Is a Chromebox Coming Your Way?

Category: Hardware

Chromebooks are in the news regularly, and I've written about them several times. But the Chromebook has a sibling we don’t hear much about: the Chromebox, a Google Chrome-based desktop PC replacement. Could this be your next home or office computer? Read on...

What is a Chromebox?

Let's start by reviewing. I last wrote about Chromebook in January. (See Is 2015 The Year You Buy A Chromebook?) The lightweight, cloud-centric laptops powered by Google’s Chrome OS are steadily gaining market share among educators, enterprises, and individual consumers.

Like a Chromebook, a Chromebox relies heavily on cloud services and web-based apps. Internet connectivity is crucial, so a Chromebook has Ethernet and WiFi built in. CPU power and RAM are not so important because a browser is usually the only app that runs locally. Apps and data reside mainly in the cloud, so local storage space can be limited.

When you don’t need much storage, relatively expensive but high-performance solid-state drives are feasible. Add a HDMI/DisplayPort for connecting to any sort of monitor, some USB ports for keyboard, mouse, and other peripherals, and support for wireless printers. That’s your generic Chromebox.
What is a Chromebox?

How does it work? One of my readers, Greg Chamberlin, commented on the January article linked above:

I have gone completely Chrome this year. Have a Chromebook laptop and a Chromebox with 32" HDTV for monitor on my desk. Everything just works - no waiting for updates, no crashes, no malware issues. And there are plenty of apps that work offline as well. All of the Google services (GMail, Calendar, Drive, Docs, etc) can be set up to run offline without an internet connection. So it’s not just a brick....

But What About Windows?

It's not quite accurate to say that one can't run Windows programs on a Chromebook or Chromebox. With a bit of geeky tinkering, you can make it happen. See my article Windows Apps on a Chromebook for details. But with so many free cloud-based alternatives, you'll probably find that you don't need to do so.

The best and worst things about a Chromebox are the same thing: it doesn’t run Windows, or Windows apps. If you need to use a Web app that works only with Internet Explorer, or if you need to run a local app that’s Windows-only, then a Chromebox just won’t work for you. But as Greg says, life without Windows is a lot simpler and safer.

Below are examples of Chromeboxes currently available from well-known companies like HP, Asus, Acer, and Samsung. Their common features are astoundingly small sizes (under 5 x 5 x 1.5 inches) and prices ($150 to $180 base, up to $350).

At the high end ($350 list, as low as $269 street price) is the LG Electronics Chromebase, an elegant all-in-one design that includes a 21.5-inch 1080p monitor. Its specs include a 1.4 GHz Intel Celeron 2955U Dual-Core CPU; 2 GB of RAM; and a 16 GB Solid State Drive; Bluetooth and Wi-Fi; four USB ports and one HDMI port; and a 1 Mpixel Webcam. A keyboard and a mouse are included, though it seems odd they’re both wired products.

The Acer CXI can be had with 2 GB of RAM ($179) or 4 GB ($229). It features an Intel Celeron 2957U Haswell 1.4 GHz CPU; a 16 GB SSD; Gigabit Ethernet, Wifi, and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity; HDMI, Displayport, 4 USB 3.0 ports, and a multi-format memory card reader.

The Dell Chromebox comes in several configurations ranging from $179 to $329. All include integrated Intel graphics, 16 GB SSD, WiFi, Ethernet, and Bluetooth 4.0, four USB ports (but no HDMI port), and a multiformat card reader. Dell offers a wireless keyboard/mouse bundle for $20.

HP Chromeboxes start as low as $159 and come in turquoise as well as white and black, just in case your home office is decorated in the style of the ‘60s. The base model includes a 1.4 GHz Celeron CPU, 2 GB of RAM, integrated graphics, 16 GB of SSD, WiFi, Ethernet, and Bluetooth. Four USB ports, an HDMI port, and a DisplayPort, plus an audio out jack and a multiformat card reader are included.

Will you replace your aging desktop PC with a Chromebox, wait for Windows 10, or jump with both feet into the world of Linux?

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Is a Chromebox Coming Your Way?"

Posted by:

John Anderson
01 Jun 2015

This sounds like a grand idea. I am at the point in my life (85) where I need to do personal and family things on the computer, and use it for some reading and recreation, and use it as a source of family entertainment such as movies and documentaries.

HOWEVER...I found the abrupt way Chrome 'enhanced' its bookmark functions very disturbing. I had my bookmarks organized to meet my needs, and could readjust as needed. Then a new version appeared. That version is not intuitive. I was able to revert to the former layout for my current bookmarks (although how long that will last I do not know) -- but new bookmarks do not always appear where I think I have assigned them. There are bookmarks I have created that I can only access from the bookmark manager. Those problem bookmarks are listed as being in the file I assigned for them, but they do not show up when I list the contents of the file.

For this reason, I'm not ready to look at a Chromebox as my primary internet tool. In fact, I'm already thinking of switching my browser back to Firefox or waiting for Edge to come out.

