Some may have suggested that the desktop is a dying breed – a relic of a bygone computing era – but Google is looking to buck that trend by putting its Chrome OS on a tiny computer called the Samsung Chromebox.
The small form-factor PC sports the latest version of Chrome OS and arrives alongside the new Samsung Series 5 Chromebook, to offer up a meaningful competitor to Apple’s Mac OS and Windows PCs.
Priced at $329 or £279, this is designed for the lower end of the market – think net-top – and its tiny size and simple interface could just make it a viable computer for people who need simplicity and surfing over file management and power.
The box arrives without monitor, keyboard and mouse but obviously needs all three – something worth considering if you do not already have the kit.
Ports and specs
Port wise the box sports six USBs, Ethernet, two display port outputs and a DVI single link output.
The first thing you may notice is that there is no HDMI port, something of a surprise considering the growing market for media PCs that plug easily into the television and, perhaps more critically, there is no VGA monitor input – which may mean many of its target audience will need to splash out for adaptors to actually be able to get it to work.
Innards wise, the Chromebox sports an Intel Celeron B840, a cheaper 1900Mhz dual-core processor with integrated graphics.
This is at the lower end of the power spectrum, but probably what you would expect at this price-point. Given that the Chromebox really isn’t built with any manner of core gaming in mind, it’s probably fit for purpose.
Bootup and Chrome OS introduction
Perhaps the most significant thing about the Chromebox is the Chrome OS within – an operating system that is built for being online and might well be more suitable to a home environment (where a connection is usually present) than in the Chromebook ranges.
We’ll dip into Chrome OS a little later, but it’s worth pointing out just how ridiculously easy it is to get the Chromebox up and running – something that could well be a critical point to its audience.
Using the office Wi-Fi, after plugging our Chromebox in to a keyboard, mouse and monitor (after finding an adaptor for the latter) we were up and surfing with all our Google apps, docs and Chrome bookmarks inside two minutes.
For many that have battled to get up and running on various PCs over the years it’s genuinely a breath of fresh air to be online and set up within minutes.
Chrome OS explored
Chrome OS itself has gone through a huge overhaul – bringing in a desktop and a windows set-up that will feel far more familiar to anyone who has used Macs or Windows PCs.
That means that multitasking is significantly improved in this version, something that you would expect from a desktop computer, and allows for you to have windows side by side on your monitor.
Another huge advantage of the Chrome OS in the Chromebox is that it boots in seconds, meaning that it is an ideal extra computer used for when you simply need to surf rather than to get to grips with more memory intensive programs.
This latter point is perhaps the crux – if you want to spend hours on productivity programs, video or picture editing for instance or constructing complicated office documents, then the Chromebox is probably not for you.
Programs cannot be simply installed as you would on a Windows PC or Mac but must be purchased or downloaded from the Chrome App Store.
This has certain advantages in terms of keeping the system speedy. All of the apps run online which means you never need to download updates and because most of the files are stored remotely rather than locally the in-built virus protection is not something you really need to worry about.
However, it does mean you are limited to what has made it to the App Store and been vetted by Google; so no “full-fat” Photoshop and no Microsoft Office (although the online Google Docs may well be powerful enough for many).
The super-speedy 16GB SSD is there to provide a little local storage, but, especially with a desktop PC designed to always be online, it is really just for the operating system files, cache and the odd bit of music.
In a lot of ways the Chromebox makes more sense for Google than the Chromebook; it provides a speedy, well-designed and novel way of getting online quickly with enough additional functionality to make it a fine second computer.
Because, by its nature, a desktop PC is normally always in range of a network (be it LAN or Wi-Fi) the offline functionality issues that have blighted the rise of the Chromebook are irrelevant to the Chromebox.
Although the issues around programs are still there, as a secondary PC the remote access features mean that this provides a neat addition for heavy users who need the additional power but want a “surfing” computer.
And for those who don’t need to do much more than consume media, files and browse the internet, this is a very cheap, very efficient and neatly designed offering from Samsung.
But, the omission of both HDMI and a VGA monitor cable in favour of the more-modern DVI is a massive oversight given the target audiences.
For many, having a second PC that they can plug into their TV (and many TVs have either of the two options) would be a tempting proposition, but making them go out to buy a cable is not ideal. Especially when they could feasibly go out and buy a tablet as a (pricier) alternative.
And for those with an old monitor (i.e. probably sporting an older cable and not DVI or DisplayPort) there would also be the need of a cable. It’s a silly oversight – and one that you would hope is rectified at point of sale.
Because beyond that, the Chromebox could well carve itself a nice little niche in the desktop market.