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Can a Chromebox replace my desktop computer?

Traditional desktop computers are slowly but surely being phased out. The days when every household had a cheaply made (but hardly inexpensive) Compaq or HP computer and clunky monitor for the family room are long past, and outside of people with extreme needs only businesses are buying desktops. And not because our needs have drastically changed, but because laptops, convertibles and micro PCs can do all the things we want them to do. And it's great not being chained to one desk to work and play on "the computer."

First ask yourself if you need a desktop at all.

Where does a Chromebox fit here? That's a question plenty of us have, including me. A Chromebox isn't something you can just recommend to anyone because for most people a Chromebook or something like a Pixel C or iPad is just better and not stuck at home. Companies making PC hardware know this, too, and you can buy a surprisingly good laptop for around $300 now from Google or Microsoft. But there are some cases where a desktop computer is practical or even better suited than a fancy thin flippy book thing or a silver laptop.

We can start with a case where a Chromebox just isn't going to cut it: gaming. Native Client and even HTML 5 were/are capable of some impressive stuff. But Chrome is caught in the catch-22 of nobody making hardware that's really good at playing games because nobody is making really good games. Other than a handful of "adult" game clients (those ads you may have seen daring you to try at a popular adult video site) the only really cool "games" ever developed for Chrome came from Google as API demos. The landscape is bleaker when you want to add VR to the mix.

We're OK with this. While it would be nice to have a few showcase games for Chrome, we don't want it to turn into something that isn't cheap and easy, like the money pit and time sink many of us have to play all those AAA titles. If you need a desktop computer for gaming, don't waste your time looking at a Chromebox.

You don't want a Chromebox if you're a gamer. Use the right tool for the job.

But there are two other areas where a desktop PC could be a better choice than something portable, and chances are a Chromebox (or a Chromebase) is the best way to do them both: something for the kids or something for the entertainment center.

Chrome OS Buyer's Guide

For the kids

Working mainstream technology into your kids' lives isn't easy. The products designed for children are safe and fun but can be a little boring once kids get to a certain age. And deciding when and how to introduce the young'ns to the internet and all the horrible things that live in it is one of the hardest things a parent will ever do. You can make the hardware part of the decision easy and buy a Chromebox. Chrome has a built-in supervised account feature, but there are also many other options available for parental controls through cloud services, application monitoring, and browsing proxies. I wish I had these things available on a sub-$200 computer when my kids were growing up.

Older kids can benefit from having a Chromebox if their school uses Google Apps for Education, too. The school login can live right beside a home login with different permissions for each account.

For the home theater

A Chromebox connected to a television is a no-fuss cheap way to make any model smart. A flip of the input source on your remote can take you to a full Chrome OS experience, complete with the best web browser available and all the apps and extensions you already use. It's the perfect gateway to all your online entertainment as well as a front end for your local video library through a NAS or media server. Best of all, you already know exactly how to use it.

Chrome is the best way to find the best media the internet has to offer.

Android TV is great. I love my Shield TV and the world of apps and games and everything Google has to offer through it. But sometimes a web browser is just the best way to do things, and for entertainment, this is the case. Netflix.com (opens in new tab) is a thing and makes any Netflix app unnecessary. And why buy a traditional desktop PC for hundreds more when the first thing you'll do is install Chrome?

The best Chromebox you can buy

If you have particular needs that require a Windows or Mac desktop PC, you know this and know that a Chromebox can't replace it. But some things a desktop does better than a laptop are also better done with Chrome.

See at Amazon (opens in new tab)