Posted by:

01 Jun 2015

Do I really want another OS? The simple answer is NO!
Windows 8.1 works with a 'classic front end' which makes it almost the same as 7.
I have used linux and Ubuntu was 'almost' the same for browsing and other basic stuff.
I use an android tablet for ebooks and checking email/browsing BUT it is nowhere near as functional as 7 or linux.
If a chromebox is similar to android AND needs constant connection to the internet it would be a nightmare for me.
As for size - I have a zotac ZBOX used for basic functions on and off the net and it's only 5"x5"x2" and was a similar price including 8.1 and a 500GB drive (OK on offer at amazon but...)
All in all a ChromeBox seems more trouble than it's worth before thinking about bang for buck.

Posted by:

01 Jun 2015

Won't work for me. I have too many applications that require Windows and must reside on my local machine. In addition I have to store a lot of related modified data. while I use a heavily protected web backup system the computing I do must be done locally. Given the privacy requirements I must meet in my work I don't see the "cloud" as a viable option. I would be held responsible by law even for a "cloud" security lapse or breach over which I had no control.

Posted by:

Stuart Berg
01 Jun 2015

My biggest problem with Chromebook/Chromebox is peripherals. Other than printers that are designed for Google Cloud Print, you can't hook your local printer to them. Connecting any existing scanner you might have to them is currently impossible. (There are test versions of the Chrome system that are trying to attach SANE [Scanner Access Now Easy] scanners, but so far not much luck.) I've even read about many wireless keyboards and wireless mice that won't work on Chrome devices. Until Chrome gets its act together with peripherals, I'm not ready for Chrome.

Posted by:

Jan Kahler
01 Jun 2015

I use the Internet for e-mail and Facebook. I also use MSWord documents and MSExcel 2010 for mailing lists, both of which I transmit by email to others. I also scan in music, news paper articles, etc. which I transmit via e-mail to others.

I have Windows, having been forewarned against Windows 8. Windows 7 will be automatically updated for many years in the future. Since I am so submersed in MS, I doubt that I would like to learn a whole new program, such as ChromeBox. Time will tell whether I'll stay with Windows 7 or transition to Windows 10.

It seems that all these new programs are designed only as money makers, not customer convenience.

Posted by:

01 Jun 2015

The Chrome Browser gets infected with malware. What makes you think that the Chrome OS is immune to malware? Any software and all hardware is subject to study and with time WILL get infected with all sorts of malware. Yes both the hardware and software will get infected. If the devices in secure government telephones can get intrusions then the Chromebox will have a similar fate. Only fools and dreamers can think otherwise.

Posted by:

01 Jun 2015

Not really comfortable with the cloud so Chrome is out for now. Like what I hear so far about Windows 10 and will wait to hear how that's working out. If that's a bust will look more seriously into Linux.

Posted by:

01 Jun 2015

Why bother with Chromebox? Refurbished Lenovo, HP and Dell compact desktops are widely available now, with Windows 7 pre-installed, for less than $150. So do we really need to get caught up in Google's tentacles?

These compacts come with dual core processors, memory expansion capability, PCIE and PCI expansion slots and lots of USB ports. With these babies, you can run most of your older and current Windows apps - and still have the flexibility to work the "cloud", if you so desire.

EDITOR'S NOTE: There is no option without tentacles.

Posted by:

Bob Deloyd
02 Jun 2015

I think Dell shot themselves in the foot by not providing an HDMI port....

Posted by:

lynn brown
02 Jun 2015

I am already using linux mint 17.

Posted by:

02 Jun 2015

I cannot find a workable solution for extracting compressed files using the Chrome OS. My wife is blind and listens to books downloaded from the Library of Congress as zipped files, which are then extracted to a special USB cartridge and played in a special player. The extension to Google Chrome browser might work for small files but not for large files made up of many parts. Perhaps a way will be developed that is effective as the ones used in Linux and Windows.

Posted by:

Walter vdH
02 Jun 2015

We just bought a new PC, and as usual, have had nothing but trouble with it in the less than 2 months we have owned it. If this article had appeared 3 months ago, we probably would have gotten a ChromeBOX instead.

Posted by:

Smoky Lowe
02 Jun 2015

The day google takes over all the internet and computers will be the day I will no longer have one.There is nothing it can do that a regular good computer can and I don't need the cloud at all.I want mine where I can see it,dump it,or just fill the hard drive to the limit.Thank you,but no thanks.

Posted by:

03 Jun 2015

As usual, it's different strokes for different folks. The same sort who can live with the limitations of a tablet will probably find Chromebooks/boxes just fine for them. These things just seem to have too many limitations to be useful for a "content creator" like myself. Yes, Google Drive is a nice thing when collaborating with multiple "creators" as I do for our business documents, but the "extras" one gets with a standard Windows PC are a must for us.

Plus none of my MMORPGs work on anything but Windows, or Mac (and maybe Linux).

Add to that the lack of wi-fi connections (especially dependable and/or secure ones) most places I go and ChromeWhatever is a dud.

Maybe someday...

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