The last thing you want to do is unplug your PC and all accessories to transport it to another room every time you want to use it on the big screen. The same goes for a laptop, which may need to be extracted from a bag, plugged in and then configured. The beauty of PC sticks is that you simply plug them into a TV, set them up and they're ready to go whenever you want to deploy Windows in the living room.
PC sticks themselves come in similar shapes and sizes, and they can be purchased from various manufacturers. They are essentially ultra-portable PC dongles that have the components to power a full version of Windows. Connecting a device that is the same size as a mobile internet dongle to the TV will unleash a full release of Microsoft's OS, though you won't be playing any intensive games, such as Grand Theft Auto V, at maximum settings (or any kind of settings for that matter).
But these devices aren't designed to handle powerful "AAA" games or software such as video editing suites. They're built for light tasks, including video streaming, web browsing, and some gaming. All you need is an open HDMI connector port, and you're good to go. If it's only to keep in touch with others or to draft a few emails and check next week's calendar, there's really no need to fetch the laptop.
PC sticks are super-portable devices that make even your Windows-powered tablet seem bulky. They're super small and can be easily transported around in a pocket. Heading out to visit family and need to take some form of media with you? Take the PC stick, plug it into their TV and connect to streaming services.
They're also excellent companions for people who travel frequently and require a small gadget to store and play media on larger displays without issue — no need to flick through hundreds of channels in the hotel room. Throw in a 128GB storage card, and you have ample amounts of space to fill up with personal stuff.
PC sticks can also be used to check email, communicate with folks on various platforms and interact with others on social media. Tasks that don't require a lot of processing power are handled in style by the compact PCs. Whether you need to keep in touch with friends and family or draft a few emails and check next week's schedule, there's really no need to fetch a laptop.
Forget smart TVs, because they're not actually that intelligent. Insert a PC stick into a free HDMI port and now you have a full install of Windows on the big screen. Connect a wireless keyboard and mouse combo and relax on the sofa. The best part about running Windows is that you have access to all web services and won't be locked into a closed ecosystem, like people who use a Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV.
PC sticks let you stream all your media, connect to various Windows-friendly services, and even hook up your NAS.
Need to make a quick edit or two to a document but happen to be comfortable on the hotel bed or the living room sofa? No problem, at least if you have a PC stick connected to the TV. Just hook up to an available Wi-Fi network, and you'll be able to log into cloud storage platforms to open any stored documents and make all required changes without making a move. This all also works for online projects and collaborative efforts.
Since we're talking about a full version of Windows for PC sticks, they can run all kinds of software that won't work on competitor platforms or smart TVs. Have a piece of software that requires Windows to run? No problem, as long as it doesn't require any more computing power than a quad-core Intel Atom can offer. It also makes the PC stick incredibly diverse.
As internals advance with age and new technologies are released, we should hopefully see an increase in power for the PC stick, which will result in more use cases for these compact dongles.
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Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.