What is a Chromebox and how is it different from a Chromebook?

Acer Chromebox
Acer Chromebox (Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

Best answer: A Chromebox is a small form factor PC that runs Chrome OS. A Chromebook also runs Chrome OS but is instead a laptop or a tablet.

  • Best Chromebox available today: ASUS Chromebox 3 (opens in new tab) ($410 at Amazon)
  • Best Chromebook: Lenovo Flex 5 (opens in new tab) ($410 at Amazon)

More power, less portability

A Chromebook is a great way to be productive and have fun while you're on the go, but it works equally well at home on a desk or table. That leads to the question of why a Chromebox is a thing; what more can a Chromebox do to make it worth giving up the portability factor?

A Chromebox can't do anything more than a Chromebook, but it can do it all better. That's because of two things: it's not battery-powered, and the bigger chassis means more room for active cooling. Both of these make for a noticeable performance improvement when using the same internal hardware.

Chromebooks are great at power management, and that's why you can easily get up to 10 hours or so of use before you need to plug it in and recharge. But power management means slower processing speeds. Chromebooks also typically don't have a fan, so the processor will also slow down when things start to get hot, and processors get hot any time you're using them. Combine these issues, and you'll see a Chromebook CPU throttling its speeds when it can, and that can cause a dip in performance.

Acer Chromebox CX14

Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

A Chromebox comes in a bigger package. They're very small by PC standards, but inside the box, there's a lot more room than there is inside a Chromebook chassis. This allows for the addition of a real heatsink and fan, so much less thermal throttling happens. And since a Chromebox is always plugged in, you don't have any throttling to conserve battery life.

More room also means you'll see more options for ports and user-upgradeable parts. A typical Chromebox will allow you to expand the memory and replace the storage drive if you want more of it. You'll also see options like multiple USB ports, HDMI ports, security lock slots, and even Display Port connections.

A Chromebox and two monitors make for a secure and easy to use desktop — just add a mouse and keyboard and go! It's perfect for working from home, making conference calls, and even playing games through a streaming service like Google Stadia. They might not be as popular as Chromebooks are, but they are super functional and make a great living room PC.

New Chromeboxes are coming soon from Acer and HP, but our best choice is below if you can't wait.

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.