What is a PC stick?

Well, it’s this. It’s a device just a little larger than your average streaming stick that’s actually a full-featured PC. It’s barely big enough for a couple of USB ports, a power connector and an HDMI port. Connect it to a TV or monitor, connect a wired mouse and keyboard long enough to pair a Bluetooth one (or use a wireless keyboard and mouse that doesn’t need pairing) and bingo, instant PC.

What you see in the picture above is the very first PC stick, known as the Intel Compute Stick. Like any new segment at launch time, it’s not terribly good; the reviews say that it’s slow and laggy and really has all the same performance as a 2007-era netbook (which it essentially is.) It’s really a good first attempt but it’s not much more than that. On the other hand, as someone who until recently carried a 2007-era netbook around with me, I can say that it strikes me as pretty cool.

Don’t think this is going to be the last PC stick you see, however; the segment is just too hot to quit. We’ve seen office PCs shrink over the last 25 years from being these massive towers to the current crop which aren’t much bigger than paperback books. This is the next evolution of the office PC, something that turns a monitor into a computer. It’s just going to take a few more tries to turn it into something you really want. Who knows, maybe Apple will take up the gauntlet and we’ll see a Mac mini that’s, really, well, mini.

When you think about it, this level of miniaturization shouldn’t come as a surprise. Looking at the average Windows-powered tablet, it’s about 2/3 battery and display and all you’re really doing is getting rid of those two things and cleverly repackaging what’s left. I’m willing to bet that if you were willing to go to USB 3.1 (with its much smaller connector) you could get the size down even more and you could have a full-featured PC with just enough storage to keep you going, and it wouldn’t be any bigger than your average flash drive.

Of course this trend in mini-PCs flies in the face of the other trend in offices, which is not only ever-larger monitors but multiple ones. You may have already been using multiple monitors for a few years, but chances are if you’ve gotten new ones on your desk they’re 23 or 24 inch models, replacing 17 or 19 inch ones. Oh, how I remember the day I got my first flat monitor back in about 2000; 14″ of flat, beige-bezeled glory. Today I know very few people who would dare try getting through the day without at least a single 20″ monitor, and you know there’s someone out there with a 55″ 4K monitor sitting on his desk.

As PC sticks move from curiosity to commodity, we’ll see them in offices, banks, and really everywhere. It’s tempting to get one for the TV just so I can watch more types of streaming media than I can now, but if the reviews are to be believed, it’s probably best to wait a year or so before I go there. I can’t wait.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 9,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.