Chromebox: I'm loving it!

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  1. GeorgeinLA

    GeorgeinLA Well-Known Member

    For the past few months, I'd been looking for a new home computer to replace my aging MacBook Pro. As I began to consider my options and take an inventory of how me and my wife were using our home computer, I began to realize that a Chromebox might be a good option for us. I bought one (with an i5 processor) off ebay for $300 a couple of weeks ago (as opposed to the $329 retail models that come with a Celeron processor), and now that I've had it up and running for a few days I can give a report. I think for a lot of people, it might be a good alternative to a Windows or Mac PC.

    In considering whether to get a Chromebox, I read a lot of commentary about them, most of it negative. The main argument against them makes a lot of sense: why would you buy a computer that only runs the Chrome browser and nothing else, when for more or less the same price you could buy a PC that will also run the Chrome browser, but in addition has the potential to do a million and one other things as well? If you really like Chrome so much, just buy a cheap PC and download the Chrome browser.

    I think it's a good argument, but it was ultimately unpersuasive to me.

    Let me start by describing what me and my wife actually use our home computer for. When I started to think about the idea of a web-only computer, I realized that we are actually Google's target customers: we spend nearly all of our computer time in the cloud. Surfing the net is of course the main activity, but after that it's pretty much email, Facebook, Youtube, uploading and sharing photos, and Pandora, in more or less that order. The only major sort of higher-level activity that I (aspired to) do is access my corporate server through a remote desktop application. One of the things that drove me to upgrade my home computer was that my Power PC-era MacBook was no longer able to access my corporate server remotely because my OS was too old for the current remote desktop applications. I have used Mac's proprietary desktop software to edit photos and record music over the years, so that's was maybe the one area of hesitation.

    So to review the other options, starting with Windows PC's, after decades of using them at work, I've always been basically of the opinion that I would never lay down my own hard earned money to buy one for myself. I've just always found Windows PC's to be buggy, clunky, noisy, slow, apt to crash, etc., and this is based on thousands of hours of use. They also come bundled new with a lot of weird software that you can't fully use unless you pay for it, corporate stickers all over the place. Yuck.

    Now, I hear Windows 7 has solved a lot of that, but even then, Microsoft is not gearing up to release Windows 8, and I'll tell you right now, I have no interest in a touch screen desktop. That's just idiocy, IMHO, although knowing my record on stuff like that, everyone will have one in five years or so (along with back problems). So, did I really want to invest in a soon to be obsolete Windows system, when they are in the process of "upgrading" everyone to a new system that I have no interest in using? Just starting the process of thinking about that is enough to make me revert to my default position which is, "no Windows PC's in my house".

    The other thing is that yes, I could probably buy a cheap Windows desktop for something close to $300, but to actually utilize any of that additional non-Chrome browser functionality would require me to start purchasing software. MS Office alone can run to $500. Furthermore, if you look at the Chromebox's benchmarks (especially the i5, but even the Celeron-based one), you would almost need to buy an i7 Windows PC to significantly match the speed of the Chrome browser running on the i5 Chromebox, and i5 Windows PC to beat the Celeron, in both cases spending way more than $300. There are also not too many Windows desktops that are going to look good in a living room, where I currently have my desk set up.

    Next there's Mac OS. I've had a succession of Mac's as my home computers continuously for the past 25 years, and they are good computers, no question. But I don't like how Apple tries to route everything through iTunes, increasing the complexity and difficulty of accessing your files in the process (even limiting your access to your files in some ways), and I don't want to be locked into iTunes for all of my media. I'd also prefer to stay out of Apple's "walled garden" as much as possible, because it just means spending more $$ on everything, especially hardware.

    Speaking of $$, to get a basic iMac with minimal third party software and an Apple Care contract, etc., runs close to $2000. My dad just laid down $4K for a MacBook Pro. Those figures are definitely in a different category entirely from a $300 Chromebox with no need to buy any software. And the thing is that I did pay $2000 for my MacBook Pro and software several years ago, and then the optical drive broke, and then the OS went out of date and my processor didn't accommodate the new OS, and etc., etc. Mac OS is a great operating system, but the plain physical realities of computing still apply, and no matter how much you spend, it will become obsolete in a matter of time. Given that my main computing is done at work, the idea of having an expensive machine sitting idle on my desk all day, losing value just through the passage of time, is not appealing. Mac Mini is a little cheaper, but still twice the cost of the Chromebox.

    Then there's Linux. Perusing the various forums that talk about Linux, the problem seems to be that there are all kinds of versions out there, and the various open source software that you find may or may not be compatible with the particular version that you're running. And even if it's compatible today, it may not be tomorrow when both sides of the equation are updated. More fundamentally, however, I'm not tech-savvy (facing a command prompt would stop me dead in my tracks in whatever I was trying to do), and I hear that you end up needing to tweak around on Linux a lot to make it work right, no matter the version.

