that way. I love the minimalism Chrome OS inspires, but I still can’t get my head around zero local apps or storage. As far as running Windows on an Intel Compute Stick, that sounds great providing performance is up to snuff for basic tasks, and that it doesn’t turn into what happened with netbooks after a year or two, where they would take 10 minutes to boot and five minutes to fire up any apps. I personally want to get Windows 10 running on one ASAP to see how it performs.
In the end, the Compute Stick is looking like it’s going to be the winner, unless Google does something unexpected with the Chromebit I’m not seeing here. Either way, and at prices like this, we won’t have to wait long to find out if 2015 is the year of the computer-on-a-stick.