On Computers: Is that a flash stick or a PC?

Jim Hillibish

Used to be it took big bucks to ride new-product tech bandwagons. No more. Would a mini PC for $36 interest you?

I’m resisting the urge only because I’d have zero use for it. Which probably means I’ll be getting one for my birthday just to play with it.

If this scheme works, you’ll see a lot of these. They’ve nano-miniaturized a working PC down to the size of a flash drive, 3 inches by a half inch. And with some help, it works.

We may eventually be calling this genre a “stick PC” for its similarity to a stick drive.

Plug it into a cellphone 5-amp wall charger and it boots up (no room for an on/off switch). Plug a monitor into the USB port and add a $25 wireless keyboard with touchpad to its network. And you’re computing.

Granted, this thing is no speed demon. It runs off a 1.5 GHz processor with 1 gig of RAM. It will show movies and videos but with some jerky moments as the processor catches up. It plays simple graphic games such as “Angry Birds” and seems fine for messaging and e-mail.

You’ll need an external hard drive for off-network work, or spend $25 extra for a model with 8 gigs of internal storage.

For your $75, you have a remarkable little system. It’s hampered by no battery and slow everything on the motherboard. Still, the wireless is modern, and that’s the most important part. You’ll be using that the most.

My concern is it gets pretty hot in that little plastic jacket. Heat degrades and eventually kills magnetic chips. Running a little desk fan on it should help. New versions are coming with better ventilation.

Coming up with a use is another thing. The operating system is Android, Google’s cellphone OS. This is a plus. You might be able to run some apps.

Your scheme would be to use as much cloud-based programming as possible, such as Google’s storage, document, gmail, mapping, etc. All your data would be stored on their server, and you could get away with no local hard drive.

Another app could convert your TV into Internet ready. It could act as a TV box between your set and Internet streaming content providers. Users say it does the job streaming Google and Pandora music. It comes with an HDMI cable to attach to the TV.

At least 45 Amazon customers have purchased the Android 4.0 Mini PC at $37.08 with free shipping. They rate it 3.5 stars, but most reviewers caution it takes some patience to operate. You might want to start with the tutorials on, searching on “mini PC.”

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