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A Desktop Chromebook
on 6 October 2014
This is my review of the same model, but with 2 gigs less RAM and no keyboard and mouse. Otherwise, the experience is identical, so I thought it may be of help here, too.
This will be a detailed review; I'll include a summary of the software at the start and why you might want this at the bottom.
I've previously owned Google's test/beta Chromebook (the Cr-48) and then got the first generation Samsung Chromebook. My current Chromebook is the Acer C270 and I'm very pleased with it. Hopefully my experience with Chrome devices will make this review useful.
For those unclear, Chrome OS (which Chromebooks and this Chromebox runs) isn't like Windows. It's designed for web use, so you can't install regular software.
You can use Chrome browser extensions and apps, but not native Windows software. Android app support is coming soon, though this a developing feature and in a preview/beta state right now.
When you're buying a Chrome OS machine, you're buying a super fast, easy-to-use machine that accesses the web. It's for your email, Facebook, YouTube and things like that. You won't generally find sophisticated, PC-like games and you won't be using this machine to run Photoshop or Final Cut Pro. Basically, it's a fast, cheap web browsing machine.
Support & updates
Chrome OS is updated every 6 weeks, with bug fixes and new features. All updates happen in the background and updates are applied when you reboot, so you never need to worry about them.
All Chrome devices get a minimum of 5 years support from Google (from the time the device was introduced), with security and feature updates arriving regularly. Unlike Windows, there is never a charge for software updates.
As normal applications can't be installed on this machine, it can offer extra security. For example, if there's something installed that shouldn't be (like a virus) the Chromebox will reset itself to factory settings. Upon login, your settings will be restored and it'll update to the latest version.
Some plugins are not supported on Chrome OS, however the mainstream things work as expected; Flash is supported, so video sites like iPlayer work just fine. Netflix and YouTube work (via HTML5) but Java is the main problem for some: no Minecraft here.
Like other Chrome devices, this Chromebox boots in under 10 seconds.
This Chromebox will almost certainly be faster a year from now than it is today. That's because a big part of how a Chrome device is used is opening web pages. As the Chrome browser gets faster at doing that, Chrome devices get the benefits too and speed up over time, as well as gaining features.
If you mess something up and think you can't fix it, just go into the settings and choose Powerwash. It'll reset everything to exactly how it was when it left the factory. Login and all your settings will be downloaded and your device will update to the latest version. It's essentially a fast web browser, so there's nothing to mess up or confuse anyone; this would be great as a first computer, or for someone who isn't very technical.
Getting things done
This is where the big problem is for some people; you can't install normal software packages. You're currently limited to software that's delivered through a browser, though Android applications are coming. That said, would you expect Photoshop to work well on a sub-£200 machine? Keep the price in mind and your expectations should be met. There are also a good amount of applications and tools that work offline for Chrome OS now.
Check the Chrome Web Store for what you need, consider the limitations and you should be fine.
Some things don't work how they work on a regular computer. For instance, it's not possible to watch MKV video files with audio (at the time this was written) without converting them. If you upload a video to Google Drive, it'll process it in a way that works though. I do this regularly and it works well.
Printing is different too, as you can't just plug in a printer on Chrome OS. For those that are curious, Google has a service called Cloud Print, which involves connecting your printer to the internet, by using a Wi-Fi enabled printer or using a 'classic' printer by plugging it into a regular machine running Chrome. It's a little awkward, but offers remote printing benefits.
A key thing about Chrome devices is that they usually come with a 16GB, smaller, faster drive.
SD cards are supported for additional storage and external hard drives should work without a problem. 16 gigabytes of storage is considered very low by modern standards. It's worth considering however that this machine is designed to be on-line and if you're mostly using an on-line storage solution such as Microsoft's One Drive, Dropbox or Google Drive, it's not necessarily a problem at all to not have much local storage.
Google Drive is integrated into the Files application, meaning you can save files directly to your account and access them from other devices, too. Integration for other on-line storage (such as Dropbox) is in development.
As noted earlier, a Chrome device comes with 100GB of Google Drive storage free for two years, if bought new. A second hand device doesn't qualify for this.
If after two years you're using more than whatever the normal free allowance is at that point, you'll still be able to access what you've added, but not add new files that take up space. Existing files will not be deleted.
Though Google's services are featured, this device is perfectly functional if you use it in guest mode and never login.
There are four USB ports available for use here, as well as a HDMI and DisplayPort for the monitor. There's Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for connectivity, as well as a wired (Ethernet) internet port. There's also the standard headphone/microphone jack, SD card support and a Kensington lock for security.
As is standard, the USB ports will support things like a keyboard, mouse, external headsets, webcams and the like. Certain things do not work via USB, such as printers, which I've already covered. A full list of supported hardware can be found pretty easily via Google.
This Chromebox uses an Intel Celeron chip.
Celeron is Intel's basic offering, so is intended for moderate computing use. In other words, if you have just a few tabs open, it'll be fast and responsive.
Other configurations are available; a Core i3 (a much faster processor) is offered, if you feel you'll need that. Most people won't, however. It should only really be considered if you almost always have 20+ tabs open, or frequently have HD video streaming, as well as multiple other tabs running, given the increased cost.
For me, this is the perfect computer; I don't use any specialist software and on my old Windows machine only used Chrome and a media player. This delivers that in a tiny box and is faster and dirt cheap. This should be strongly considered if you just want a simple, crazy fast machine to use. If you need to use specialist applications and the Chrome Web Store doesn't offer usable alternatives though, this is likely not a candidate for your primary computer. However, given the low cost, it might be worth considering it as a second machine for fast web access.