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An introduction to PC sticks (and why you should buy one)

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.

Best PC Compute Sticks

Portable companion

Hanspree PC Stick

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.

Remain connected

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.

Media hub

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.

Ideacentre

Opening Windows

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.

Must-have accessories for your PC stick

Custom experiences

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.

7 reasons you want a PC stick

Rich Edmonds
Rich Edmonds

Rich Edmonds is 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 over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

17 Comments
  • Has anyone streamed their Xbox to a second TV with a PC stick? Results?
  • I would imagine pretty dire. Streaming over WiFi is pretty touchy at the best of times, unless you get a USB Ethernet adapter...
  • I don't stream my Xbox, but streaming from my gaming PC to one of these stickPC works great using steams in-home streaming service.
  • I've only streamed directly to my SP3 and to my desktop PC. It works fantastically well - I even played Halo 5 as a test, and only had some framerate drops during high intensity scenes. It obviously works better for more sedate games... I completed Valiant Hearts & The Cave this way. I don't own a PC stick though.
  • Yes, only over my relatively uncongested 5 GHz network. Xbox is wired to the router, and the results are very good with the Xbox app set to stream at "medium". Setting the stream quality higher occasionally results in framerate loss or artifacting, but works nearly flawlessly at "medium".
  • So instead of carrying a laptop or tablet around, I'm going to carry a PC stick, keyboard and mouse? I know in some situations the PC stick is a good choice, but the tablet beats it in portability in most cases in my opinion. 
  • the stick itself is good for 1 thing: it can change a "stupid" TV to a"smart tv". You can watch youtube with it, read emails and browse the net but nothing else because the Atom CPU is not designed for more demanding tasks. Sometimes even Facebook freezes for seconds because the CPU is too weak to display every post/picture/video at once tablet or a laptop is always a better choice for serious tasks and this wont change in near future
  • I imagine Plex would work well, as all of the heavy lifting is done by the server
  • The pc stick, if I'm not mistaken requires a usb power cinnector to work. Simply plugging it into the video port of your tv will not guarantee it works. It depends I guess if the power port and plug support power throughput to the stick. So it requires a bit more work and (unfortunately) more cables to get it to fit and work.
  • I don't have one, so maybe I'm wrong on this, but I don't think any additional cables are needed. I think it pulls power from the HDMI port, just like it could from a USB port.
  • It depends on the model. E.g. Intel compute stick needs USB power. You can use a USB charger, if no ports are available
  • could you go a little more in depth on the media/streaming benefits.  Like Microsoft Edge supports Netflix in 4K and MLB.TV allows you to strem 4 games at once.  Stuff like that for other services would be nice to know.  Also how the PC stick compares to Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Smart TV's, Roku TV's, Chromecast and live OTA TV. Thanks   
  • This is what I use my Alcatel Idol 4s for when traveling. I take my display dock with me and every hotel TV turns into a multimedia player and web browser.
  • I have an SP3 and a Windows phone. I can connect either one to my TV and do all that.
  • Awesome, i can take my 15 lbs PC and move it to another a t.v too!  i dont need this stick!
  • Wonder how kodi works on this instead of the slow android box i have
  • Personally I don't see a PC stick as anymore portable than a laptop or tablet, I still need to carry a keyboard and mouse with me. I've thought about connecting one to my TV, but I have a PC in my living room anyway and can just as easily mirror the PC screen to the TV, or use an HDMI cable.