Asus Chromebox review: An ultra-compact, affordable desktop PC

Asus Chromebox. (Supplied)

Asus Chromebox. (Supplied)

, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:15 PM ET

Google is well known as the Internet search giant. The Android mobile devices, the Chromebook notebooks and, now, the Chromebox desktop PCs are turning it into something else: a hardware giant. It’s the new Microsoft!

The business model is actually the same: Chromeboxes are ultra-compact and very affordable desktop PCs for which Google provide manufacturers with an operating system, in this case Chrome OS. They do the rest: assemble, package, retail, based on strict hardware specifications apparently imposed by Google and Intel.

The Asus Chromebox, launching in Canada this spring, shares many similarities with the one Samsung was selling last year. And HP’s own Chromebox, expected sometime this summer, is nearly identical to these two models: Intel processor, integrated graphics card with HDMI and DisplayPort and minimal RAM and SSD storage. No optical drive, no possibility of expanding or customizing innards.

There’s no VGA output either, which means you’ll either have to buy a new monitor, or at least, an adapter to use it with a Chromebox.

In fact, Asus’s Chromebox resembles a Mac Mini, albeit for a quarter of the price and with limited performance and storage. Its 1.4 GHz Celeron processor does the job, but it’s mainly due to how well Chrome OS behaves on that platform.

An $180 all-in-one PC for the whole family

The Chromebox is ideal for those who are looking for a new computer to browse the web, manage messages and social networks and sort photos and videos. Especially since the Asus Chromebox costs only $179!

The diminutive PC connects to the internet via Ethernet or WiFi, but it can also act as a media centre. The HDMI output on the back panel makes it compatible with any HDTV. It also sports four USB 3.0 ports, on which to connect an external drive that will make you forget the tiny 16 GB internal Flash drive, especially now that terabytes are so cheap… There’s also an SD card slot on the side of the Chromebox.

In any case, you will find all the applications, utilities and other pieces of software you need online, through Google’s Chrome store or here and there around the web. Most of what you need can be found and set up for free, from the Quickoffice suite of office apps to a full-fledged music player such as Google’s own Play Music, recently made available in Canada, which can store up to 20,000 or your own songs on its servers, for free.

The only area where you won’t find much of anything interesting is on the gaming side, where all that’s available is mostly casual, social or games ported from mobile platforms such as Android. The solution here would be for a service like Valve’s Steam to be customized for Chrome OS, but Chromebox will need a boost in power in order to make this happen. Until then, Windows or even Linux based PCs still have an edge.

The Asus Chromebox has another flaw: the manufacturer showcases it as an ideal companion for your connected TV, but the Chrome interface has not been designed for that particular purpose. And the fact that you can buy it with a mouse and a keyboard tend to assert that this device is an affordable desktop replacement more than anything else.

A versatile and ultra-compact desktop PC, at a very attractive price, which could rapidly turn into a threat for Microsoft’s still dominating position in that market.

Asus Chromebox
Chrome OS-based mini PC
Intel Celeron (1.4 GHz) processor
2 GB of RAM memory, 16 GB SSD internal storage, SD card slot
4 USB 3.0 ports, gigabit Ethernet, HDMI and DisplayPort
3.5 mm audio jack
$179


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