Intel 'PC On A Stick' Paves Avenue In The Channel

Pre-orders recently began for Intel's new Compute Stick -- a "PC on a stick" -- a plug-and-play device that packs a full operating system to transform TVs and monitors into computers.

The 4-inch, power-efficient stick's two versions have pre-installed operating systems -- either Windows 8.1 or Linux -- and plug into the HDMI input of TVs and monitors to transform them into entry computers with productivity apps.

John Deatherage, marketing director for the Intel Compute Stick project, told CRN that the Compute Stick pushes an array of enterprise features, on top of consumer applications, and will pave opportunities in the channel.

[Related: Intel Earnings: Data Center Revenue Soars As Mobile Revenue Tanks]

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"This product opens doors for us and our partners into new markets where computing power is required but a small form factor is valued," said Deatherage. "The Compute Stick will be a channel product, and there is a high level of interest in the device from our channel partners. There are a number of enterprise environments where low power and space are necessary … for instance, in financial institutions, where there are a lot of computers for a small amount of space."

The Intel Compute Stick comes fully loaded with a quad-core Intel Atom processor, built-in wireless connectivity, on-board storage and a micro SD card slot for additional storage.

The device stimulates a growing market of HDMI port-enabled media streaming devices, such as Google's Chromecast, a device that streams Netflix, HBO Go and other media tools on consumer televisions, and the recently announced Asus Chromebit, which also provides a Bluetooth-enabled computing experience.

Intel's Compute Stick pushes further into the enterprise space, however, by delivering productivity apps and making devices capable of reading and composing email and browsing the Web.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company's stick can also be used as a basic thin client and in kiosks or point-of-sale devices.

But are those enterprise features enough for Intel's partners to pitch the new device to their business-based customers and to drive revenue? For partners, that's the "million-dollar question," said Todd Swank, senior director of product marketing at Equus, an Intel partner based in Minnetonka, Minn.

"It's a fascinating product, and I'm really curious about its performance," said Swank. "Channel-wise, it comes down to what software and services we'll be able to bring to it."

Jon Bach, president of Puget Systems, a Kent, Wash.-based system builder, sees new enterprise opportunities in Intel's Compute Stick for functions like digital signage systems.

"Intel is known for pushing the limits of form factor with its products, and taking a step back to see what ecosystem it enables," he said. "We saw this with its Intel NUC [small form factor PC]; I see this happening with the Compute Stick as well. Intel is looking to see what challenge this presents to the industry and what kind of ecosystem develops around it."

In the long run, Deatherage said Intel is building a roadmap to scale beyond the Atom-based version of the Compute Stick.

"Right now, our intentions don't just come from the hype around this device," said Deatherage. "We believe that this is something Intel will be in for the long haul. We see the excitement, and this is just another stop in the evolution of scalable form factors."

Intel's Compute Stick will be available globally at the end of April. The stick is expected to retail at $150 for the version with Windows 8.1 and $99 for the version with Linux.