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

37 Comments
  • Yup. I have tossed out my windows PCs and now I have 2 Chromebooks insted
  • I'm looking for an android box that I can connect to my network and then remote desktop to from my PC. Any suggestions? It should run android 7 or 6 at the least. Tried bluestacks but it kills my laptop battery hence needing networked android box instead.
  • Nice article Jerry.
  • I miss the times when articles where written by experts.
    You can use Crouton (GNU/Linux in chroot) with Chrome OS so you can have almost all the FOSS for a desktop computer use, including some FOSS games.
    You can play FREE flash games as those kids use to play on FRIV Armor Games and similar pages
    You also can install all the Android APKs, including games and play with them.
    And people that use Chromebooks with google docs (you can even dictate to it instead of writing what it specially great for children to make their homework even reading the web on a monitor while speaking to a tablet or phone with the documents apk) do not usually need to use GNU apps. I suppose that the not cheap, and more than $1000 HP Chromebox with i7 will play games better than the 10 times cheaper Gigabyte GB-BXBT-2807 celeron and not 10 times better as well if this machines would use any other OS. Unfortunately there are not AMD SoCs (Intel GPUs are not good for gaming) or Nvidia GPUs or Tegra SoCs models to compare, but also in the MS WOS sells there are more than half GPUs that are Intel too and that hardware is not good for hard gaming with any OS.
  • While that's possible, that's also more effort than it's worth. Not to mention that leaves out AAA games that most users would want to play.
  • AAA titles need Nvidia or AMD GPUs, and not Intel ones, and still more than half GPUs market is Intel. So more than half the market do not care about AAA titles. Only 55 Million people have a Steam account. So even I am one of those, that also has Origin and Battle.net accounts is not the big part of the market there are much more casual gaming as almost everybody has a pocket computer that is also a phone, than AAA gaming. So desktop Chrome OS use for gaming depends - as with any other OS - of the hardware, drivers, and titles, and if there where a Intel + Nvidia or AMD SoC Chromebox it would run games as well as FreeBSD run PS4 games or MS WOS run games with dx12 and this intel Chromebooks with MS WOS would be as bad for AAA gaming as probably 90 to 95% of actual home computers are.
  • I think he understands that, that's why he pointed it out. For many people the only valid reason to have a desktop PC at home is gaming. This box will not do that. Also for myself, I don't like that these machines (as well as Chromebooks) ship with closed BIOSs, and won't allow you to install whatever it is that you want on them, such as linux. Sure, you're ok with Crouton, I'm not. It's one of the main reasons I passed up on a Chromebook recently. Android/Chrome OS are great, but they're not the answer to everything, some aspects of my life I want to live without Google.
  • I am a GNU/Linux user, but i am writing about the article and their prospects.
    Chromeboxes are not for AAA gaming as 95% of MS WOS pre installed computers, and that is statistically almost all of them. And said that, if you have an AAA capable Chromebox, you will be able to use Steam with crouton or use wine over Android or Crouton and then play AAA games much more than with actual game consoles. So as it (95% of MS WOS machines will not let you play AAA games) is not said as a mantra every time a MS WOS or Android pre installed machine is reviewed it is not a relevant part to say in this article. Or if you want to write it with respect, and not as a fanboy repeated mantra you can write "as all the computers, no matter the OS, in this price range do not expect AAA game titles for this cheap machines". But it seems it was not the intention. And of course most Chrome OS machines are for consumer use, as game consoles are for consumer gamer use. Wrote that a $400 Chrome OS machine with the same or similar hardware actual MS Xbox and Sony PS4 consoles have would be still cheap and very capable of running AAA games, at least at 720p, and probably even $300 ones when new AMD SoC will arrive, and perhaps will succeed more than the Steam Machines. So it is not the OS, perfectly capable of running, even now, AAA titles, but, as with any OS, low performance hardware, and then to write any computer with Chrome OS will be not able to run AAA games is inaccurate and probably wrote without thinking that only 5% of computer users are AAA gamers.
  • Sounds like you and your big giant head should start your own website to spew expert level snark.
  • I miss the times when comments were written by experts.
  • So when did you read about Intel NUCs, or Intel laptops or PCs "they are not for AAA gaming" in general and not for an specific model?. Of course they aren't, only Nvidia and AMD GPUs allow you to play AAA titles and they do not sell too much, since 2007 discrete graphic cards sells went from 97 Million a year to the actual (2015) 44 Million, so AAA computer gaming is shrinking a lot. "Chromebook shipments in 2015 hit 6.2 million in 2015 and are projected by ABI to hit 7.6 million in 2016 and 11.6 million in 2021. Laptop shipments hit 129.7 million in 2015 and are expected to drop to 126.1 million in 2016 and to 116.3 million in 2021. Ultraportable shipments will increase, based on ABI estimates, from 27.1 million in 2015 to 30 million in 2016 and 41.2 million in 2021. All three segments combined included shipments of 163 million machines in 2015. ABI estimates that the combined shipments will hit 163.7 million in 2016 and 169.1 in 2021." "This chart from Statista makes it clear: According to recent data from research firm Gartner, annual PC shipments totaled 269.7 million in 2016. That’s a 6% decline year-over-year, the fifth straight annual decline, and the lowest total since 2006, when shipments were a hair under 240 million." So discrete GPUs are ONLY for 20% of PCs and probably AAA gaming only for 5%. And that is statistically a niche, when Chromeboxes is another niche, that obviously is not for AAA gaming, that is for the now in pause Steam Machines that we do not know if we will see again and some rare 5% of PC and laptop machines. And Chromebooks /boxes are fighting for the 1% now.
