Intel Compute Stick (STK2M3W64CC) 
(Intel® Core™ m3 M3-6Y30 CPU with Pre-Installed Windows® 10)

Nearly four years ago the world was introduced to the 'mini PC' the first being an Android 'stick' billed as comparable to a desktop computer with HD video, gaming and surfing all with intrepid performance (http://www.aliexpress.com/snapshot/109762760.html). Since then the mini PC has evolved using more and more powerful processors and with each iteration a further improvement and a step closer to the performance and functionality of an actual desktop computer. Finally the worlds of marketing and reality converge with the release of Intel's latest Compute Stick which can truly be compared. It should also remove any doubts about the form-factor and its usability.

Intel's latest Compute Stick range includes three models:

Whilst this review is based on the Windows 10 model it also explores what other OS can be installed together with performance metrics.


BIOS

The first improvement included in the BIOS is control for the internal fan. Three settings are available:


Also of note are the wake via RTC alarm, auto-on capability and legacy boot support. The following is a brief video of the BIOS settings:

YouTube Video



Windows Performance


The performance under Windows far exceeds any 'stick' mini PCs:

          

with disk (or eMMC) performance being different to the earlier Intel Compute Stick models most likely due to increased RAM:



and an Octane 2 score of:



compared to other Windows mini PCs:



USB 3.0 Ports

One of the more unusual features of this model is the inclusion of two additional USB 3.0 ports on the power adapter:



Whilst this is a great way to provide additional ports it is frustrating that they are located so close together. Also they really only work well for 'statically' connected devices like a keyboard or mouse as when connecting a USB cable the power adapter pivots about the plug as a result of the torque caused by the cable insertion. I resorted to using a USB 3.0 cable extension given I was frequently plugging in different USB devices to minimise any possibility of risk or damage.

If the trend to include additional ports on the power adapter continues then I'd also like to see an Ethernet port included.

I also checked that there wasn't any noticeable difference in using a USB drive attached to the plug port vs attached to the device's port:

     
(Sandisk Ultra Fit USB 3.0 flash drive formatted exFAT in device port)     (Sandisk Ultra Fit USB 3.0 flash drive formatted exFAT in plug port)


Internal Fan

The device includes a small internal fan that runs automatically and only when necessary. Although the fan is not totally silent at full speed the noise from the fan is minimal and certainly not intrusive in a normal operating environment. To try and demonstrate this I made a video but as the fan is very quiet I had to film at night to minimise all background noise. In the video you can see a battery-powered clock next to the device and this is to provide a reference to compare how audible the fan actually is. When the video starts the fan is currently off. The device is booted into Ubuntu OS and the CPU is then stressed for 30 seconds using the command 'stress -c 4 -t 30'. The increased workload generates heat and the fan quickly starts and runs at its maximum speed although it is barely audible. The fan continues to run after the end of the stress test but steps down its speed before finally stopping towards the end of the video.  In fact it is actually very difficult to hear the fan throughout the video.



Temperatures

Throughout my Windows testing I've monitored the CPU temperature using the Hardware Info (HWiNFO) system information utility. Whilst the device does get warm it doesn't get hot. So far I've not seen any temperature concerns with the CPU temperature keeping below 65°C




Alternative OS

I've tried various OS and not everything works:


For some Linux kernel based OS there is an issue in recognizing the device's eMMC (the internal storage). Additionally the current version of OpenElec doesn't support the GPU. However the Ubuntu LTS point release 14.04.3 can be installed and upgraded to 14.04.4 and 16.04 works without issue.

Key success points include working audio and wifi.

I've previously used a set of benchmarking tests from the Phoronix Test Suite to compare ARM-based mini PCs running Ubuntu so I've decided to include a comparison of all the Intel Compute Sticks. To create the baseline I performed a fresh install of Ubuntu 14.04 to eMMC on each device and upgraded each to the latest available packages:



The tests I've chosen aim to show CPU, RAM and I/O performance and include:

