Set-top boxes and streaming sticks are decent, cost-effective ways to turn the TV you already have into a "smart TV," but Intel has an intriguing new option for those of you who want something a little more versatile. The Intel Compute Stick is a full Bay Trail PC complete with a USB port, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and a micro SD expansion slot, and you'll be able to get them with both Windows 8.1 and Linux.

We got a chance to see and hold the stick at CES this week. It's just a bit bigger and bulkier than simple sticks like the Chromecast or the Fire TV stick, but they're all basically comparable in size. The stick is big enough to block one or more neighboring HDMI ports depending on how your TV or monitor is laid out, but Intel says it will bundle a short extension cable you can use to keep this from happening.

The stick has a number of potential applications—in a business, you could hook it up to any HDMI monitor and create a makeshift all-in-one PC or hook it up to a TV for use as a digital signage kiosk. At home, plugging it into your TV would give you something less than a full HTPC, but something much more capable than a basic streaming stick or even most streaming set-top boxes. The biggest problem for now is that the stick cannot be powered over HDMI—you'll need a powered USB port or a USB power adapter if you want to be able to turn the thing on.

The micro USB port used for power, the small power button, and a full-size USB port for use with peripherals or hubs are lined up on the left side of the stick, while a microSD card slot for expansion is on the right side. It will come in two different flavors: a Windows 8.1 version with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage for $149, and a Linux version with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage for around $89. Intel says that Ubuntu will probably be the distribution of choice for the Linux version, though installing an alternate distribution should be just as easy as it is on a regular PC.

Both sticks come with a quad-core Bay Trail Atom Z3735F, Bluetooth 4.0, and 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi. They should be available in March.

Source: Ars Technica - Read the full article here


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