Intel launched a tiny computer called the Intel Compute Stick earlier this year. It looks like a chunky USB flash drive, but instead of plugging it into your computer to add storage, you plug it into the HDMI port of your TV or monitor to add a full-fledged computer.

The first model to ship featured an Intel Atom Bay Trail processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and Windows 8.1 software. This week Intel will start selling a second model: a cheaper version with 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, and Ubuntu Linux.

But what if you want to run Ubuntu on the model that has more memory and storage?

compute stick_02

You can do that… it just takes a little work.

The Intel Compute Stick with Ubuntu comes with a slightly modified version of Canonical’s Ubuntu operating system. Intel has patched the operating system with an Intel graphics driver and a Realtek driver for WiFi and Bluetooth.

As I discovered when I tested the Windows version of the Compute Stick earlier this year, you can load Ubuntu on a microSD card (or USB flash drive) and get it to boot on the PC-on-a-stick. But WiFi won’t work out of the box.

I should probably point out here that Intel doesn’t currently recommend replacing the operating system, and in fact says installing any OS that’s not officially supported will void your warranty.

Update: Now we’ve got step-by-step instructions for installing Ubuntu with working WiFi, Bluetooth and audio… and without requesting any drivers from Intel or Realtek. 

The original article continues below.

Now that the Ubuntu model is ready to ship, I asked Intel if they’d be releasing a downloading image that makes it easy to install Ubuntu on the Windows model. The answer is no, because Intel only has the rights to distribute Ubuntu pre-loaded on its mini computers. The company doesn’t have the rights to post a downloadable image on its website.

ubuntu stick_02

But… here’s how you can basically build your own Ubuntu Compute Stick:

  1. Download and install latest build of Ubuntu from Ubuntu.com.
  2. If you need help with that step, check out our Compute Stick review for tips on setting the boot options so you can load Ubuntu. Note that you may also be able to use a USB flash drive rather than a microSD card if you use a USB hub.
  3. Download and install the latest Intel graphics stack from 0.1.org.
  4. Contact Realtek and ask for a wireless driver.

That last step’s kind of a pain. But Intel says Realtek currently has no plans to release the wireless driver publicly, however the company will make it available to customers that ask.

Maybe if enough people ask, Realtek will just post a link on its website.

It’s worth noting that even with Windows, the Intel Compute Stick has lousy WiFi reception: it works best when it’s sitting right next to the router. So you might want to skip that last step and pick up a cheap USB WiFi dongle.

ubuntu stick

There may be other options: Ian Morrison has compiled his own build of Ubuntu 14.10 for PC sticks including the Intel Compute Stick, and it has WiFi drivers pre-installed.

I’ve had mixed results with Morrison’s disk image. The first time I tried loading my Compute Stick review unit with his liveUSB image, it detected my wireless networks but wouldn’t connect. After rebooting, it looks like the wireless hardware was disabled. I need to take some time to run a few more tests to see if I can pinpoint the problem.

Update: Morrison’s latest build of Ubuntu 14.04 now includes working WiFi, Bluetooth, and audio. You can follow our guide for downloading and installing the operating system.

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44 replies on “Ubuntu on the 32GB Intel Compute Stick: You have to install it yourself”

  1. I actually bought the Ubuntu version of the stick because I found it for $40. I was hoping to be able to get Lubuntu or Xubuntu installed on it to make more efficient use of it’s lower specs. I only want it to play some older games on with WINE. Most of the games should run easily on it, but simply need more ram than Ubuntu was going to leave available to them. I mean, I’m sure I can get some of the games that aren’t terribly ram intensive to run on the Ubuntu, but if I can free up more ram by installing a lighter version then that would make this stick much more useful to me.

  2. You could but then that’s a tight fit for some Linux distros, depending on which one you use, and it would be easier to just run a Live USB or similar if you’re going to do something like that…

  3. Has anyone successfully been able to contact realtek for the linux driver, and get a response? Fedora is my distribution of choice and i want to be able to use networking on the device. I’ve emailed realtek multiple times and have had zero response.

  4. This is what I’m looking for:

    1. A PC stick that plugs straight in to the HDMI port.
    2. Runs Ubuntu (or any Linux distro) flawlessly.
    3. Graphics capable of running Wobbly Windows (I love Wobbly Windows).
    4. Ability to stream Full HD content over WiFi.
    5. Ability to play Full HD content without skipping frames.
    6. Good Bluetooth that doesn’t miss Bluetooth keyboard key presses.

    I’ll buy one of these to try it out, but am hurting on the inside that the 32GB model comes pre-installed with Windows 8.1 (which means paying extra for a Windows 8.1 licence).

  5. Why Intel releases 32-bit Windows version with 2GB of RAM and 64-bit Ubuntu with only 1GB? I mean, won’t 32-bit version require less RAM?

