Best PC stick: carry Windows in your pocket

A roundup of extremely compact computers which you can take anywhere

What's a stick PC? They're the latest fad in computing started by Intel – dirt cheap mini PCs that are the size of a thumb drive and that plug into an HDMI port on your TV.

You interact with them using a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard set (though you will need a normal USB mouse for setting them up). Why lug around a big laptop when you can just bring the keyboard and mouse and use any monitor?

Despite their size, they've got solid low-spec hardware in them. All of the current stick PCs on the market use Intel's Atom processor – a crazy low-power, low-clocked chip. They also make a lot more sense than a streaming device like a Chromecast or Kindle Fire – because they can perform that role and act as a normal computer.

What they can't do is run games or any advanced processing – current efforts can manage to run a single HD display and that's it.

There aren't that many of them around at the moment, but we'll update this list as more are released – and there are plenty on the way…

1. Intel Compute Stick

A cheaper mobile computer with a bit less power

CPU: Intel Atom Z3735F | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 32GB eMMC, Micro SDXC | OS: Windows 8.1 / Ubuntu | Connectivity: 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, 1 x USB 2.0 slot, Bluetoooth 4.0, HDMI out | Dimensions: 103 x 38 x 13mm

Good value
Can tweak BIOS
Fan isn't ideal
Weak performance

This is very much a first-generation product, sitting between the consumer and business markets. It's one of the smallest x86 computers around and a few accessories (battery, keyboard, USB splitter) turn it into a fully-fledged on-the-move office. It's relatively expensive because it has Windows bundled with it (which can be upgraded to Windows 10), but there is also a cheaper, much lower-spec Linux version available.

The Compute Stick suffers from lots of problems though. The active fan rather than passive cooling isn't ideal for noise or power consumption and it also needs a separate power connection from the wall. Windows Bluetooth is often buggy, so a wireless keyboard and mouse via a USB dongle might be better.

It's worth remembering these problems, because they largely apply to all the Compute Stick copies that are on the market – several of which appear in this article.

2. Hanspree Micro

Much like Intel's effort, but quieter with passive cooling

CPU: Intel Atom Z3735F | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 32GB eMMC | OS: Insyde 8MB UEFI / Windows 8.1/10 | Connectivity: 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, 1 USB 2.0 slot, 1 Micro USB, Bluetooth 4.0, HDMI out | Dimensions: 110 x 38 x 10mm

Standard spec
Passive cooling
Relatively expensive
Completely undistinguished

The Hanspree Micro is almost identical to the Intel Compute Stick – same processor, same graphics, same memory, same eMMC drive, and it's almost the same size. The biggest difference is that it's passively cooled, meaning it's totally silent in operation.

The same issues cropped up as with the Intel Stick too, and we have difficulty recommending either of them. In fact, we'd recommend an entry-level Windows tablet like the HP Stream 7 instead, as it's cheaper – or even the attractive HP Stream Mini desktop.

3. Modecom FreePC

A truly tiny PC, but also with minuscule storage

CPU: Intel Atom Z3735F | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 16GB eMMC | OS: Insyde 8MB UEFI / Windows 8.1/10 | Connectivity: 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, 1 x Mini USB 2, 2 x Micro USB, MicroSD reader, Bluetooth 4.0, HDMI out | Dimensions: 99 x 38 x 10mm

Extra Micro USB port
Smaller chassis
Tiny eMMC drive
Confusion over ports

We've not got our hands on the slightly smaller Modecom FreePC yet, but we can see from the specs that it's different in two ways from the Intel Compute Stick template. Firstly, it has a smaller built-in memory store – just 16GB of eMMC, which is pretty terrible considering the Compute Stick had very little of its 32GB left after the OS installation.

Secondly, it's sacrificed the single USB port for a Mini USB port and Micro USB ports – though the pictures seem to show a normal USB port.

4. Lenovo IdeaCentre Stick 300

Great peripheral bundle on offer, but a chunky stick

CPU: Intel Atom Z3735F | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 32GB eMMC, Micro SDXC | OS: Windows 8.1 | Connectivity: 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, 1 x USB 2, Bluetooth 4.0, HDMI out | Dimensions: 100 x 38 x 15mm

Standard specs
Wireless keyboard and mouse bundle
No HDMI extender
Wide form factor can block other ports

The IdeaCentre again sports exactly the same specifications as the Compute Stick. The biggest thing missing from the package we had was an HDMI extender, as otherwise the form factor is wide enough to block any neighbouring ports. The biggest bonus is that for an extra £30 you can pick up a wireless keyboard and mouse supplied by Lenovo.

5. Archos PC Stick

Competitively priced and Windows 10 is already on board

CPU: Intel Atom Z3735F | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 32GB eMMC, MicroSD | OS: Windows 10 | Connectivity: 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, 1 x USB 2, Bluetooth 4.0, HDMI out | Dimensions: 113 x 37 x 14mm

Windows 10 preinstalled
Cheap
A tad bigger than Intel's Compute Stick
Not out yet!

Again, this effort has the same specs as Intel's Compute Stick but in a much nicer looking case, and for a 20% lower price. At least this one comes with Window 10 installed – we've heard reports of problems upgrading from Windows 8.1 on a form factor this tiny, so it's reassuring to have it already in place. That said, we haven't seen this one on sale yet – we're currently chasing Archos for a date.

6. Asus Chromebit

Runs the streamlined Chrome OS, but not much storage

CPU: Rockchip 3288 | Graphics: ARM Mali 760 | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 16GB | OS: Chrome OS (Linux) | Connectivity: 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi, 1 x USB 2, Bluetooth 4.0, HDMI out | Dimensions: Cigar-sized

Chrome OS
Swivelling HDMI port
Small storage
Not out yet!

This is Google's answer to the Compute Stick. Given that it's running Chrome OS, it's got a big boost over any stick running Windows as Chrome is designed to operate with a tiny amount of memory, using cloud storage and an internet connection for software functionality. It was supposed to come out this month, but we haven't heard anything about it recently – nor about the Asus VivoStick PC, which is the firm's Windows 10 Compute Stick offering.

7. iView Cyber PC Compute Stick

A fanless PC dongle with a novel touchpad controller

CPU: Intel Atom Z3735F | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 32GB eMMC, MicroSD | OS: Windows 8.1 / Ubuntu | Connectivity: 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, 1 x USB 2, Bluetooth 4.0, 2 x Micro USB, HDMI out | Dimensions: 103 x 37 x 12mm

Unique 7-inch touchpad controller
Fanless design
Standard specs
Uninspired casing

The iView has the same specs as the rest of the Intel Compute Stick-alikes, but comes bundled with the Rii Mini Wireless Touchpad, which manages to cram a huge amount of tech into one very small device. The Touchpad, sadly, has a very short range, but does have the bonus of working with almost every other device you own, from the Raspberry Pi to Xbox 360.