Thursday, June 30, 2016

Intel Compute Stick and Ubuntu review - the new wave in computing systems? 

My brother recently sent over an Intel Compute Stick - model STK1A32SC as a birthday gift.

Of course this is somewhat a geek toy, especially the bare stick without the OS installed.

You will need a bootable USB flash drive with the Ubuntu image installed - and the Atom CPU version. Full instructions and download are here. ARMed (geek joke) with this - you are ready to install and enjoy Ubuntu 64bit on this system. I installed a 128Gb MicroSD card into the Compute Stick also. Along with plugging in an old USB keyboard to do the initial install. Then once Ubuntu was running, I plugged in a Logitech USB with wireless keyboard and mouse. 

Everything then works wonderfully, LibreOffice 5, Skype, NetFlix (install Chrome browser) and YouTube along with Pandora. Plus Microsoft Office365 and Outlook works perfectly in FireFox. Along with my own Java based Eclipsed XML editor project (http://www.cameditor.org) Ubuntu 64bit distribution.

For Skype I setup the Logitech C320 Web Cam. There's Ubuntu community help for this, it is a little fiddly to get Skype using the microphone and video but it does and the quality to amazing (apt-get install pavucontrol and use that resolve).  One caveat, the WiFi adapter is not the most powerful (although Intel improved this), so you do need a strong WiFi signal near by at home or office (it did work perfectly with my Sony Xperia phone running as a HotSpot with T-Mobile however).  Also I bought a 3 foot HDMI cable so signal is not blocked by the Stick sitting behind the screen display.

Next I used the Bluetooth to connect to my Sony DR-BT50 high fidelity headphones and played Pandora - this is like having satellite XM radio for free.

I'm using a Vizio HD 19" display with HDMI port to round out the system.

Here is what the Compute Stick looks like (with mouse for size comparison), with the HDMI short cord plugged into the TV monitor. From left to right on the Compute Stick edge are USB3 with Web cam, the USB2 with Logitech micro USB wireless keyboard/mouse dome and then the micro USB power cord plug.

And then below is the complete system, with the monitor display, full size keyboard, Web cam and Bluetooth headphones. And best of all I had all these items already, so nothing to purchase.
When you look at this you realize that a system like this would have cost double a few years ago. The processing power in the quad core Atom CPU combined with the 2Gb of main memory is impressive. The boot up speed from the MicroSD card is a few seconds and the shutdown is instantaneous. 
I am writing this blog now on the system and this has now replaced my old Dell E6410 laptop as my main daily solution and so far the performance is very comparable for daily tasks.  I am adding a USB3 1TB external drive next, so I can synchronize my work Home folders, and also have movies to play, and my whole archive of work materials.

The portability is impressive. Compared to lugging around the laptop. What I like though is that this is a componentized computing solution.

When Intel come out with the next Compute Stick I can simply install the latest Ubuntu OS and plug that system into the same set of peripherals and roll forward.  Or if one component fails, I simply replace that.

The folks at Intel need to do more marketing around this flexibility and power that they are enabling. Here is the system monitor showing the analytics when running FireFox browser with multiple sites open, include OutLook365, along with using the OxygenXML development IDE, a Java application, along with an open spreadsheet in Libre Office 5.

Business is also paying attention; at work they realize this is a serious option compared to giving new employees laptops. And even more so for travelling and flying around.  Just plug into the business center display or room TV at the hotel, or to present to a client, their A/V system HDMI port. Then secretarial staff, e.g. in hospitals and nursing homes, this is a cheap and effective option compared to desktop computers, or even for patients rooms, the ability to stream NetFlix, Pandora and TV and Radio stations. 

Plus of course for remote monitoring device systems, where you can use Ubuntu to connect to devices around the home or facility. 

All around this is superb functionality; like having a Raspberry Pi on steroids.


The USB ports are slightly wider, probably a design decision by Intel to avoid stress on the connectors on the board inside the Stick. This does make the connections looser than desirable so to solve this I install a shim snipped off the edge of a store keyring customer loyalty card as it is the right thickness. With this in the USB connection for the USB hub is tight and solid, I just leave the hub connected permanently.

Here is what the shim looks like on the USB connector.

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