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Chromebox vs Chromebit — Which should you buy?

Most of the time when we're talking about Chrome OS, we're talking about Chromebooks. The lightweight operating system is perfect for smaller, more inexpensive laptops because it's just not very resource intensive. Those same qualities make it perfect for the Chrome-branded devices that don't get as much attention as they deserve — Chromeboxes and Chromebits.

A Chromebox is a concept most people will be familiar with. Think of a small computer designed to have a stand-alone monitor, mouse, and keyboard attached. If you pictured a Mac Mini or Intel NUC, you got it. A Chromebox is simple a compact desktop computer that runs the same Chrome OS as a Chromebook does. A Chromebit is a little different. It resembles a first generation Chromecast because it's essentially an HDMI stick PC. Everything needed to power the OS is inside the ultra-small casing and it plugs directly into an open HDMI port on a television or monitor. It has all the features you need to operate it — Bluetooth, WiFi, and a USB port built right in.

Both the Chromebox and Chromebit (as well as a Chromebook) run the same operating system and can do the same things within the limits of the hardware. The prices are even close. The differences between the two, and how you'll be using it, are what determines which is best for you.

Why a Chromebox is great

HP Chromebox

A Chromebox has a couple very strong points, and both are based on the hardware. You'll find that most Chromeboxes use higher-powered Intel Celeron or "i" model processors like traditional PCs or higher-end Chromebooks. These chips are known as solid performers and can power "regular" Windows computers, so they breeze through Chrome OS when mounted inside a bigger box with room for better cooling. I have an old Samsung Chromebox here with an Intel i5 processor here, and it can still keep up with anything I throw at it. Especially because of the next "pro" in the list.

A Chromebox makes for an almost perfect media center PC.

Most Chromeboxes use hardware you can upgrade. I don't mean the CPU or the disk controller or any random EEPROM on the board, but the storage and RAM can be swapped out for more capacity. Using off-the-shelf parts, you can drop a bigger solid-state disk drive and up to 16GB of RAM for most models. Some of the Intel "Core i" models can use even more RAM. You're only limited by what the motherboard supports (usually two 1.35 volt DDR3 SODIMM slots). The storage is usually a standard SATA M2 SSD and is an easy upgrade. Realistically, a Chromebox with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage is cheap and easy to build. Since everything on the board is Linux compliant (Chrome OS is Linux) you have yourself a great dual-boot machine that's about $600 cheaper than an equivalent Mac Mini, or a drop in the bucket compared to an Intel NUC that can run as well.

Which makes it hands-down the best way to HTPC. You'll have the horsepower to run any Ubuntu-based media center OS, and with two to four USB ports, you can attach almost limitless storage for your own media. Plug it into your receiver or TV, set up a wireless keyboard and mouse and off you go. And you can always boot back to Chrome if you only want to surf the web. Facebook never felt so fast.

Why a Chromebit is great

A Chromebit is the king of portable. It's about the size of a disposable lighter, and you can pair it with a small Bluetooth remote/mouse/keyboard combo (opens in new tab) that isn't much bigger. It's literally a full computer that will fit in your pocket, ready to use anywhere there is a television. There are a lot of people who love HDMI stick PCs, and usually, this is one of the biggest reasons.

A Chromebit is a great way to take everything with you.

Everything works and feels the same as a Chromebook, or even a souped-up Chromebox when you're using Chrome OS. Yes, the less-beefy ARM or mobile Intel processor can struggle a bit here and there when trying to render a full HD YouTube video, but for the most part, the experience is enjoyable. All your apps and extensions will load right up and run the same way they would on any other Chrome device, and you even have a USB port for extra storage if you need it and want to carry it along. You can still load a media center operating system on a Chromebit. (Some people are doing just that.) A Chromebit, a small keyboard combo and a cheap 250GB external drive filled with movies and music would make for a great vacation carry-along. It would also be an awesome tool to give a Google Docs or Google Sheets presentation in class or a meeting. For taking it with you, a Chromebit is great.

That's not to say a Chromebit can't be pretty cool at home, either. It's basically a plug and play option if you want the internet on any TV. Plug it into a free HDMI port, power it up and switch inputs. Many are CEC compliant and they boot in under 10 seconds, including wireless connectivity and paired with your keyboard and mouse. If you don't have room for a Chromebox or just don't want to see one in your entertainment center, a Chromebit might be just the thing for you.

The Chromebit, Chromebox, and Chromebook all do the same things the same way.

In the end, the Chromebit, Chromebox, and Chromebook all do the same things the same way. Much of the internet talk about Chrome OS is centered around Chromebooks because they are a cheap portable solution that's perfect for many. But all of the same things apply to the other Chrome devices, too. If Chrome is all you need, and you don't want to use a tiny screen, you should check a Chromebox or Chromebit out.

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.

