Since it’s recent launch, the Google Chromebox has met a fairly luke-warm response from the industry. Many of the gripes been around the price of the device vs the actual hardware specification (which is far from ground-breaking) complaining that it’s underpowered, or questioning its purpose / target market.
Retailing here in the UK for £279 (US$329) many feel this is too expensive, again coming back to the specification of the device as well as its limited scope of use.
Missing the point
I think many of these reviewers have either formed their opinions about the Chromebox before actually using one, or they’ve completely missed the point. Being a Cloud Computing nerd I’m naturally biased, but if you’re looking for a straightforward device that starts up almost instantly (and shuts down immediately) as well as performs 95% of tasks with ease then you’ll love it! Does it really matter what its internal components look like? And let’s face it aside from software developers or those with specific computing needs how many people need more than just a web browser these days? Because Chrome OS is Linux based the stability is naturally excellent, and Google Drive takes care of your data so no need to worry about backups.
Of course you can’t run a HD video editing suite on the Chromebox but then if that’s what you’re after then this device isn’t aimed at you, in the same way that a top spec Macbook Pro isn’t aimed at the casual user who might occasionally want to check their facebook account or listen to a CD.
Keep it simple, stupid
I decided to order a Chromebox to replace a dilapidated old home PC, which was now taking over 5 minutes just to boot up (running Windows XP Media Centre Edition) even after various tweaks to the registry and disabling any unnecessary services. It wasn’t a poor spec machine, it just couldn’t handle the requirements of todays virus scanners and apps such as Skype any more.
As a software developer it’s worth pointing out that this isn’t my machine but one used by family to browse the web, look at photos or do some basic word processing (the stuff 95% of computer users do these days). I didn’t relish the prospect of picking up a new Widows PC and having to uninstall all of the bloat-ware before having the pleasure of installing the apps I really want/need on there to keep things running smoothly. I wanted something hassle-free that could be going in a matter of minutes.
Luckily for me I’d seen an ad for the Chromebox and decided to check it out. I quickly realised that this was the product I’d been looking for, for these reasons:
- It has a small physical “footprint”
- A true “plug-and-play” device – connect I/O devices and that’s it
- Simple user interface
- No virus software to install & maintain
- Backups effectively built into the device via Google Drive
- Excellent boot speed and instant shutdown
The first thing you’ll notice when your Chromebox arrives is its size – so small that it appears to be in a laptop box (it is in fact smaller than a laptop). You can see that the box is clearly branded as a Samsung device, and apart from the chrome logo on the box there’s not much to indicate that it’s a Google product.
Open up the box and there isn’t a great deal in there other than the machine itself, a standard power supply and a number of manuals (Quick start guide, safety info & international warranty details) oh and the packaging of course. Remember to recycle!
Here’s the contents in it’s entirety laid out across the floor, the quick start guide may be helpful for some users but I found that it wasn’t necessary – the setup process is extremely straightforward and takes you through everything step-by-step.
The front of the Chromebox is minimalist. From left to right we’ve got the power on/off button, then a small headphone jack and finally 2x USB 2.0 ports (handy for plugging in your thumbdrives). There is no disk media tray supplied, but I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t connect an external drive via USB should you wish.
At the back we can see plenty of other connectivity options. From left to right we have a hole to connect a keylock should you wish to secure the device to a desk (being so small it would be very easy to walk out with) we then have the power socket. Then one DVI port for your display, followed by a Gigabit ethernet port. Then we have 4x USB 2.0 ports and below these to the far right there are 2x DisplayPort++ Outputs.
Once you boot up your Chromebox for the first time and connect to the internet, it’ll automatically check for system updates. If it finds any, it’ll download and install these before allowing you to proceed – which may be frustrating for some but I can assure you the process is quicker than downloading and installing a service pack from Microsoft. It’s also going to give you any new features and/or bug-fixes.
Once all system updates have been installed to the Chromebox, you can now login. You’ll need to sign up for a Google account if you don’t already have one, the process takes no more than 5 minutes and you can do this directly from chrome.
Chromebox official specification
The official specifications of the Chromebox are as follows:
- Intel® Core™ processor
- 4 GB RAM
- Built-in dual-band WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n
- Gigabit ethernet
- 6 USB 2.0 ports
- 2x DisplayPort++ Output (compatible with HDMI, DVI, VGA)
- DVI-I single link output (compatible with VGA)
- Bluetooth 3.0™ compatible
- Kensington™ key lock compatible
The future of computing?
The Chromebox (and Chromebook) computers are important because these are the first of a new breed of PC coming onto the market. Very much “thin-clients” designed primarily to provide a great online / web browsing experience, with App’s and services served via the cloud rather than installed and run locally. This means that the specification of these devices can be significantly lower than many of the desktop PC’s we see in the stores today, whilst at the same time providing a better overall experience to the end user.
As with any new approach to technology these devices will take some time to become “mainstream” but with the continued growth of Cloud Computing in both consumer and corporate sectors I believe we’ll begin to see more of these devices in the stores.