    So . . . my Chromebox. The first thing is that it's a nice looking, small form factor. It's very small, about the size of a wireless router, and it looks great in my living room, where I have my desk set up. It's got plenty of in's and out's, with six USB's (two on the front and four in the back), a DVI, two Display Ports, and an audio jack. I flipped it on and it recognized my display immediately, updated itself to the latest Chrome OS and browser in a couple of minutes and asked for my Gmail password. I put that in, and in a couple of more seconds, and I was on a desktop with one-click access to the Chrome browser, Gmail, whatever doc's I had on Google drive, and Youtube. Nice.

    Surfing around the web was of course a pleasure. Very fast. Lightning fast. Downloading Youtube clips, complex web pages, whatever. I would expect that surfing the web on a Chromebox would be great and it absolutely is. Definitely the best I've experienced for myself on any system.

    The best thing, though, about the Chromebox so far, however, is the Chrome Web Store. I really don't know how the business model for it is going to ultimately work, but right now, there are thousands of Chrome extensions and applications that are available for free. Because they are not even downloading to your desktop, adding and deleting them from your browser takes seconds. This I think is the most revolutionary part of the Chromebox experience. Whereas on a traditional desktop, adding new functionality means buying potentially expensive software, hoping it's compatible, spending time downloading or uploading it onto your hard drive, hoping that it works as intended, encountering significant hassles many times if it doesn't work, and you need to delete it, and get a refund, hoping you don't overload your hard drive with too much weight, hoping if you downloaded it, that it didn't come with virus, or some other weird program that infects other parts of your system, figuring out what updates you need and which ones you can (or should) ignore, sometimes having to pay for updates, etc., etc., on the Chromebox, if you want a new functionality, search for it in the Web Store, add it to your browser in seconds, and if it doesn't work right or you just don't like it, delete it in even less time. It's similar to Android, except even with Android you still have to download the applications onto your phone.

    The other advantage is that all of the extensions and applications that I load into my Chrome browser at home will travel with me wherever I happen to log in to Chrome. So if I need to do something on my work computer, if I log in to the Chrome browser, I will have the same functionality there. If I log in on my dad's MacBook while visiting home, it will be there.

    To illustrate how well this works, when I informed my corporate IT that I was planning to access the server remotely using the Chromebox, they asked me to bring it in so they could configure it properly. Generally remote access requires that software be installed on both computers. When I brought it in, he started tweaking around, switched it into developer mode, started using command prompts, etc., and I suggested just checking for an HTML5 remote desktop extension in the Chrome Web Store. Lo and behold, there was a third party one there. We switched the Chromebox back out of developer mode and restored everything and then just added the HTML5 RDP extension, which took five seconds. It took another 30 seconds to fill in the required fields (domain, password, etc.) and voila!, I was on the server with a perfectly functioning remote desktop.

    IMHO, if Google was smart, they would buy out the best one of the third party HTML5 remote desktop extensions in their Web store and make it a standard part of the browser. A properly functioning remote access capability improves the usefulness of a web-only computer exponentially, for those who have work computers with the full MS Office suite, etc. Google's own Chrome remote desktop application requires that it be installed on both computers, something that my IT department and I suspect many others was not willing to do at this point. But whatever, as I said, it took less than a minute total to configure my Chromebox to allow me to access my corporate server remotely, and it works beautifully.

    Another nice feature is that the starting point on the Chromebox is a log-in screen allowing for I assume an unlimited number of users. Once you log-in under your Gmail account, then all of your browser configurations, email accounts, passwords, etc., all set up automatically. When my wife logs in, it's then completely under her settings and configurations. The configurations could be so different, it's like we have two totally different computers. There's also a guest log-in if someone wants to browse, but in doing so, they wouldn't have any idea what you've been doing with your computer. Very nice.

    I also really like the idea of automatic and frequent updates. I've always been very confused about updates on a home computer. Is it really something I need to spend time dealing with? Is it going to improve my performance, or degrade it? Is it really some third-party trying to install a virus or malware or phish me? Is my computer even compatible with it? It's a pain and hassle, and the upshot is that I was never fully updated on my MacBook. I like that Google is just going to keep my computer continually up to date in all aspects without my even thinking about. Yes, they may install something that will snoop on me or whatever, but I just can't worry about that right now. I need my computer to be working, and I don't need to be spending my time and even sometimes money keeping up with nothing other than the passage of time.

    The unit is very quiet. The only time the fan has come on was when I was uploading loads of photos. Otherwise, the processor seems to be able to handle the duties without getting too hot. The audio coming out of the 3.5 mm jack sounds good so far. I've heard there are issues with getting audio out of the DisplayPort outputs, but I haven't tried that yet, so I don't know. I think it's software-related though, so hopefully Google has it under control.

    There is a basic file system in the OS itself to allow you to see files on the various drives inside and outside of the computer. I like it better than freakin' iTunes. It's very simple, but the files are there, easy to access, properly identified. What else do you need? I spent a couple of hours today uploading months of photos from my camera to Shutterfly, and it worked great.

