Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) has been very clear about the fact that it is going all-in on "mini" computing. In fact, at the Intel Developer Forum in Shenzhen back in April, Intel hosted an entire technical session talking about "mini" computers ranging from Mini ITX designs all the way down to compute sticks.
The first of Intel's compute sticks launched earlier this year based on the company's Atom Z3735F tablet processor ("Bay Trail"). According to the AnandTech review of the device, there are three major issues with the device:
- The device has only 32GB of storage, much of which is eaten up by the operating system. This, per the review, is "just not enough."
- The compute stick uses a fan, which the review describes as "effective" with the caveat that the experience is "strained" if the user is sitting too close to the stick. The reviewer suggests a next-generation model move to passive, rather than active, cooling.
- The reviewer says the built-in Wi-Fi in the compute stick, a single-band 802.11n solution, "just doesn't cut it."
Thanks to a recent leak of Intel's Compute Stick roadmap, we're now able to get a glimpse into what Intel has planned for the future of the compute stick. Will Intel address the above shortcomings and potentially broaden the market for these products? Let's find out.
Examining the roadmap
Liliputing obtained a copy of an Intel road map showing the launch schedules and features of future Compute Stick products, shown below:
The current Bay Trail-based Compute Stick is codenamed Falls City, and per the roadmap above, it will be succeeded by a device known as Falls City 2. The new stick will have an updated Atom processor, codenamed Broxton, which should deliver meaningful performance enhancements in graphics as well as CPU power. The slide also mentions 4K display support, courtesy of the improved graphics/display subsystems in Broxton.
It'll also upgrade the onboard storage from 32GB in Falls City to 64GB in Falls City 2. The slide also mentions USB 3.0 support, which is an upgrade from the USB 2.0 that Falls City supports. Interestingly, the wireless stays at 802.11b/g/n instead of being upgraded to 802.11ac. Maybe Intel will include a dual stream b/g/n radio, though, which should improve performance.
Also notice that Intel plans to release a Compute Stick known as Cedar City. Unlike Falls City and Falls City 2, these will be based on Intel's Core M processor (likely Skylake Core M). It'll also come with 4GB of memory rather than 2GB, support 802.11ac Wi-Fi instead of 802.11n, and storage will be via serial ATA rather than the slower eMMC interface.
Intel's Compute Stick looks like it has a bright future
It looks to me that Intel has some very interesting products on its compute stick roadmap. Although the first-generation product seemingly had its fair share of shortcomings (as is par for the course when it comes to first-generation products), I think that over time, these could be very interesting small form factor computers.
Only time will tell what kind of demand there is for these Compute Sticks, but I'm glad to see Intel testing these "out of the box" computer concepts in a bid to grow the total addressable market in PCs.