Amid all of the laptop and PC news that came out of the 2015 International CES, the quiet announcement of Intel's diminutive Compute Stick comes as something of a surprise. It has tablethardware and plugs into an HDMI port, offering a PC experience in a tiny space. The Compute Stick comes in two flavors: a Linux version, and a model that's running Windows 8.1 with Bing.
Inside the Stick you'll find a quad-core Atom Z3735F processor, a Bay Trail CPU typically found in Intel-powered Android tablets. The Windows 8.1 version offers 32GB of storage and 2GB of RAM -- if you need more room, I was told that the microSD card slot on the right side can support cards of up to 128GB. The Linux version has 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage.
I should note that the "Bing Edition" of Windows 8.1 is a variant Microsoft makes available for manufacturers at no cost -- it's how PCs like the $200 HP Stream 11 can be offered at such a low price. Despite the name, Windows 8.1 with Bing doesn't actually force you to use Bing. Device manufacturers can only get their hands on this free version of Windows 8.1 if they keep Bing as the default systemwide search engine. But there's nothing technically stopping you from ducking into the operating system's settings and using whatever you'd like.
Intel will be selling the Compute Stick directly, and it's not really intended to replace your laptop or tablet. That said, it's an undeniably cool little gadget. As someone who likes to travel but loathes toting a laptop around, keeping something like this with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse in my luggage would be a compact way to get a more robust computing experience than my iPad is going to offer, without tipping the scales or putting much of a dent in my wallet. I don't expect to be able to edit photos or play World of Warcraft while I'm on the road, but this could prove to be a great tool for toting vital files and Windows apps around, and getting the full-PC experience wherever I can find a spare HDMI port.
The Compute Stick will start shipping in March, at which point we can get a better idea of what this little tyke is capable of.