Not so long ago, it was said with something like a lament that technology was constantly getting smaller. Computers were shrinking from the room-filling models of old to the desktop, the laptop, and now the tablet. Smartphones went from bricks to palm-size slips, and the concept just kept going from there. But with Intel (News - Alert)'s arrival at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES (News - Alert)), one thing became clear: the computer can fit into a very small space indeed, as illustrated by the Intel Compute Stick.
The Compute Stick is about the same size as a pack of gum, as some describe it, so figure maybe a footprint slightly larger than a USB thumb drive. But what's contained in that thumb drive isn't just files, but a complete operating PC system. It packs in your choice of Windows 8.1 or Linux operating systems, and the specs change somewhat accordingly, at last report. The Windows version packs in two gigabytes of RAM (News - Alert) and a full 32 gigabytes of Flash storage. But the Linux version—which has smaller dimensions—only offers a single gigabyte of RAM and just eight gigabytes of storage, though it includes a microSD card port, which makes up for that at least somewhat.
The device also boasts standard and micro USB ports, as well as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. It packs an HDMI 1.4a port, and is built around the Atom Z3735F Bay Trail processor; though word is future versions will step up to the Broadwell Core M processor. No word on just when that will take place, though, but it's likely to as future versions emerge.
The clear winner here, though, is users' wallets. The Windows 8.1 version of the Compute Stick will sell at just $149, while the Linux version will go for $89, and both versions should be in stores by spring.
The value here, meanwhile, is surprisingly clear and varied. With so much of entertainment going to the Web these days—services like Netflix and Hulu (News - Alert), of course, but also YouTube and the like—a home theater PC is no longer merely the province of geekdom, but rather a reasonable expense for most anyone interested in ditching cable for good. Given the recent affair between Fox and Dish Network, there might be more folks than ever interested in dumping cable altogether for much less expensive alternatives. A home theater PC can be a huge step on that front, and something like the Compute Stick might have sufficient juice to handle streaming video in a fashion that users can get used to. Throw in the fact that a television often makes a spectacular computer monitor—I actually have a desktop hooked to my living room television, so I know here from experiences—and that's a little more reason to consider a Compute Stick. Users who already have a Raspberry Pi system, meanwhile, will have even more use on hand here.
While it will be a few months before these start selling, and we get a better handle on just how much interest there is, the early word suggests there should be enough to go around. The PC community has been known to enjoy an experiment or two, and such a device might prompt some new classes of experimentation. Intel may have a winner on its hands here, especially if it can bring out a little good marketing to make clear just how such a device could be used.