Now, you can carry a full-function Windows PC on a USB-like stick
By Anand Parthasarathy
Bangalore, July 20, 2015: Was it only a fortnight ago that we were hailing, in this space, a DIY PC that fitted in the palm of your hand? Consider that history. Say hello to the Compute Stick -- a full-function PC, pre-installed with Windows 8.1, fuelled by a Quad-Core Intel Atom processor, with 32 GB of storage and 2 GB of memory -- only a bit larger than a Flash storage dongle.
Only, the connector is not USB -- you need to stick it into the HDMI or MHL of your TV or any computer display. There is a USB port which you can use to connect your own keyboard and mouse ( you will need a USB hub), or alternately, or to a Bluetooth receiver that mates with wireless keyboard and mouse. The stick needs a power source so there is another connection to make to an AC power socket.
This is a Windows PC ( which, come July 29, you can upgrade for free, to Windows 10) so it takes a good half hour to get started. But once you have undergone the Microsoft agni pareeksha of Windows updates and the mandatory email account sign in, your monitor is a Windows PC and your TV has gotten 'smart'. It comes with WiFI antenna so you can latch on to your home or office Internet hotspot to go online. The stick supports full HD -- you can play HD movies ( there is a microSD card slot to carry them) or stream them from YouTube. It costs Rs 9999 at FlipKart.
Intel's basic reference design has been tweaked by other makers so you have a small choice today between the Intel-branded Compute Stick and a few others: The Panache Air PC sells at Infibeam for around the same price but with 16GB and 32 GB options with a Logitech wireless keyboard-mouse combo bundled for an extra Rs 1292. Another option is the iBall Splendo for Rs 8999.
Globally, Lenovo has launched the IdeaCenter Stick 300 with similar specs for $129.
There are small differences in the software loads accounting for minor price differences. Intel has also launched a cheaper version loaded with Open Source Ubuntu 4.04 -- but that is not yet offered in India. Such differences aside, PC-on-a-stick is 2015's first big innovation in personal computing. Recalling Oliver Goldsmith's Village Schoolmaster, we can only wonder how one small stick could carry all it knew.
Stick PC variants
The Compute Stick is not exactly the first pocket-sized PC. Last year saw two variants for different use cases:
Flash memory leader, Kingston has added the' Windows To Go' version of Win 8 to its Flash storage sticks of 32, 64 and 128 GB to create the Kingston Data Traveler Workspace. You can plug this USB 3.0 drive into any public or hotel PC and it will boot up with your own Windows version -- and your Office suite if you have stored it on your stick. This lets you work in your home environment where ever you go -- and it stores all your work on the Workspace drive and not on the host machine. It costs Rs 5800, Rs 9000 or Rs 15,000 depending on the on-board storage.
Pocket Android PC
With corporate users in mind, the Dell Wyse Cloud Connect is an Android-based USB-stick computer, which can be connected to any TV, display -- even your phone -- to take you to your secure office work space. It can also work with virtual PC software like Citrix or VMWare, providing all the native security while you are on the move. It costs Rs 10,000 in India.