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."
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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!