Updated August 2020
Good things often come in very small packages. This has been the case with TV sticks since day one. Just plug this dongle into the HDMI port of your TV, and all of a sudden, you have a Smart TV. They transformed the viewing market in 2014.
Now, you have more options. You can buy a much more powerful (and bulky) TV box or get a TV that is already smart on the inside. But TV sticks still have their appeal.
TV sticks are now one of the more affordable ways to make your TV smart, and they are also unobtrusive for the minimalists among us.
But more than this, we are now seeing PC sticks hitting the market. More than any TV box or Smart TV, these can transform your TV into a PC, where you can do everything you can on your PC, from Office work to gaming.
But with so many options, how do you know which one is for you? I have put together a list to answer just that, recommending the best TV and PC sticks depending on what you want to do on your big screen.
If you want the best possible PC streaming or you want to run Ubuntu, there is a stick for that.
Read on to learn everything you need to know.
Quick Look: Top 3 Picks
Fire TV Stick 4K
Intel Compute Stick
But First: What Is The Difference Between A TV And A PC Stick?
We have already mentioned the difference between a TV stick and a PC stick. One is designed specifically for media streaming, while the other is a more complete PC. But what exactly does that mean?
Well, first and foremost, PC sticks are larger. TV sticks tend to be the size of a dongle, while PC sticks will look like a bigger version, about the size of a small remote control. This is necessary as they need more under the hood.
Both sticks are like a mini PC, but a TV stick knows that it is primarily going to be used for streaming media content via apps, though there is also usually an app for the internet as well. But for this reason, they are optimized for this activity, and everything else is stripped out.
PC sticks, however, don’t specialize in the same way and are designed to let you do everything you can do on your PC, including gaming, running Office programs, showing presentations, and much more.
This means that while TV sticks need a great graphics card, they don’t need as much processing power or memory as a PC stick, which, in turn, makes them a lot cheaper.
But, while a PC stick can do everything your PC can do, they are nowhere near as fast as a modern PC, and anyone used to working on a quality desktop may find it frustrating.
PC sticks have much more limited memory and power than a standard PC, which means they will feel sluggish. This means that while they are ideal if you want to share documents or presentations on the big screen, you won’t really want to complete complex PC tasks on a PC stick.
1. RKM Quad Core 4K Android Mini PC V5 – Best Android TV Stick
There’s a shortlist of Android TV sticks that actually use one of the newer chipsets like the RK3288 – which isn’t all that new, actually. On that list, only Rikomagic (RKM) is what I’d consider a major manufacturer.
Some chipset manufacturers have such poor track records, especially with Kodi and video performance in general, that they get written off the contestant list very early in the selection process. Other newer chipsets, like the Amlogic S905, which offers 4K performance in a power-saving configuration, are just now hitting mainstream release for TV boxes. TV sticks could be a little ways off.
So, why worry about having a newer chipset? When was the last time you deliberately bought technology that was two years old?
I rest my case.
That being said, I am a fan of the RK3288 based RKM V5. Not only does it have the RK3288, quad-core CPU, but it can playback videos in 4K using H.265 decoding.
It may be one of the larger Android stick PCs available, but I think it’s still the best.
2. Fire TV Stick 4K – Best TV Stick For Android (Runner-Up)
Just as you can find anything your heart desires on Amazon (well, almost anything!), you have endless streaming options when you make the Fire TV Stick your streaming device of choice. Not only that, but you can also easily launch and control everything via voice.
Even though this is a small piece of tech with an unassuming appearance, it offers more storage for games and apps than anything in the same category.
Beyond holding a plethora of downloads, the Fire TV Stick 4K gives you access to thousands of channels and it lets you take advantage of Alexa skills, too.
If you’re already an Amazon Prime subscriber, then you’ll automatically get easier access to all of the content that comes with your subscription – no cable or extra apps required.
Not everyone likes Alexa and that’s OK! If you’re a fan or if you’re willing to give it a go though, we think you’ll like the updated Fire TV Stick for its speed, graphics, and overall performance.
If you’re already a fan, you’ll appreciate this part: the Fire TV Stick 4K can be purchased with the remote only or with add-ons, including the AmazonBasics HD antenna, an Echo Dot, or a recast bundle. Good stuff.
3. Intel Compute Stick – Best Stick PC For Windows
The world’s leading chip manufacturer created its own version of the PC stick recently, and it’s easily the most versatile device on this list. It runs a full version of Windows – either 8.1 with Bing or new Windows 10 – and has been confirmed to work perfectly.
It includes an Intel Atom Z3735F processor, which balances performance and power consumption – perfect for mobile devices. It has 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage space onboard.
It also includes a microSD card, which can support up to 128GB of additional storage. You’ll definitely need that as Windows takes up a huge portion of your internal space, unless you want to store everything on a cloud or network storage device.
Performance is good, considering that the computer is the size of a candy bar.
Expect the same performance level as a higher-end tablet or the HP Stream mini-PC, rather than your full-size desktop at work. You can still stream 1080p flawlessly, but 4K playback was a non-starter. The maximum resolution of the Compute Stick checked in at 2048 x 1152.