  • Oooooooo! lol
  • https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Run-on_sentence
  • Honestly I don't think you said anything of interest or pertinent to the article. But if you enjoy spewing trivia, maybe you need your own expert opinion blog or website.
  • While I have been surprised by how useful and what i can do with my chromebook. Android app are far from the saving grace they are made out to be. Its a odd implementation and they don't have access to the entire file system.
  • I bought that same HP Chromebox for $79 from a local retailer. It probably doesnt get as much attention as my Chromebook does, but I have it set up as a living room box and it works great! :) Just wish I could cast to it....
  • No. Because vidya games. If I wasn't a gamer though I probably wouldn't need a desktop at all, but I definitely wouldn't get a Chromebook.
  • My parents loved the Chromebox I got them for Christmas a few years back. It did (almost) everything they needed it to and didn't need as much attention as their Windows tower did. Unfortunately, this was before Google Docs and ChromeOS had really good .docx support, and my dad needed something that would support it better. I bought them a comparable Windows box since we'd already recycled their tower. Is there any news about Chromeboxes getting Android apps? Now that the Word Android app would be available, I'm wondering if it's worth another shot for my parents.
  • Google was very vocal about pushing the Play Store and apps to the ChromeOS community a year ago. Since then it been almost total silence and zero progress. Still just the three Chromebooks we had a year ago are fully supported. I think this will actually get dropped.
  • Don't forget it's also great for Parents or Grandparents! They probably don't have the gaming needs and mostly just need it for browser, email, FB and simple docs work. Plus you can connect to a large monitor to help the aging eyes. the best part is that the tech support calls to you will stop. no viruses to worry about and with Chrome Remote Desktop you can help them remotely.
  • If it doesn't run xLights it will not sit on my desktop.
  • Nice article but I I think it misses what to do when there is an apps gap. Some apps still aren't there on Chrome. At this time of year, TurboTax would be one example. If this is to be the accessible, low maintenance platform it aspires to be, there may need to be a virtual PC that is more accessible than Wine/Crouton as they exist right now.
  • TurboTax is available on the web instead of as an installed application and other tax companies offer free e-filing via their websites, also.
  • Agree with you SEAJeff. My biggest hurtle was how to track my finances without Quicken. After spending a month with my financial institution's online banking and bill pay service, I actually found that it did everything I needed without the need for troublesome and expensive Quicken updates. I also found a Google alternative for my hardware scanner and fax, in Google scan to Drive, and HelloFax. So if you try hard enough, I think the majority of folks can find a way to move to the much more friendly Chromeos. J
  • Code Weavers (software company) is developing an Android app called "Crossover" (in Beta) that will allow some Windows programs to run on a Chromebook. Lilliputing did a YouTube video Aug. 2016, link attached: https://youtu.be/_qiP3lcDykA
  • I'm one of the few who won't give up his desktop, I still lug that thing around for gaming, and I enjoy sitting at my desk with a triple monitor set up, I didn't invest in a nice desk and chair to use a laptop at it. However I do want a Chromebox for my living room, I have a PC attached to my TV and this would be a much more compact and just as capable device for Web browsing and media consumption.
  • I bought my husband an Acer Chromebox CXI2­-4G (which will eventually run Android apps) a few months ago to replace his dying Windows emachine. For what he uses a computer for (mostly web-based activity) it does a marvelous job with faster response (less OS overhead in the way) and fewer worries about viruses/trojans. It's definitely a good alternative for senior adults and kids!
  • Fyi you can install Chrome on the Nvidia Shield. In addition, depends on what type of processor on the Chromebox. The Celeron in my experience wasn't great for Youtube at 1080p. The better processors cost more though and at that price a Shield or mini pc would be better imo
  • I'm almost there! I have a now-old i7 3770K and 660Ti running Chrome 97% of the time. I've wanted a Chromebox ever since they came out and I may get one to plug one of my screens and get a laptop. Not sure what to do with my desktop anymore.
  • Boot up time and system updates take a fraction of the time compared to a windows 10 machine.
    As I get older I have less time to waste on a PC's.
    What I do miss is the ability to use SDK tools and ADB commands on my Android phones.
  • It has for me, a couple of years ago.
  • I have A chromebox in the living room connected to the TV for years and it rock solid. I use it mainly for movies and my chromebook for everything else.
  • I too am making the leap from a PC to a Chromebook. I am so excited about computing again because of it, I started a blog to tell about my experience.
    http://thebigeekspeaks.blogspot.com/p/operation-chrome.html
  • Good article!
    I have a Win10 laptop from Microsoft (signature edition, so no 3rd party bloat) for photos, gaming and MS Office (I get the full professional plus whatever for $10 through my company, so hell yeah). I have a Chromebook for everything else. It's awesome. Honestly, I had forgotten about Chromeboxes, and I may have to get one for my living room. Thanks for the reminder!
  • First ask yourself if you need a Chromebox at all!
  • I got one for my grandmother. She hated using a PC and wanted something simple to get to Facebook and her email.
  • does a chromebox do all things a chromecast would do?