    1. Generally, yes but that version is also running Windows…

      Linux distros usually require less…

      1. Why not running Linux in a 512 MB VMware virtual machine? VMware installs and also Virtualbox!

  6. For a commercial company, Intel has been pretty good in providing open source Linux drivers and contributing to the Linux kernel, which makes me wonder why they decided on using a Realtek chip for something that they intend to run Linux on. Realtek doesn’t exactly have the same reputation of providing open and maintained drivers.

    1. It’s premature to ask this, this isn’t the Linux version of the device but the one intended to be sold with Windows… The article is just about putting Linux on it yourself…

      We’ll have to wait and see how the version sold with Linux is configured…

        1. Really shouldn’t be prejudiced against anyone, especially when not based on accurate information or worse based on outright misinformation!

          1. Some, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be careful not to turn some into the majority or misrepresent a disagreement with something more fundamental…

            We may all have our little prejudices but we don’t all have to be slaves to those prejudices or have no capacity to reason beyond them or lack the empathy to see other points of view to temper and balance our own…

            The alternative is what all too often happens as people use their biases to turn even valid differences in views into personal affronts based on a either for me or against me mentality… where nothing else matters and the truth often gets sacrificed for whatever one would rather believe…

            Better to be the voice of reason and let logic, empathy, and understanding reign… It doesn’t mean that will eliminate disagreements but it at least keeps things to the facts and honest valid differences of opinions that can be respected…

            While most of the time it just takes pointing out the facts from the assumptions…

          2. But in reality some disregard facts and cling to old prejudice even when they have no evidence for their view and even when it hurts other people. The prime example is homophobes against marriage equality. But that tendency is common in tech debates too.

          3. To a degree, for sure, but it’s often also to use too broad a brush when describing an entire group as all being as such simply because they disagree with you…

            The old you’re either with me or against me mentality is just as much a problem and only serves to compound disagreements by making it impossible to respect other points of views regardless of their actual validity…

            After all, we can all be our own worst enemy and never even realize it… Thus jumping to conclusions should be avoided when possible and tolerance helps avoid our own biases from reigning over us…

          4. Funny how all oppressors in history have, when they couldn’t any longer just use violence to have their way, switched to pleads for respect for “others point of view” as tactic to delay change a few more years. Respect racists “point of view” and “tradition” of having no blacks in the same restroom as whites, homophobes “point of view” that a large segment of the population should be banned from marriage, and so on. Screw that.

          5. Generalizing and stereotyping is part of the problem, and delaying change can be as much because the other side can’t let go of its own biases…

            The problem you’re highlighting is that people all too often believe that it’s all too simple but they’re really only failing to realize that without respect and adherence to logical reasoning that you doom yourself to fall into the trap of obsession in which you risk becoming the very thing for which you claim to be against…

            Often allowing the discussion to degenerate into a eye for an eye mentality that only results in a cycle of hate that repeats itself and then nothing gets solved… Especially, when dealing with complex issues and trying to over simplify them into just simply for or against, right or wrong, mentality that only serves to promote bias…

            People are complex and not all of a common mind… Even people who generally agree will have things they disagree upon… but that doesn’t mean they all have the same reasons for agreeing/disagreeing and it doesn’t mean all the reasoning’s are all equally valid or equally invalid…

            The problem is managing to listen long enough to tell the difference without just jumping to conclusions and assuming everyone who disagrees is only for invalid reasons and defame/ignore them accordingly…

            Being open minded is not just what the other side has to do but both sides because you can’t change minds if there is no exchange of ideas and debate isn’t allowed to actually convince anyone…

            Besides, you can’t be truly sure of your position unless you let it be challenged and stand up or fail on whether it is actually valid or not… only then can you truly be sure of being right or wrong…

            Ultimately, it’s wiser to treat others as you wish to be treated yourself otherwise you risk becoming the hypocrite and even the oppressor/tyrant!

          6. You mean it’s too hard for you to get past you’re own bias and find it much easier to just lie and pretend everyone who doesn’t agree with you can only have one real motivation…

            People like you even use that term on other gay/lesbians because they simply don’t agree with your reasoning and don’t want other people defining who they are!

            Like it or not you fell into the trap of blinding yourself to your own bias and showed that it’s really you who is the bigot!

          7. “People like you even use that term on other gay/lesbians”
            No I don’t, so your prejudice was wrong yet again. When will you stop and learn? I guess some will only learn the hard way.

          8. Sorry but the only one with bias here is you but you’re too blind to it to even realize how bigoted you really are!

            Remember, you’re the one who came here and started spouting your bias and step by step escalated your vitriol dogma of claiming bias when none was being shown by anyone but you!

            You don’t even know what I believe yet you had the nerve to call me a homophobe…

            I pointed out your standard for doing so would also include actual gay/lesbians who don’t agree with you!

