Chromebox: A Complete Platform For $329
Could Samsung’s Chromebox and Google’s Chrome OS come close to realizing the dreams of many IT administrators? Chrome OS is both clean and secure. Its automatic updates alleviate much of the headache tied to locking down Windows-based systems. And a low price tag makes the Chromebox and affordable choice for large-scale deployments. So long as its Web-based software gets the job done, it's easy to imagine these little systems becoming popular in environments in need of basic productivity-oriented apps.
The Chromebox might be a more difficult sell in the mainstream client space. It's basically a $329 nettop, and that price includes software. Awesome. But it also asks you to step outside of your comfort zone. And if you're accustomed to Windows, installing your own updates, and storing your documents locally, it might be challenging to give all of that up for the more restrictive Chrome OS.
Intel's Celeron B840 isn't a particularly powerful piece of hardware, though that shouldn't worry you much. Chrome OS is lean, and everything that comes installed on the Chromebox runs smoothly.
However, this isn't just a story about the look and feel of a hardware platform. Buying a Chromebox means adopting the idea of the cloud. A 16 GB SSD leaves you little space for local storage, so the applications you run and the documents you create all come from and go to Google's servers. You get the benefit of fast access from almost anywhere. In exchange, you might be pushing your personal boundaries on privacy, along with that indescribable tether we all seem to have on our data.
Google’s Web-based gaming demo is a good example of the cloud's potential though. We know you all love to jokingly ask, "But can it play Crysis?" Even on a meager little hardware platform, the answer can be an affirmative. Playing Crysis 2 in a Web browser, free of installation hassles and with decent quality settings, is an impressive feat indeed. Apparently, there are still issues between Gaikai and Chrome OS, but we look forward to the service becoming available.
Application support is improving as well. Citrix Receiver is a good example, allowing Chrome OS users to access Windows programs. This seems aimed at IT departments, enabling access to Windows-based apps on Chrome OS. It also deflects a major criticism that Chrome OS on a nettop PC inhibits employees from getting work done.
The Chromebox can be a legitimately powerful machine in the hands of enthusiasts, too. Google and Samsung anticipated hacking, and our friends at ExtremeTech have detailed instructions for turning the Chromebox into a dual-boot Chrome OS and Linux machine with little fuss. The process is also reversible, preventing you from bricking the machine. Google's Chrome OS isn't the only Linux-based operating system that will run on the Chromebox, either. If you need another environment to work in, it's easy to switch to the free, stable, and popular Ubuntu distro.