Intel NUC as a Media Center or Desktop

Prior to 2015 my primary computer of choice was always a laptop.  I’ve used a few different brands over the years, including Dell, HP, Compaq and IBM.  My favorite has been Dell, but that’s probably because I’ve had the least problems with them.  I also like the simplicity of their keyboard layout.  I don’t think I’ve missed a generational change in portable computing power since I bought my first laptop many years ago.  But that doesn’t mean I haven’t had desktops, too.

As practical as it is to have a laptop for work, I find it less than satisfactory for gaming and other non-work related activities such as media playback.  Like many of you I found it necessary (and convenient) to maintain a desktop computer to satisfy my gaming needs.  Gaming can take a toll on a laptop in many ways, from repeated keypresses to overheated CPU and Graphics processors.  I confess that both my wife and I have fried laptops from even infrequent gaming.  Adobe Flash is the devil incarnate for a GPU.

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Khanka Travel Case for Fire Stick

Because I’ve been somewhat footloose my entire life, I place a high value on things that are small and portable.  It’s the main thing that attracted me to Stick Computing in the first place.  The idea of being able to carry your computer in a shirt pocket was something I dreamed about for years.  Of course today we have many ways of achieving that same goal with either phones, tablets or Mini PC’s.

In addition to hand-held mobile devices, I’ve always been a fan of Laptop computers.  My first “laptop” was actually not called a laptop, but a transportable computer made by Compaq.  I purchased a Compaq portable in the spring of 1984 for a stunning $3,000 and change. It boasted a single half-height 5¼” 360 kB diskette drive and a whopping 10Mb hard disk.  At 28lbs, it was just barely what could be called portable and definitely not laptop.

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Mini Pocket Projectors

For many of us, the primary use of a Stick Computer or TV Box is to display our media. Whether you’re into movies or music, or you prefer getting your content from a DVD collection or Youtube, the basic need is the same. You want a player that’s capable of handling a wide variety of formats and displaying it correctly without distortion or interruption. Hook it up to our monitors and we’re good to go. What more can we ask for, right?

It turns out there is one more thing we can ask our little guys to do. In addition to being great little streamers, there are also a smaller, but growing number of devices that can also directly project media without the need for a TV or Monitor. Having seen some early versions in action I was still a bit skeptical of what sort of performance you might expect from such a compact and inexpensive device, but I have to say that I’ve come away mildly impressed at what you can buy right now.

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4TB My Cloud Personal Network Attached Storage

Stick Computers and TV Boxes add another dimension to your online life. If you’re reading this, you probably already have a number of ways to access your media, be it local or on the Internet. Most of us have at least some sort of phone, smartwatch or tablet for accessing content on the go, a laptop, PC or console for more complex tasks, such as writing or playing games and perhaps a smart, Internet connected device such as the Amazon Dot to make routine tasks even easier.

No matter what devices you own, they all share one thing in common, and that’s a need for storing and accessing data. If your primary device is a tablet or phone, then you’re probably already committed to the idea of using cloud storage for your data needs. Even though your phones and tablets can have storage expanded locally, they don’t come close to storing the file sizes required by large music or video libraries. Cloud storage, on the other hand, is virtually limitless if you have the funds to rent the space.

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Using your Fire Tablet as a Controller

I’ve written previously on the Amazon Fire TV Stick and several other of their home devices, including the Echo Dot. Although this blog is about Stick Computers and TV Boxes, as any owner of these devices can tell you, there’s plenty of opportunity to interface with your mobile devices. A phone or tablet paired with a TV Stick is a powerful combo.

Like many early adopters, I can get stuck with equipment that is rapidly obsoleted as companies rush to resolve first gen issues. I have a first generation Fire TV Stick, and aside from the abysmal control the navigation ring provides, it’s also lacking voice control input. Since it leaves a lot to be desired, I’ve tried various controllers and hybrid solutions to manage the Stick.

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H96 Pro Plus Amlogic S912 Octa Core

The engine that drives the Mini PC market is the same one that drives all consumer electronics, faster and cheaper. Although only a few years old, the Stick and Box market has already gone through generations of technologies. Starting with humble dual core processors, 2D GPU and limited memory, they’ve blossomed into full blown powerhouses with up to eight core CPU’s, 3D graphics and three to four times the memory of their predecessors.

During that time we’ve seen significant price drops in the cost per cpu cycle. While the overall product prices remain nearly constant, we’ve quadrupled or better the performance. The most recent of these Mini PC’s incorporate Octa-core processors from makers like Rockchip and Amlogic. They are engineering marvels, stuffing the latest audio and video advancements into tighter spaces, while providing ever-growing price/performance benefits.

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MINIX NEO U9-H Octa-Core Media Hub for Android

My passion for having the ultimate in home entertainment electronics goes back to when I was in high school many years ago. In those pre-Internet days you had to spend a lot more time researching your purchases. If you were an audio enthusiast, like I was, chances are you had a subscription to Stereo Review magazine. Each issue was like Christmas morning. I poured through that magazine, hungry for the latest news.

Since there weren’t specific home electronics TV shows or other sort of information media, the only other way to get good information was to experience it first hand. Growing up in a small New England town, this was no easy task. My friends and I would routinely make the hour plus trip into the “big city” of Burlington, VT to check out the newest hardware (and albums) from our favorite audio store. I’m sure the staff at that particular store grew tired of our endless testing and questions. Especially because we seldom made purchases until we were sure it was what we wanted. That could take weeks or months.

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Raspberry Pi 3 Kit

When it comes to computers, I’ve always been a do-it-yourself kind of buyer. I’ve been building my own PC’s for many years, and while I can’t claim that I’ve ever saved a lot of money doing so, I’ve always been able to get exactly the components I want and thoroughly enjoyed the process of putting it together. When it comes to builds, shopping for parts is half the fun.

In the Stick Computing category, there’s not much room for DIY in the systems themselves. You have to rely on external expansion possibilities to get your home-brew fix. Thankfully the USB port gives us a highway to Mini PC upgrades. If you add a USB hub to your Stick, you can add nearly anything that you can to an ordinary PC. I look forward to the day that even memory, processor, and graphics upgrades are possible. After all, with Thunderbolt interfaces, we’re nearly there.

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Lenovo Ideacentre Stick 300

I write about a variety of home electronics. Sticks are just one of the things I write about, even though they are the focus of this particular blog. The challenge with writing about one category like this is finding new things to say about the same product. I combat this by doing extensive research into whatever I’m reviewing so that I can find at least the grain of something that’s different about a product so I can pass that on to you. Hopefully, in the end we’re both better educated.

When researching this latest Mini PC, I really had to dig to find something. I poured through the spec sheet, but there’s not much that hasn’t been said about Atom-based Windows Sticks. The stats are pretty similar and from a performance standpoint, nearly identical. In fact, this PC is pretty much the first generation of the Intel Compute Stick.

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Intel Compute Stick

It’s been a few years since I’ve taken a look at the Intel Compute Stick. Quite frankly, the original version didn’t hold up too well to scrutiny.  First, it came with Windows 8.1.  While that was certainly better than if it had shipped, with Windows 8, only marginally so.  I’ll say this for it, the boot times were good.  If you go back through the reviews for the product you’ll see that it was riddled with issues, including reliability (strange for an Intel Product), slow application response time and general WiFi issues.

On top of that it was really pretty big and clunky for a Stick Computer.  Compared to the Android Mini PC’s shipping around the same time, it was nearly twice as big.  That’s not a huge factor, but when you’re counting the benefits of Stick Computers, and chief among them is portability, it does become an issue at some point.

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