There was a time not long ago when getting a Windows experience on your TV meant hooking up a full size desktop or laptop. With the rise of the stick PC, you can now get decently-powered PCs including a full Windows on a desktop experience, at a fraction of the cost and space required. Sure, you can get a Raspberry Pi for $40, but that includes no OS and requires a bit more tinkering skill. These stick PCs come out of the box and just work, which makes them ideal for cord-cutters looking for a new way to consume media on the big screen.
Today, we’re taking a look at a very affordable stick PC from Quantum Access. It has specs that are similar to the infamous Intel Compute and other leading brands, but at a lower price point. Does it stack up? That’s what we’re going to figure out today.
We’re giving away a brand new Quantum Access Mini PC Stick to one lucky winner, so keep reading the review to find out how to enter to take one of these mini PCs home for free!
Introducing the Quantum Access Mini PC Stick
The Quantum Access Mini PC Stick is competing with the $149 Intel Compute Stick; it offers the same specs, but $20 cheaper. There’s also the soon to be released Lenovo Ideacentre Stick 300, and upcoming Archos Stick PC that will retail for $99. The iView Cyber PC Compute Stick includes a Bluetooth keyboard, but at a $149 price tag. The Quantum Access Mini PC Stick has a retail price of $129, which puts it cheaper than the leading manufacturer, but perhaps soon to be bested by newer models.
Of course, that’s completely ignoring Android PC sticks, which won’t get you a Windows experience, but might suffice for your needs. It’s clear that stick PCs (and other mini computers) are here to stay, and with good reason. So is this particular stick the one to grab, or is your money better spent elsewhere?
Something important to note right away is that many users are reporting issues with specific TV manufacturers, mostly Vizio. However, this isn’t exclusive to just this particular stick PC, as the Intel model seems to be suffering from the same issue. I have a Panasonic and Samsung TV in my house, and it worked fine on both of those.
Before we get into using the Quantum Access stick PC as an everyday device, let’s take a look at the actual hardware First, like all stick PCs, this one is quite small. It’s dimensions are 4.33 inches long, 1.53 inches wide, and 0.47 inches deep. To put it in perspective, it’s about the same width and depth as a Chromecast, and about twice as long. In terms of weight, it’s quite light at only 0.4 pounds. If you wanted to stick this in your pocket and bring it to a friends house, that certainly wouldn’t be a problem.
Moving to the ports, you’ll find one full-sized USB 2.0 port, a microUSB port as well as a dedicated microUSB external power port (in case your HDMI doesn’t provide power), and a microSD card slot. You can hook up a USB hub for more ports, and it’s recommended that you use a powered one if you plan to hook up heavy drawing devices like USB-powered external HDDs. I used a 4-port unpowered USB hub for a mouse and an AC-powered external hard drive without any problems. Use your best judgment when deciding what to hook up, but if you do have a powered hub available, it’s definitely your best choice.
There’s a male HDMI plug on the end, and there’s also an female-to-female adapter that allows you to hook a regular HDMI cable to it if you need more length, or your TV is set up in way that the width of the device would block other HDMI ports. No HDMI cable is included, though, so if you need to use the adapter make sure you have a cable around.
An important thing to note about this device is that its fanless, so it runs silent. If you’re going to use this in a living room, that’s a great feature to have. The company promises that the insides are designed as a heatsink, and it does seem to stay relatively cool while running. During 1080p video it got warm, but never felt hot enough that I was worried about the long term well-being of the device.
In terms of looks, it’s quite a stylish little piece of hardware. It’s all black with a nice textured look on the front. It even features a nice little antenna, which not only looks cool, but could offer a bit of extra Wi-Fi power in cases where the signal is weak.
All things considered, the hardware of this stick PC is solid. The fanless design is great, and it looks good. It’s small, light, and easy to carry. There’s really nothing to complain about in terms of the design, but do the specs match? After all, no one wants a good-looking device that doesn’t work well.
As you might expect from a $129 PC, the specs here are fairly modest, but they get the job done. Let’s take a look at exactly what you’ll find under the hood of this stick PC:
- Intel Atom (Quad-core) 1.33 GHz Z3735F processor
- 2GB DDR3L RAM
- 32GB internal storage
- Gen 7 Intel HD Graphics
The nice thing about the Intel Atom processor is that its fanless, as we mentioned previously. So while it’s not as powerful as some other processors on the market, you do get some extra peace and quiet.