If you’re interested in the Intel Compute Stick, you’re going to be doing much more than playing videos on your TV. This gives you the power of Windows on Intel, at a price that’s cheaper than a Black Friday special.
4. Mini PC MeLE PC Stick – Best Stick PC For Ubuntu
For my favorite PC stick for Ubuntu. I like the latest offering from MeLE, which comes with Windows 10. Itt is designed to support both Linux and Ubuntu and does a better job of it than any other devices I have seen.
It is a powerful beast, about the size of a small remote control, with an Intel Celeron J4105 chip, HDMI 2.0 output support for 4K HD resolution watching and playing, and 64 GB of memory. It comes with two USB 3.0 points for the fastest possible transfer. It is also fanless, which means it is nice and quiet.
One of the updates that differentiate this from earlier MeLE models is the 1,000 Mbps Gigabit Ethernet connection and 5.8G+2.4G dual-band Wi-Fi capability. There is also Bluetooth 4.0, so you have all the fastest and most stable options when it comes to connecting.
This mini PC really feels like a PC when you are browsing on your big screen, like a TV box when you are watching, and like a gaming console when you are playing.
The stick supports a TF card up to 512 GB, which means it has the capacity if you do choose to use it to bring your PC games onto your TV screen.
5. ASUS Chromebit CS10 – Best Stick PC For Chrome OS
You’re not going to find an easier to use operating system in a smaller format than this. I’m a huge fan of Chromebooks and Chromeboxes. I use a Chromebook as my daily laptop, and I love it.
The Chrome OS takes care of maintenance and virus and ransomware protection for you, which earned it a lot of praise from the tech community. ASUS makes an amazing Chromebox, which is a favorite for side-loading OpenELEC to make a cheap, high-performance Kodi box.
Now they’ve taken that same philosophy and made it smaller with the ASUS Chromebit.
Unlike the ASUS Chromebox, which is designed around the Intel Celeron chip, the Chromebit uses the Rockchip RK3288 CPU. If that sounds familiar, it’s also what was in the RKM V5 above, so all of the same arguments for that chipset apply.
While the Chromebit won’t be a video powerhouse, it will give you as much flexibility as the Intel Compute stick at almost half the cost. If you want more from your stick PC than Android can provide, but want to break away from Windows, the ASUS Chromebit is a great option.
FAQs About PC Sticks
What Is A Computer Stick Called?
There are various names given to computer sticks including PC Sticks, Mini Computers, and Screenless PCs.
What Does A PC Stick Do?
The best PC sticks are basically a computer that sits in the palm of your hand so you can take it with you everywhere you go. But unlike a laptop or even a tablet, it does not have a screen. So, to access the content, you need to plug it into the HDMI port on a computer or TV.
These mini computers claim to be able to do everything your PC can, but they are understandably significantly less powerful and also much slower. But they are great for streaming movies, gaming, bringing presentations onto the big screen, or even just browsing the net.
They also won’t come with a mouse or a keyboard, and you will have to buy these separately and connect via Wi-Fi. It is also possible to connect these extras via Bluetooth, but bear in mind that on most PC sticks, you can’t use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth at the same time, so it’s not a good idea.
What Is The Difference Between A TV Stick And A PC Stick?
PC sticks and media streaming or TV sticks look pretty much the same, and they are often used for the same things, but they are quite a bit different under the hood.
They are both mini-computers, but TV sticks are optimized for media streaming and related activities and things that aren’t necessary for that have been left out. PC sticks are designed to do everything your PC can do, including running Windows and programs such as Office.
So, while both will stream films and other entertainment in excellent quality, you can do a lot more with your PC stick. But this means that PC sticks are a lot more expensive, as they need to be much more powerful. But they still won’t beat or even closely match your PC in terms of power, and you will notice that all your PC activities take much longer.
Can Intel Compute Stick Run Office?
Yes, your Intel Compute Stick, and all genuine PC sticks, can run Office. But you will find this a much more frustrating experience than you are accustomed to as these sticks are much less powerful than a normal PC, which means they start to run slowly, especially when they are doing more than one thing at the same time.
A PC stick is a great way to access Office on your big screen when you need to, but you probably don’t want to use it as your main source of Office.
And there you have it: Our guide to the Best TV and PC Sticks for every operating system.
What type of stick is best for you depends on what you want to do. If you just want a stick to make your TV smart so you can stream all the best entertainment, you can afford a cheaper stick that is easy to use and optimized for streaming such as the RKM V5 or the always popular Amazon Fire Stick.
But if you want to be able to do more, such as play PC games, deliver presentations, share office documents, or occasionally do your coding on your fancy big screen, you will want to invest more in a PC stick, like the Intel Compute Stick.
But remember that while PC sticks are a great way to bring your PC to the big screen, they are no substitute for a PC. There is just no way that something that small can be anywhere near as powerful as your standard PC!
What do you think? Have anything that you think would be a better choice? Let us know in the comments below.