Chromebox Review: A Ketchup & Salt Affair

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Performance

Booting and Shutdown Speeds

You might be doing yourself a favor to just simply read the two words in the next sentence and then skip along to the next section.  It’s fast.  If that’s all you wanted to know, then go ahead and move on.  The system boots up in about 1 second.  It shuts down just as quickly.  This is quite a bit more impressive than the last Chrome device I had my hands on.  The CR-48, while being incredibly underpowered, still had a lot smaller of an OS footprint when compared to Chrome OS with the Aura Window Manager on board.  Even still, the old CR-48 took several seconds to boot.

Memory Management

You’ll only find 4gb of RAM on board, which even though this is a browser-driven OS, I still consider it to be modest.  Regardless of that invisible wall, I was able to manage 3 browser windows with ten tabs open in each for over 1 hour.  Five of these tabs were Google Plus tabs, which are known for an exorbitant amount of resource consumption.  Three of these tabs were consuming an average of 250mb of memory a piece.  One of those three tabs maxed out at 330mb.  Also, I streamed an episode of WWE NXT with Hulu Plus at 480p, and a 1080p video from Youtube.  Those were not amazing experiences by any stretch of the imagination, but they did not impact browsing performance at all.  Read more about my streaming experiences below.

Window Management and Graphics

The Aura Window Manager.  Some might believe that it is Google’s way of admitting that a completely web-based operating system is impossible.  When using it, it becomes painfully clear how stubborn Google is about Chrome OS and how it should operate.  Many options and features are still nested inside the browser settings menu, and purposely not available in a global system settings menu.  Though it does perform, and is quite beautiful to behold.

Aura has subtle, gorgeous effects scattered all over it.  The depth of each window shadow and the opacity level of the taskbar at the bottom of the screen are all perfectly calculated.  Now matter how busy my desktop became, the desktop compositor never skipped a beat, and not once did I see any tearing, ripping or artifacting.

Streaming Video and Audio

This is easily the weakest link of the whole system, and at the same time reveals the disturbing irony of the state of web-only computing.  I’ll touch on that later, but it’s important to note that streaming video on the Chromebox is a wasted effort in futility.  Watching a 1080p video on Youtube is possible, but the quality is so poor that you could easily spend your time better doing anything else.  Hulu will work for you too, but even a video at a paltry 480p resolution is horrifyingly awful to watch.  It seems strange for me to say this, but it’s true.  Linux is a better platform for streaming video than Chrome OS, which (Chrome OS) is an operating system and experience that has been carefully curated by Google for the masses.  Better yet, Android will happily stream from these services in the highest possible quality.

User Experience

Aura

This is a hard review to write.  Why?  The entire operating system involves interaction with Chrome, an immensely popular web-browser that many computer users are already familiar with.  It is not my aim to review the latest release of Chrome.

Aura is the desktop metaphor that you interact with on a Chromebox.  If I were to sum up the Chromebox experience using Aura in one sentence, it would go like this; Chrome OS is equal parts beautiful and frustrating.  That is not to say that Chrome OS does not have redeeming aspects, because it does.  I will touch on those items first.


Dean Howell

Dean Howell has over a decade of experience with Linux and nearly 2 decades of experience with computers in general. Currently, Dean is Editor-in-chief of The Powerbase and also works for one of the world's largest providers of Linux-based NVRs.

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  • warcaster

    Still disappointed Google hasn’t launched an ARM-based Chromebook/Chromebox yet. Instead they keep trying to push out these overpriced devices.

    • http://www.digifail.com/ Tom Nardi

      That’s an interesting point, it seems like Chrome OS machines are an excellent vehicle to drive ARM into the laptop/desktop market; it’s not like you will be running any x86 software on these things in the first place.

  • Connie New

    What is disappointing is the price point. All the other complaints you can swallow, this is the ideal demonstration of how domesticated the cloud has become. BUT this is available to all by just downloading Chrome. So all you are really paying for is a quick boot to browser, and end up getting a system that collapses without the net, with no optical drives or significant internal storage

    • Gary Maxwell

      Connie makes the same unfortunate observation about a cloud-based device that others make.

      The Chromebox and its sisters–the Chromebooks–CAN be compared to other computers at the same price point; But, to say you get more for your money at the same price with a fat client computer with a full-blown operating system is to miss the whole point of a ChromeOS device.

      While it is true that you can get a lot of the same experiences and features by just using Chrome, it’s not what you get, it’s what you DON’T get.

      You no longer have to worry about system updates or system security. If you learn about the security model baked into these devices, you may find that this feature alone justifies the price.

      Secondly, these devices are for a specific use case: cloud computing. If you live 95% of the time in a browser, why carry along a bloated desktop with all of the peripherals? With more and more apps going to the cloud, and the increase in ubiquitous, mobile computing form factors, it is only a matter of time before PCs become still-required but less used devices.

      Lastly, while the article hit on some pain points, these will all be eventually addresses as the device gets updated. How coll is that?

      • Connie New

        Well no, it is absolutely necessary to compare price points. The issue is this; the assets that you purchase are 1) the hardware and 2) the software. If the software is largely in the cloud (REGARDLESS of all it’s benefits and disadvantages) and essentially dependant on the freely available browser, then the only asset of value is the hardware. The hardware price therefore should be compared with others that offer similar assets. The chrome book hardware is equivalent to buying a conventional laptop, removing the HD and the optical drive and the PCMIA slot and 3D graphics card and the network card…etc and replacing them with a tiny SSD…while replacing the screen with a smaller one. It SHOULD be cheaper.

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