Five Reasons Why All PC Sticks Aren’t Created Equal

October 24, 2016 by guest author, Joe Rabah


Guest Post: Jami McGraw, Seneca


Jami McGraw

Perhaps the biggest attraction of shrinking a regular PC down to a tiny, candy bar-sized stick can be summed up in one word: clutter.

A computer on an HDMI stick can plug into a port on the back of a desktop display or digital signage screen, and disappear. It’s clutter-free, and for a lot of jobs, seemingly an ideal solution. But it’s important to understand that all PC sticks are not created equal.

A PC stick used for a few hours a day of light computing or media streaming is one thing. But a device that’s destined for 24/7 use on commercial tasks – like driving digital signage screens – is another thing entirely. 

A consumer device will struggle, and more likely, fail. On just about any digital signage job, with displays showing things like menus, prices, promotions and directions – that can’t happen.

There are, however, commercial-grade devices out there that are built for purpose and ideal for high-demand, mission critical work like digital signage.

Here are five reasons why smart pro AV and IT integrators steer away from consumer gear and opt for commercial PC sticks:

1 – Solid state: Consumer-grade sticks have tiny little fans in them, and in commercial settings, that’s bad news.

In busy places like retail and mass transport hubs, people are on the go, and they’re kicking up dust that will find its way into that stick, and quickly cripple that nickel-sized fan inside. A dead fan leads rapidly to an overheated, dead stick.

Commercial-grade sticks are fanless, using passive cooling to maximize uptimes. They’re also designed, tested and validated to run in much broader temperature ranges than consumer equipment.

2 – Rugged: Consumer-grade PC sticks are designed to plug into the backs of TVs or monitors and just leave in place, or perhaps travel around inside a purse, briefcase or backpack. They’re plastic or thin-stamped metal, which is all they need to be for those tasks.

But in commercial environments, they’re going to be subject to much harsher treatment, and commercial PC sticks are made with hardened aluminum that can take the beating, but also dissipate heat from the processor in place of those pesky fans.

3 – Business-ready: Consumer PC sticks come with built-in WiFi. But commercial jobs, like digital signage and kiosks, need reliable, predictable and secure connectivity. I do product management at Seneca, and we canvassed end-users and integrators with the idea of building a stick we could ship and support. That ended up being what we called the HDs, which ships with an external, adjustable WiFi antenna and a LAN port.

Hard-wired Ethernet is greatly preferred by most digital signage technicians because of network security and far more reliability connectivity. We’ve all experienced flakey WiFi, and unpredictable is not a state technicians welcome.

4 – Secure: Consumer devices are built for consumer jobs, sitting in homes by the TV. A PC stick simply plugged into a back of a monitor is highly vulnerable to theft, because it’s small and valuable. A device could disappear into a coat pocket or handbag in the blink of an eye.

The stick we built includes an anti-theft Kensington lock to prevent tampering. It also ships with a custom metal cradle and cable that allows the stick to be safely, tightly tucked away behind screens.

5 – High-performing: Most consumer PC sticks are built for simple tasks like streaming media or basic computing. They’re also marketed on price and size, not performance. Commercial-grade PCs, by comparison, are designed to operate reliably on a 16/7 or even 24/7 basis, and run HD video at 60 frames per second, even when they’re fixed in hot enclosures with minimal airflow.

Consumer devices almost invariably cost less than their commercial counterparts – but that owes to several factors – lower-grade, lower-functioning versions of  operating systems, cheaper components and minimal ongoing support.

Going commercial, or pro, does indeed cost more. But here’s the thing – consumer stick PCs put to work on commercial jobs like digital signage will fail. They look like they’ll work, and they will indeed work in basic testing at the office.

But they were never designed or intended for the round-the-clock, high demand tasks of a typical digital signage job.

When they crater, the cost of a service call to replace the consumer units may turn out to be as much or higher than the initial capital cost of the stick.

Borrowing on an old saying: You can pay a little more now and be secure, or pay a lot more later, when things go wrong.

All PC sticks aren’t created equal. When it comes to devices that need to work reliably, going business-grade is the smart option.


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