Do you remember your first PC? What was it? Mine goes back a bit. It was an Intel 386 in a beige metal chassis the size (and weight) of a breeze block. I lugged it to university with me, where the hefty beast took up a whole suitcase on its own.
Now, I can carry a full Windows 8.1 PC in my pocket.
Intel introduced its Compute Stick at CES 2015 – a four-inch long device that looks similar to a Google Chromecast. But unlike a Chromecast, which is based around a Marvell 88DE3005 SoC, the Compute Stick boasts a quad-core Intel Atom processor, built-in wireless connectivity, on-board storage, a Micro SD card slot (to add even more storage) and it can run Windows 8.1 or Linux.
In short, a Compute Stick can turn any HDMI-equipped monitor or HD telly into a fully functional PC.
The Hannspree Micro PC was one of the first Stick PCs to appear, incorporating a quad-core Intel Atom Processor Z3735F (up to 1.83GHz), 2MB of RAM, 32GB of storage, 802.11bgn Wi-Fi, HDMI, and a Micro SD card slot that will support up to 128GB of extra space. You can attach a mouse and keyboard via Bluetooth 4.0 or using the Micro PC’s lone USB 2.0 port.
There’s no doubting the cleverness of the technology and the appeal of the compact, plug-and-play form factor. The big question is this: how does it perform?
“Windows feels pretty spritely in everyday use,” says PC Pro in its review. “Explorer windows fire up without delay, as do hefty web pages, and the Start screen scrolls by without a hiccup. Multitasking can slow things down a touch, and you wouldn’t want to do much video editing on it, but for browsing and office work it’s fine.”
There’s enough processing power to run games too. The Micro PC is a “fascinating device,” writes Richard Leadbetter on Eurogamer, “effectively taking the form of a ten-year-old desktop gaming PC massively condensed into a passively cooled stick that easily fits into the palm of your hand.”
While it won’t run the latest titles, it looks like an ideal client solution for Steam’s in-home streaming technology. “Depending on the settings chosen, and the capabilities of your host PC,” adds the Eurogamer review, “there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy full 1080p60 gameplay via your Micro PC – the device’s onboard video decoder is certainly up to the challenge.”
With a price tag of only £169, the versatile Hannspree Micro PC and the many Stick PCs that will follow it are a cheap way to get your hands on a Windows 8 PC for business or pleasure. This pocketable, 38 gram computer makes my old 386 PC look positively ancient.