General Computer Usage
For browsing the web and performing basic work, this stick PC is definitely up to the task. It’s a little slower than a full-sized desktop or laptop when it comes to how quickly programs launch, but it’s quick enough to not be annoying.
It can’t replace a full size PC, as there’s a noticeable difference in speed. However, for most people, that’s not the purpose of a PC like this. Instead, it’s meant to supplement your main PC, and it does a good job of that.
More advanced programs like intensive image and video editors will not run well on the stick, and it’s best that you avoid them altogether. Microsoft Office works quite well, though, so you can definitely do things there. Massive Excel sheets with lots of computations will load slowly, so that’s something to keep in mind if you plan on doing a lot of work with this computer.
If you’re used to a high-end PC, you might be a little frustrated by the speed at first, but you’ll quickly become accustomed to it.
It’s also worth noting that although supplied running Windows 8.1, Quantum Suppliers has promised that all their products can run Windows 10. We weren’t given the option to update yet at the time this review was written, but we see no reason why it shouldn’t go smoothly when available.
Watching Video Content
The main reason to get a stick PC like this is to watch video content, as you can easily hook it up to a TV and access the full Windows experience. This means that any media center software you want can be installed, and a whole world of video content that isn’t available on closed platforms is accessible (such as cough Popcorn Time, cough).
Much of the video content you’ll want to watch is on the web, and as a Chrome user, the first thing I did was download the browser and hit GiantBomb.com to watch some video game content. Sadly, it was unwatchable due to Flash performance issues: task manager showed Flash was using 100% of the processor. Oddly, Internet Explorer fared better, eating up only 75% of the processor without any stuttering.
Over on Twitch, channels with the highest video quality (such as Valve’s official Dota 2 The International channel) are only watchable on Medium quality, as High and Source are both intolerably choppy. Other channels with lower bit rates worked fine on Source, so your mileage may vary depending on what you want to watch.
Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu are better optimized for low-end PCs, so they all worked perfectly in my testing. In all cases, I found that performance for video was better with Internet Explorer, so I would recommend sticking with that when you want to watch things online.
I found that using Plex in browser to play videos from my gaming PC was a little stuttery, and far from a perfect experience. It’s definitely better to have the videos stored locally, which is why I hooked a large external drive to the stick PC.
Other than a slight delay in loading, HD videos played in VLC are perfect, with no choppy video performance at any time. Avoid archaic services that still use Flash to deliver video, and you should be fine.
As we mentioned previously, the specs on this computer are very modest, and it’s not a gaming PC by any means. However, it can run basic games like Minecraft fairly well, pushing around 30 FPS in most cases. Browser games run fairly well, too – though again, Flash pushes the processor to its limit.
So, if this isn’t a PC meant for games, why are we talking about it at all? Because of Steam In-Home Streaming. If you have a gaming PC in your house, you can install the Steam client on both machines, and the Quantum Access Mini PC Stick will be able to stream games over your local network. I’ll be honest, my expectations for this was very low, as I assumed the power of the PC would cause 1080p games to be too choppy to play.
I couldn’t have been more wrong, as I found the experience to be as close to perfect as you can get. Aside from a little input lag that’s endemic to In-Home Streaming, it was all solid. In much the same way you’d expect Steam’s own streaming box to work, this serves as a great way to play PC games on a TV in a different room in your house.
The aforementioned input lag does make certain genres of game difficult to play at high levels. Shooters and fighting games, which require twitch reactions, aren’t the best when played in multiplayer, as you are putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage – but these genres are still playable as long as you go into them with realistic expectations.
As a supplement to an existing gaming PC, the Quantum Access Mini PC Stick delivers a solid experience. It’s not a gaming PC on its own, and if you intend to install games directly to the 32GB of memory, you’ll be pretty disappointed. Of course, it’s not meant to be a gaming PC by any stretch of the imagination. It does what it promises as far as games are concerned, and it does it well.
Should You Buy the Quantum Access Mini PC Stick?
If you’re looking for a solid way to watch Internet video on your TV without the restrictions applied to devices like an Apple TV or Xbox One, then this is a great choice. For a price that’s just a little more than many of the popular streaming media boxes, you’ll be able to get a full Windows 8.1 experience and all of the options that come with that, including In-Home Streaming. So to put it simply, yes, you should buy this, as it features specs that are comparable to Intel’s stick, but a price that’s even lower.
A full Windows experience at a fraction of the cost of a regular PC. It struggles with Flash content, but what doesn’t? The Quantum Access Mini PC Stick is highly recommended if you want more than just a simple streaming device.
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