34 Comments
  • I didn't even know chromebit was a thing?!!!
  • Same here. That's interesting.
  • I knew a Chromebit was a thing after reading this ^
  • Me too! I wonder if with the chromebit, instead of a physical keyboard and mouse, you could use a phone as the input device. Now before you say to 'just get a chromecast and mirror the phone', I'm thinking the chromebit would be a much more energy efficient solution, and more portable overall. And you could turn your phone screen off when you don't need to input anything.
  • I stayed away once or twice a week carrying a 14" Thinkpad with only a D'-Sub and no HDMI. Most hotel TV's don't have a pc input or they're mounted on a wall.
    I tried Chromecast from my phone but didn't see much use for it. I have to look at these when I start to stay away again.
  • Most hotels I stay in now have flat screen TVs, with multiple inputs, some even have a remote wired media connector set up in a desk or near the TV. I want a Chromebook tablet or convertible that will run Android, but a Chromebox or Chromebit that would also run Android? I could go for that.
  • So will this things get access to the play store and Android apps?
  • If it is indeed a full chrome os (which I don't know, but it sounds like it from the article) then yes. Not all android apps, from what I understand, but a lot or even most.
  • Some will. The ones in the pictures from HP and ASUS are on the list
  • Are there still companies out there that are making Chromeboxes? I've been wait to see if HP, Dell, or Asus has an updated one in the works. The Chromebit is nice but I want a bit more memory. I would also like to be able to upgrade components.
  • Haven't heard anything just yet. With the generation shift in Intel, I would expect to see cheap Haswell i-3s and Celerons to be available soonish. Instant buy for me if they do.
  • I have used a Chromebox for 2 years and absolutely love it as a desktop. I use an ultrawide monitor as well, the setup is perfect except my model (ASUS CHROMEBOX-M075U) does not have Google Play support (Asus Chromebox CN62).
  • Yeah, bummer that it's not gonna be supported. Neither is my Samsung. That's the only reason I'm thinking of replacing it.
  • Completely off-topic question: When are y'all going to release the results of the blind camera comparison? It's been over a week and y'all said the results would be out "next week" (stated last week). I know I'm not the only one anxiously awaiting that. #firstworldproblems
  • I was so close to getting the chromebit for my TV in the basement, but then I used screen casting on my phone with the Chromecast.. Then I realized I didn't need one.. But I still want one because reasons.
  • Jerry if you would do an article on setting up a Chromebox as a dual booting Linux media streaming box I would read that article and gosh darnit I'd enjoy myself. I run a HTPC right now and this seems like such an elegant solution with so many more options than the streaming boxes. What Linux media distro would you use?
  • That's on my list. After Pixelpalooza dies down a bit (and we see if anything new in the Chromebox space is coming soonish) I'm back at Chrome stuff I would install Crouton and set it up to boot directly to the desktop, and install Kodi (XBMC) or Plex
  • Thanks Jerry!
  • I still prefer my Chromebook. Using the HDMI output I can mirror to a large screen or even use it as a second screen. A Chromecast also allows the screen to be mirrored on a large screen TV. The Chromebox and Chromebit both need a keyboard and mouse, so you will probably end up with just as much to carry if working away from home.
  • Thanks, nice summary/update. I'm also interested in solutions for portable HTPC.
  • I own the Asus Chromebit CS10 (the one in the picture) and I love that little thing! I have it paired with a Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard K400 Plus (with a built-in touchpad). It's not the fastest Chrome OS device out there but it ain't slow either, it works just fine. Just plug it into any HDMI port on your TV and BOOM, Chrome OS on your TV! Only CON I have is that it only has 1 USB port.
    Now, will this device be upgraded to support Android Apps? YES IT WILL! (https://sites.google.com/a/chromium.org/dev/chromium-os/chrome-os-system...)
    So overall I would definitely recommend the Chromebit to anyone!
  • Thanks I didn't know these existed until Jerry wrote this article about it. Now I'll have to look into it...
  • I have the same keyboard that I use for my android TV box, just put nova launcher on the TV box to make it like and android PC. I also use the keyboard with an Intel compute stick, similar to the Chromebit but runs windows. If you need more USB ports on your Chromebit just plug in a USB hub.
  • https://www.amazon.com/AmazonBasics-4-Port-USB-2-0-Ultra-Mini/dp/B003M0N...
  • The Chromebit is legit, i got it for 70.00 through fry's code deals, usually about 88.00 but works wonderfully, and the reason I went for the chromebit was cause is connects to dual band internet, so i just connected my 5ghz connection and i have no lags when watching videos from online sites. I have the remix mini, but no dual band on that, so it is laggy when i want to watch videos so i just use that for internet, papers, shopping etc and the videos and streaming i use chromebit.
  • My sister owns a spa. They have two reception desks. When their Windows towers failed a few years ago I had her get two Chromeboxes instead. All of their applications were cloud based. They work like a charm. No noise. No viruses. No real maintenance. Small footprint. I'd recommend it to anyone with a similar need.
  • Do they handle Croton as well as a Chromebook?
  • The Chromeboxes are even better. The Chromebit is going to be able to do it, but the internals weren't designed for a heavy window manager and a bunch of background apps. Will need a lot of tweaking to get everything smooth
  • Thanks! My Christmas just got easier.
  • Definitely skip the crippled HP chromebox. Get the asus, i's often cheaper, more usb board, more dimm slots, and double the memory bandwidth.
  • Jerry, if I were going to buy a reasonably priced chromebox today, with a thought for upgrades in the future, which one do I buy? I'd like to try what you outlined above, but don't know quite where to start. I'm a little tech challenged. ;)
  • My partner loves his Lenovo ThinkCentre Chromebox Tiny
  • If these will be able to run Android apps, then they might become interesting indeed... we might be able to plug it in a PC monitor ( with multiple HDMI inputs ) and use it as second OS... I'll be more interested in Chrome OS if it was strong and mature enough to be a complete Media Server solution, capable of being a NAS & Plex Server in the same time...
  • More people might know if Google actually bothered to advertise them on store.google.com