  • CacheBench – Memory and cache bandwidth performance benchmark.
  • CLOMP – C version of the Livermore OpenMP benchmark developed to measure OpenMP overheads and other performance impacts due to threading.
  • 7-Zip compression – Uses p7zip integrated benchmark feature.
  • dcraw – This test measures the time it takes to convert several high-resolution RAW NEF image files to PPM image format using dcraw.
  • LAME MP3 encoding – This test measures the time required to encode a WAV file to MP3 format.
  • FFmpeg – Audio/video encoding performance benchmark.
  • GMPbench – Test of the GMP 5.0.3 math library
  • OpenSSL – Measures RSA 4096-bit performance of OpenSSL.
  • PHPBench – Benchmark suite for PHP.
  • PyBench – Python benchmark suite.
  • SQLite – This test measures the time to perform a pre-defined number of insertions on an indexed database
  • Stream – This benchmark tests the system memory (RAM) performance.
  • TSCP – Performance benchmark built-in Tom Kerrigan’s Simple Chess Program.
  • Unpacking the Linux kernel – This test measures the time it takes to extract the .tar.bz2 Linux kernel package.
  • IOzone – This benchmark tests the hard disk drive / file-system performance.

The results show just how more powerful the latest Core M device is:


and the performance result for Octane is equally impressive:



The following brief video shows some basic system information about Ubuntu 14.04 as installed to eMMC together with a demonstration of booting the latest "Ubuntu 16.04 (Xenial Xerus) Daily Build" ISO directly without the need for external media as described in here:

YouTube Video


Besides testing Chromium OS from USB or micro SD card I also installed it directly to eMMC to give an indication of actual performance and as the installation removes Windows 10 I've effectively created a pseudo Intel Chromium Stick:


The video starts after powering on the Intel Compute Stick and shows entering the boot menu. It then goes on to show Chromium OS boot and the login process with the auto-connection of wifi. Next are two usage examples. The first shows running Ubuntu using crouton and then how the Chromium browser performs running Octane 2. In the second example I briefly run an sample YouTube video. I've also included a couple of commands showing technical details about the system including OS version and disk utilization. There are two points in the video that demonstrate working audio. You can hear the shutter when the screenshot is taken and a couple of chimes from the software being demonstrated in the YouTube video. Okay it is more of a token gesture to audio than high fidelity but hopefully preferable to some annoying muzak.

The impressive Octane score of 22010 demonstrates how much more powerful the latest Intel Compute Stick is compared to earlier models and alternative mini PC sticks. Here is the actual screenshot as captured in the video:


Thanks to the great work of the Android-x86 Open Source Project Android can be installed on x86 platforms such as this device:


and the performance as measured by Octane in Chrome is consistent with other OS:


What is interesting however is running AnTuTu and the scores achieved:


which is comparable with some very pricey alternatives:



As already stated the current release OpenElec does not support the GPU however there are alternatives. Kodi can be installed as an application within Ubuntu
or one of Peter Frühberger's development releases can be installed from http://fritsch.fruehberger.net/openelec/v17_videoplayer_testing/ which provide excellent quality:



Alternatively running Windows from a micro SD card allows the faster eMMC to be dedicated to a single OS such as Ubuntu without loosing the Windows OS entirely. Because the Windows 10 license key is now embedded in the BIOS and also because Microsoft allows the installation (or re-installation) of Windows 10 using a USB the creation of a bootable Windows microSD card is very simple. And if a fast enough microSD card is used then the performance is actually quite acceptable. Full details regarding the performance can be found here or watch this video demonstrating booting:


For additional information on running alternative OS on the STK2M3W64CC please see http://linuxiumcomau.blogspot.com.au. As an example of my current configuration this is the boot menu I get after power-on:

 

Conclusion

Since the first 'stick' mini PC the continuous improvement in performance has been astounding. Viewing performance metrics comparing Ubuntu running on the first Allwinner MK802+ against this latest Intel device graphically highlight the magnitude of this improvement:


It is with this latest evolution that the mini PC has come of age. But this 'Cedar City' Core m Intel Compute Stick (STK2M3W64CC) is not cheap. With an expected RRP of $399 it must deliver and it does. Highlights include: 
  • Excellent performance
  • Sound over HDMI works
  • It can boot from micro SD card
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64-bit bootloader and 64-bit Windows
  • Reliable wifi
  • Improved BIOS options
According to Intel (https://communities.intel.com/thread/93522) it has been released and will be available at leading resellers anytime soon. 

I highly recommend it.