You've decided on a Chrome OS — now you just have to choose which one fits your needs best.
Plenty of people have started to consider Chrome OS computers — whether that's for a primary, secondary or travel machine — for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being price and simplicity. Chrome OS enables you to have a simple yet powerful computer that can be handed to anyone and used right away, without all of the headaches of maintenance or management. And while we're mostly all familiar with Chromebooks, Chrome OS comes in other form factors as well.
To help you choose between the available options out there today, we're going to break things down into each Chrome OS computer category — Chromebooks, Chromeboxes, Chromebits and Chromebases — to tell you which works best for which tasks and needs, and then offer up recommendations for the best product in each category.
Ready to buy a Chrome OS computer? Read on with us.
For most people looking for a Chrome OS computer, a Chromebook will be the best choice. Computing is moving further away from desktop-style machines every day, and if you're looking for a second computer to have around the house or perhaps to travel with, there are tons of great options.
Your average Chromebook will have either an 11-inch or 13-inch display, though if you really need a big screen there are a couple of options with 15-inch displays. There are three things to look for in a display when shopping — resolution, display type and touch screen capabilities. Most cheaper Chromebooks will have a 1366x768 resolution, but if you can do it go for one with a higher 1920x1080 resolution instead. When it comes to display type, try to find one with an IPS panel, rather than a cheaper TFT or TN panel — you may have to dig into the specs for that info — to get the best colors and viewing angles. Lastly, you may want to opt for a touch screen — chances are this is more of a luxury than a need, and you can assess how much you actually want to touch your laptop's screen.
On the inside, most Chromebooks follow the same recipe. You'll have either an ARM or Intel processor — the ARM models are more power efficient and don't need fans, but aren't as powerful, while the Intel models offer a bit more speed but can hit battery life and often have fans associated with them. As for memory, we always recommend getting as much as you can afford — many models top out at 4GB, and that's usually enough. In the storage department, you'll be choosing between 16 and 32GB, and the former is probably OK for you — Chromebooks also include SD card slots if you need more.
Last but not least, it's about the style and durability. When you look for a Chromebook, know that the price directly influences the quality of the hardware. A $179 machine just isn't going to be built as well as the $299 one, and the corners will usually be cut in durability and feel. A lower-end Chromebook may feel cheap, flexible or hollow, while a higher-end model will withstand some abuse and last you a few years without wearing out. You can often opt for an education-focused model if you want better durability (likely along with some weight), or if you don't think you'll need that you can always stick with a consumer-level version.
Think a Chromebook is right for you? We keep an updated list going of all of the best Chromebooks available, which you can read at the link below.
Fewer people have likely heard of Chromeboxes before, especially outside of education and business circles. These compact desktop computers run the same Chrome OS available on Chromebooks, and often have many of the same internal components — they're just targeted at a different set of users.
Compared to other "desktop" computers, Chromeboxes are surprisingly compact little machines. The standard size of a Chromebox is about 5-inches square and less than 2-inches high, meaning it won't command much desk space and can easily be stowed in an entertainment center or even mounted on the back of a monitor.
Because the Chromebox isn't really constrained by power or size — like a laptop is — you'll find higher specs, more ports and better capabilities in these little desktops. Most Chromeboxes will run a capable Intel processor in their base models with options to spec as high as a Core i3 or i5, and while they still often start at 2GB of RAM you can find them with as much as 8GB — some are even easily user-upgradeable after purchase. Chromeboxes are more than capable of running a high-resolution monitor and handling all of your needs, so long as you again stick to our recommendation of at least 4GB of RAM (more if you can handle it).
The one big arena where Chromeboxes set themselves apart from Chromebooks is in ports and expandability. While your average Chromebook will have just two USB ports (only one of which is USB 3.0), most Chromeboxes will have four to six USB ports, plus two video outputs and sometimes SD card slots. The expandability makes it easy to plug in a keyboard and mouse, thumb drives, external hard drives, webcams, microphones, more all at once, and chances are you'll be less worried about the internal storage of a Chromebox because of this.
