Updated November 12, 2019 by Christopher Thomas

The 6 Best Mini PC Sticks

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This wiki has been updated 27 times since it was first published in December of 2015. Just when you thought computers couldn't get much smaller, along come these mini PC sticks. Not much bigger than a thumb drive, these tiny devices let you take your processing power anywhere in your pocket, then plug them into any TV or monitor to run resource-friendly applications, stream media, surf the Web, and more. You'll finally be free of lugging around a laptop everywhere you go. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best mini pc stick on Amazon.

6. Intel Compute Stick CS525

5. Intel Compute Stick CS325

4. Azulle Access Plus

3. SmallRT W5

2. Asus ChromeBit CS10

1. Awow Mele NV41S

Editor's Notes

November 08, 2019:

PC sticks are a relatively niche item, mostly because they're just so limited as far as power goes. Keep in mind exactly what these are good for; they aren't designed for resource-heavy applications, but rather light tasks only. To that end, the Asus ChromeBit CS10 is an excellent choice because Chrome OS is specifically designed to not tax lightweight hardware. And because it has access to a huge library of apps, it can be a surprisingly useful tool.

Nonetheless, there are some Windows-based options that are quite functional, the Awow Mele NV41S being at the top of that list right now. Its Gemini Lake CPU is capable of decoding 4K data, which most others cannot do. And despite that power, it still costs less than most other Windows laptops. The Azulle Access Plus is almost as powerful but doesn't support Ultra HD video at 60 hertz. Meanwhile, the SmallRT W5 is about as inexpensive an option as you can really get by with. It might be frustrating for those used to powerful desktop PCs, but it will work.

Then there are two from the chipmaker itself. The Intel Compute Stick CS325 and Intel Compute Stick CS525 are both about as strong as some low-end laptops, which means they can run more programs and do it more effectively, but it also means they get relatively warm and cost quite a bit more. For that matter, the CS525 doesn't actually come with Windows installed, so that adds even more to the cost.

If these PC Sticks just don't cut it for you, you could move up to a box-style mini PC. And if your purpose in looking at these is to acquire a lightweight and inexpensive streaming device, it's worth checking out the various similarly sized streaming sticks that are also available.

How Mini PC Sticks Are So Small

First the standard ATX was reduced to the Micro ATX, which was then followed by further size reductions to the Mini ITX, Nano ITX, and finally the Pico ITX.

Looking at a small, seemingly unimpressive PC stick, one might be fooled into thinking it is just another thumb drive, but they are so much more. Manufacturers are now able to pack fully functioning PCs into a case the size of a standard USB storage drive. This is possible because of a number of factors.

Moore's Law, which was formulated by co-founder of Intel Gordon E. Moore in 1965, essentially states that "the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years." This means that every two years, it is possible to reduce the size of hardware like microchips and microprocessors by 50%. Since his findings in 1965, this has proven to be accurate.

Looking at some vital components of a PC, we can see this process in action. The motherboard was the first source of major innovation that led to a reduction in size of computers. Between 2000 and 2007, VIA Technologies, a hardware manufacturer, made notable breakthroughs in miniaturizing motherboards. First the standard ATX was reduced to the Micro ATX, which was then followed by further size reductions to the Mini ITX, Nano ITX, and finally the Pico ITX.

At the same time motherboards were being miniaturized, manufacturers were also focusing on integrated peripherals. These are PC components that were previously add-ons, but were now being integrated directly into the motherboard. Components like modems, Ethernet ports, audio output, and Bluetooth no longer required separate devices to be included within the computer case. Everything was handled by the motherboard.

Combining CPUs and GPUs into a single chip is another factor that has helped manufacturers miniaturize PCs. A new chip known as the APU is able to perform the tasks of both a CPU and a GPU, while using less power. For the average computer user's demands, an external graphics card is no longer needed.

The exclusion of optical media drives in most computers has also allowed for additional size reduction. CDs and DVDs are no longer commonly used as a means to transfer and store data. Instead there are a number of more efficient alternatives, like USB drives and cloud storage.

Making The Most Of A Mini PC Stick

As nice as it sounds to replace a full-sized desktop with a mini PC stick, the technology might not be ready just yet for most of us. For those who don't demand much more from their PCs than web browsing, media streaming, and running some light programs like Skype, a mini PC stick may actually be the perfect desktop alternative.

With these trusty devices in hand, any hotel TV becomes an impromptu workstation.

Streaming media from a mini PC stick is easy and convenient. They are smaller and more portable than the average media streaming device, plus many come with a full windows 10 operating system. They are also easy to use and don't require one to carry around extra cables to connect them to a big screen TV. Just plug the PC stick directly into any TV's HDMI port and start streaming movies. Most also have a microSD card slot allowing users to watch stored movies or view pictures.

For frequent travelers, mini PC sticks are a dream come true. Instead of carrying a laptop on trips, one can just bring a PC stick, a foldable keyboard, and a mouse. With these trusty devices in hand, any hotel TV becomes an impromptu workstation. Users can work on Word documents or PowerPoint presentations without the hassle of lugging around a laptop. Since mini PC sticks have Wi-Fi, users will also have access to any of their cloud storage services like Dropbox and OneDrive.

Choosing The Right Mini PC Stick

When it comes time to pick a mini PC stick, one of the foremost considerations should be the operating system. Often picking the right operating system will dictate how user friendly the device is, thereby dictating how often you will use it.

Anything less and you may run into problems when trying anything more than media viewing.

As nice as mobile operating systems like Android and iOS are on smartphones, they are ideally suited to touchscreen applications. This is no surprise when one considers they were first developed for use in smartphones. Because of this, most users will find mini PC sticks with a desktop-based operating system like Windows or Linux the most user friendly. Another option is to choose a PC stick that offers both a mobile and desktop operating system.

Storage space can also make a big difference in a PC stick's usability. Ideally one should look for one that has a minimum of 32GB onboard storage, and a microSD card slot. This gives you enough space to install a programs that you want to be able to use, while still leaving some space leftover for important files like pictures and documents. The microSD card slot allows you to add a lot of additional storage space by inserting a 128GB microSD card. This effectively gives a PC stick 160GB of storage space.

If you want your PC stick to be able to accomplish some light computing like running Microsoft word, Skype, media players, and browsing websites without lagging as you scroll, then a model with 2GB of RAM should be chosen. Anything less and you may run into problems when trying anything more than media viewing.

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Christopher Thomas
Last updated on November 12, 2019 by Christopher Thomas

Building PCs, remodeling, and cooking since he was young, quasi-renowned trumpeter Christopher Thomas traveled the USA performing at and organizing shows from an early age. His work experiences led him to open a catering company, eventually becoming a sous chef in several fine LA restaurants. He enjoys all sorts of barely necessary gadgets, specialty computing, cutting-edge video games, and modern social policy. He has given talks on debunking pseudoscience, the Dunning-Kruger effect, culinary technique, and traveling. After two decades of product and market research, Chris has a keen sense of what people want to know and how to explain it clearly. He delights in parsing complex subjects for anyone who will listen -- because teaching is the best way to ensure that you understand things yourself.

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