            So yes, you are the bigot! You proved it beyond a doubt with every unsubstantiated remark in trying to portray others as biased when in reality you were only revealing your own bias!

            It’s the hallmark of a biased person to ignore the views of others, to try to portray those who have different views as all being beneath contempt, to force their views as being the only correct view, to ignore facts that don’t support their views… All these traits are what you have been doing!

            So don’t kid yourself, you’re only fooling yourself at best…

          9. I’m talking about your particular track record, don’t try to hide behind others. It is in public view and saved forever. Thing is that a few years back the homophobes still had some power but as time goes having had those views and words will become more and more of a liability and carry real costs, as it should.

          10. Hide? You’re the one hiding behind your bias…

            My track record has always been fair because what I care about is stopping the spread of misinformation and following what is actually logical!

            If you didn’t like anything I stated it can only be because I revealed some bias assumption you were working under for what it really is!

            That’s the thing with bias, people really hate it when someone bursts their bubble and makes them face reality…

            Really, I tried to give you the benefit of a doubt but you clearly came here with a made up agenda of your own making and aren’t going to fool anyone but yourself!

          11. Many who spread homophobic words in the days when it felt convenient, and felt good with themselves for doing so, will later on to their surprise see that those words turn into liabilities.

          12. I’m sure in your biased mind that little speech has some real meaning but you obviously don’t have a clue what I stand for if you think I ever spread anything but the truth…

            You want to ignore things like me pointing out there’s a line between correcting a injustice from instead just replacing it with another injustice…

            All you’re really doing is proving my point that the only one here biased and with a agenda here is you!

            The sad thing is such thinking is why things are so hard to change and ultimate the people who are supposed to be helped end up just getting hurt more and we’re all the lesser for it…

          13. You’ve made clear you think oh so very highly of yourself. Thing is you don’t dictate what potential future employers and others think of you in light of your track record of homophobic political speech. They will make up their own mind and you may be surprised by the result.

          14. Here’s a perfect example of how biased you are… First, I never talked myself up, I only pointed out how biased you are!

            Second, I have no history of homophobia!

            Your bias just makes you so biased that unless someone thinks exactly like you then they must be against what you believe…

            Besides, calling people names is just another example of a biased person as they can’t defend their position with the facts!

      1. From the article:
        “The Intel Compute Stick with Ubuntu comes with a slightly modified
        version of Canonical’s Ubuntu operating system. Intel has patched the
        operating system with an Intel graphics driver and a Realtek driver for
        WiFi and Bluetooth.”

        1. No, that just means Intel is providing support for users who want additional options but this is still the version specifically sold with Windows and thus that’s the primary use case for this model…

          The one that will be sold with Linux has different specs, which we don’t yet know whether it will have other differences besides less RAM and storage…

          This option really just means there’s a option for those who rather not settle for a even lower end device…

          1. Also, if you read the article, this is what Intel directly told Brad when he asked about the 1 GB Linux model.

          2. What rep says isn’t always accurate and Brad doesn’t always put all the relevant info out right away, like the update on voiding warranty…

            It would be unfortunate if true but not unworkable… Support is less but not nonexistent…

            As to a reason, probably the same as the Raspberry Pi when it first came out and had a Broadcom chip with closed drivers… It’s usually the cheapest option but like the RPi, open source drivers eventually become available…

          3. Obviously you’re new, but specs listed before a product is actually out aren’t always accurate because they tend to cut and paste from previous products…

            That said, if true, it would be unfortunate but doesn’t mean the device won’t be supported… Even if Intel uses a proprietary blob for their custom Ubuntu, it doesn’t mean drivers won’t be provided… And the Linux community has been dealing with this for years already and unless you use a distro without active community support then a solution usually comes out…

            Besides, it isn’t certain there will only be one model offered…

  7. Looks like Intel shouldn’t have used a Realtek chip. I always avoid Realtek hardware when it comes Linux support.

  8. This comment was what is commonly known as a joke. Since some folks here are a bit tetchy when it comes to the subject of Linux’s utility as a desktop OS, I have taken it down. Sorry to have bothered you.

    1. Try harder next time. I recommend that you search more about it (a good site is the Wikipedia).

  9. Well, that just kills the device. The main appeal to an Intel device is that it has standard hardware that “just works”. If you have a proprietary driver for the primary networking device, it’s DOA. And it’s not even an easily downloadable proprietary driver …

    1. It makes it less convenient but this doesn’t necessarily kill it…

      For example, such hardware never prevented netbooks from running hundreds of different distros…

      It helps if the hardware isn’t new, Bay Trail is over 2 years old and generally uses common components, and the drivers are already available but it can be done… Even if we have to start from the custom proprietary blob…

  10. Hey Intel, if you had released the Ubuntu variant with the same specs as the Windows variant i would have been a release day customer…

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