Peripherals and bundles
The downside of a Chromebox is having more setup. When you buy a Chromebox you're just getting the desktop and a power cable — you'll have to provide a monitor to plug it into, and a keyboard and mouse to manipulate it. If you have these already it makes things easy, but if you have to buy them at the same time the setup can get a little more expensive.
Many Chromebox manufacturers offer bundle deals for an extra $25 to $50 that include a Chrome OS keyboard and basic mouse — often Bluetooth ones — that are set up to work with the machine right away, but chances are if you're willing to shop around you can find better deals buying them separately. Chromeboxes will work just fine with any standard USB or Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.
Pricing on Chromeboxes varies a bit more than Chromebooks can because of their wider range of configurations, but for the most part you're going to start your search at around $149, ranging up to about $599 for a fully-loaded system that comes with peripherals. ASUS is probably your best bet for Chromeboxes, but HP also has a few compelling options that you can compare them to.
The Chromebit is an interesting computer because it really takes the main benefits of a Chromebox but drops them down in scale, capabilities and price. Rather than taking up the space of a desktop-like machine, the Chromebit is a 5-inch long stick with an HDMI plug on the end that can go straight into a monitor or TV to turn it into a functional Chrome OS computer.
Because of its small size, the Chromebit doesn't offer much in terms of features. The stick has a single USB port on it for connecting peripherals to it, and because of its power constraints you can't plug in anything that needs to draw more than 500 mA of power — you'll have to step up to a powered USB hub if you want more peripherals or power. And aside from a short HDMI extension cable included in the box, there isn't much flexibility in terms of placement or configuration of the Chromebit.
The main draw of such a small complete computer such as this is is how easily it can be packed up and moved between monitors, turning any screen with an HDMI port into a computer. Whether that's a TV in your entertainment center, a display in a conference room or a monitor at a friend's house, you carry the exact same Chrome OS experience to each screen.
Just like a Chromebook you'll need to bring your own keyboard and mouse, and at this time there aren't any default bundle deals — you'll have to build your own bundle with peripherals of your choosing. Because of its restrictive ports you'll want to go with Bluetooth for the keyboard and mouse.
At this point ASUS is the only manufacturer making a Chromebit, and to that point only makes one model, so the specs are easy to understand. You get a low-power but capable Rockchip ARM-based processor, along with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage space.
Other manufacturers are likely to get into the game making Chromebit-style hardware, but considering the limitations of this form factor things aren't likely to change much inside when they do.
The fourth and final Chrome OS computer style is the Chromebase, which applies the simplicity of Chrome OS to the all-in-one style desktops that keep the setup time to a minimum. Just like these all-in-one machines from other manufacturers, Chromebases are popular for taking out of the box and being completely self-contained with minimal setup time and the lowest total cost for all components — whether that's at home, in a business or even a school computer lab.
The most common Chromebase screen sizes land between 20- and 24-inches diagonally, which matches up well with the size of screens that most people are looking for with an all-in-one machine. Thankfully the standard resolution for these is 1080p, which is plenty.
You'll likely have the choice to option in a touchscreen panel for an additional cost, which will be up to you to decide if it's worth it. At the size you aren't likely to need a touchscreen, but for a younger user it may seem more natural to have it there.
The all-in-one nature of the Chromebase is a blessing and a curse, as you don't have multiple choices for displays in each Chromebase model. If you don't like the few size options or quality available from the handful of Chromebases out there, you'll be better off going with a Chromebox and choosing your own screen separately — you may just be paying more for the privilege.
Specs and options
For the most part, you'll find Chromebases follow the same basic internals as a Chromebox — a mid-range Intel or ARM processor, as well as 2 or 4GB of RAM and 16GB storage and a handful of USB ports for expandability. We always say that you should go with the highest amount of RAM possible, but don't worry about storage as much considering the expansion options available and the desktop style of these machines.
Manufacturers haven't quite kept up the pace of releases on Chromebases the way they have on Chromeboxes, so if you're looking for the latest up-to-date specs and options you aren't likely to find them here. But if you want the easiest route to a full-functioning desktop all-in-one, a Chromebase is a good choice.