Intel announces refreshed Compute Stick models at CES 2016

The economy may be better for some, but for many, it is still bad, leading to downsized homes or moving in with relatives.

Of course, this means smaller work spaces; the idea of having a dedicated computer room with large desk and PC is slowly disappearing. While consumers' bank accounts continue to shrink, luckily, so too do computers.

The Intel Compute Stick, for instance, takes up very little space, while historically being affordable too. Unfortunately, even though the tiny stick could run full Windows, it was a bit under-powered. Today, however, this changes. The Compute Stick receives a Skylake Core M processor refresh, making it a much more powerful - and expensive - affair. For more conservative budgets, however, Intel announces an upgraded Atom model too.

"Building on the success of the Intel Compute Stick introduced last year, at CES 2016 Intel unveiled new Compute Sticks based on 6th Gen Intel Core M and the latest quad-core Intel Atom processors. A tiny device about the size of a pack of gum, the Intel Compute Stick can transform any HDMI TV or display into a complete computer and improves upon the first generation in processing and graphics performance, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and additional USB ports. Both devices will be available in Q1 2016," says Intel.

Pricing and configurations for the Core M model is a bit odd (and pricey). Regardless of processor, you get 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM. If you want the Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor, it will come with Windows 10 pre-installed for $399. The more powerful Core m5-6Y57 vPro option is $499, but comes with no operating system! While the more powerful chip is certainly worth the extra money, it is very disappointing to see the Windows license stripped. You can always buy a Windows license or install a free Linux-based OS, of course.

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For wireless connectivity, the Core M models have Intel Dual Band Wireless AC 7265 and Bluetooth 4.1. These Compute Sticks even get three USB ports, making them very capable -- keyboard, mouse, and USB storage drive make this a very attractive desktop replacement.

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Obviously, the starting price of $399 makes the Core M variants too expensive for many -- especially for those looking to leverage it as a secondary PC. Don't worry, the Atom x5-Z8300 quad-core processor model is only $159, and yes, it comes with Windows 10. While less powerful than Skylake Core M processors, this newer Atom chip is quite capable.

Unfortunately, both the RAM and storage are halved compared to the more expensive models, as 32GB and 2GB, respectively. It also loses a USB port. It has the AC 7265 Wi-Fi, but strangely, Bluetooth 4.0 rather than 4.1.

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While I appreciate Intel creating more powerful Compute Stick models (surely there was demand), the prices make them a hard sell. Heck, you can get a decent laptop for $399, and it comes with a display.

I expect the Atom processor variant to be more popular with consumers, while the Core M models will attract businesses and tinkerers with very specific powerful small computing needs.