Ever since Intel first released the Compute Stick, we’ve seen a rush of tiny PCs built into HDMI dongles. Some take advantage of the free-to-manufacturers Windows with Bing offering, while others use more traditional operating systems such as Android and Linux. While a number of stick PCs use Intel’s reference design and specs, there are also unique options from third-party manufacturers, and the good news is there’s room for all under the stick PC tent. Here are our picks for the best stick PCs on the market.
Intel Compute Stick
Why you should buy this: You need a good, all-around stick PC.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants to turn their TV into a PC.
What will it cost: $123
Why we picked the Intel Compute Stick:
Intel launched the first iteration of the Compute Stick back in March 2015, and ever since, a number of other stick PCs have picked up on the Intel’s standard specs and carried them. The most recent version of the Compute Stick is powered by an Intel Atom Z8300 processor, 4GB of RAM, with 32 or 64GB of eMMC storage, and a MicroSD slot if you need a bit more space. As for connectivity, it attaches to a TV or monitor via HDMI, is powered over Type-C, with one USB 3.0 Type-A port on the unit itself, and two more on the power adapter.
The Intel Compute stick comes in a few other flavors as well, including a top-end version kitted out with an Intel Core M processor, so you can actually get a stick PC that might be a little faster than your laptop. That model will run you $485, though, but for all that horsepower it could be worth the cost.
The best under $100
Why you should buy it: You need a low-cost stick PC
Who it’s for: Students, families looking for an ultra-affordable PC
What will it cost: $85
Why we picked the Asus Chromebit:
If you’ve used Chrome OS recently, you know it has become a robust and utilitarian operating system with a large variety of uses. The Asus Chromebit puts all of the functionality of the OS into a small dongle that plugs right into your HDMI port for less than $100. The Chromebit is powered by a RockChip RK328, an increasingly popular quad-core chip, and connectivity is bolstered by Wi-Fi, built-in Bluetooth, and a USB port. Chrome OS makes for an excellent portable computing solution, the cloud-based nature of which can’t be rivaled.
The best for real PC use
Why you should buy it: You need a lightweight but capable PC alternative
Who it’s for: Anyone who needs a powerful PC they can take anywhere.
What it will cost: $170
Why we picked the Kangaroo Mobile Desktop Plus:
Even though it’s not technically a stick PC — it’s more of a rectangle — the Kangaroo’s tiny form factor renders it perfectly suitable for many of the same uses as the other systems on our list. This is the one you’ll want if you’re looking for a small, portable desktop that can handle everyday work and play.
While the specs under the hood are fairly standard — it houses an Atom Z8500 CPU — there are two configurations with a respectable amount of RAM and storage. The Plus model features 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of on-board storage space, while the Pro model features 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage space, and comes with a stationary dock which increases the number of ports available. The Pro Dock features three additional USB ports, and an Ethernet port.
The Pro dock also features a hard drive bay, making it an excellent choice if you need a stick PC capable of competing with a typical PC. Though it won’t hold a candle to our best laptops, you’ll still be able to get some serious work done.
The best for streaming
Azulle Quantum Access LAN PC Stick
Why you should buy this: You want a streaming device more versatile than an Apple TV or Roku.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants to kick back and stream straight from their TV.
How much will it cost: $100
Why we picked the Azulle Quantum Access LAN PC Stick:
The Azulle is a take on the original Intel Compute Stick, and has most of the same hardware, right down to the Intel Z3735F quad-core processor. However, unlike the Compute Stick, this particular model of the Quantum Access has an Ethernet port. That’s a handy extra, particularly if you’d like to use your stick to set up a Plex server.
That Ethernet port also makes media streaming from services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Now a lot more reliable — a quicker connection means a lot less buffering. Also, unlike a lot of other Compute Stick variants, this particular model ships with Windows 10. It’s free to upgrade from 8.1 anyway, but it’s nice to have that taken care of beforehand.
Updated 7/11/17: updated all products to reflect current prices.