    If anyone is interested in buying one, the one recommendation I would make is to NOT buy the Samsung Chromebox keyboard and mouse. The mouse is nice, but the keyboard is inferior to a decent standard Windows keyboard (and it doesn't come in wireless). The Chrome-specific functionality would still be there on a Windows keyboard, it's just that the F keys won't be labelled correctly. You could either memorize the functions, or maybe get little stickers and put them on as reminders until you did. The Chrome-specific keys are basic anyways -- back, forward, full screen, brightness, volume, etc. If I had to do it again, I would buy a nice wireless Windows keyboard and mouse combo, especially one where they both can use just one USB port, in order to save them for other purposes.

    A lot of reviewers have mentioned, and I would probably agree, that it would've been nice if Samsung had included a USB 3.0 port or two, since with only 16GB onboard, it seems inevitable that at some point you may want to have a big external drive connected to it. I also can't speak to any differences between my unit and the Celeron Chromebox, though I suspect that it's not a big deal. It would have to be much, much slower for it to not still be a very fast slick system.

    So, there you have it. There's at least one family out there for whom the Chromebox seems to be a viable alternative to a Windows or Mac desktop computer.

  2. kevincott

    kevincott Well-Known Member Contributor

    Good thread.

    Never thought about getting a Chromebox and it is interesting and informative to see your perspective.
  3. 9to5cynic

    9to5cynic Well-Known Member

    Cool cool. Glad you're digging your purchase.

    Though, I wanna say that the chrome os is linux.... ? either way, it's cool that you found what you need and something that works for you guys!

  4. GeorgeinLA

    GeorgeinLA Well-Known Member

    Yeah, I do know that the underlying OS is Linux, but it's not something I ever plan on directly dealing with.
  5. argedion

    argedion The TechnoFrog Moderator

    Sounds like you found a nice fit for your family. Way to go :) I hope after a few months you still feel the same. I read that you said you used recording software for mac for years so what are you using now?
  6. SUroot

    SUroot Well-Known Member Developer

    The Metro interface in windows 8 is for the tablet market. It's not really idiocy. Not having a touch screen interface on a tablet would make it unusable.
  7. GeorgeinLA

    GeorgeinLA Well-Known Member

    Yes, I know, but they're trying to import that to the desktop, which is what seems idiotic to me. Apple isn't trying to import iOS to iMac's and Google is not importing Android to Chromebox's. But as I said, my track record on things like that is that in five years everyone will be doing what I thought was the dumbest thing ever --- including me!
  8. GeorgeinLA

    GeorgeinLA Well-Known Member

    I haven't tried to do record music yet, but I've been looking at some app's in the Chrome Web Store that advertise themselves as music production software. Worst comes to worst, though, I still have Garage Band on my laptop and on my iPad.
  9. OstrichSaK

    OstrichSaK Well-Known Member

    In MS's defense this is exactly why they're trying to bring it all together... how nice would it be to have your mobile phone, tablet, laptop, PC, Xbox, TV and whatever else comes with the OS work EXACTLY the same? No need to learn tunnels or apps that sort of mimic something with hitches and quirks... just the same OS across the board. They're trying to make it so that people who aren't as techy can get these devices and learn to use one and the rest all function the same w/different input methods basically. I give them credit for attempting that since they have their hand in just about every aspect of these sorts of devices and is something that their competitors simple can't offer. I don't LOVE Windows but I also don't hate it the way some seem to. Hell, I even had great luck with Vista but we'll save that for another debate from 10 years ago. :D

    Also, if you dislike Metro you can disable it which is what a lot of people do on their PC. In that respect it's a lot like Windows 7 with more features.

    Not knocking your Chromebox solution at all because I like them too. I just think they should be about 1/3 as expensive as they are to fit what their demographic is. Like you said, I can get a deal on a Dell or similar PC with a full registered version of Win7 with a cheap (in some cases.. free) rebate/upgrade to Windows 8 for about the same price and in some cases less. The performance differences you're talking about with loading a page or YouTube video are slim to none when you actually get down to using both devices. Feels a a little bit quicker at first but then again, what no computers don't? If only we didn't want to do all that 'stuff' with them. :D

    For us, a Windows machine makes a lot more sense. We have Comcast cable and rather than pay thousands in HD DVR receiver rentals for four locations (or more some days) we have Xboxes and PCs at all of our locations. We use one main PC (running Win7) in the office with several TB of storage space as the main PC to store all recordings and files to and a cable card solution (Silicon Dust Prime HD 3-tuner receivers x2 for a total of 6 tuners on our case). Then we can use Xboxes and PCs running Windows Media Center to access those recordings, files & live TV from anywhere within the network (and outside the network using 3rd party programs like Remote Potato) seamlessly. So for use this Chromebox simply can't do most of what we do. I've considered them as well but for the price and what our needs are it simply doesn't make sense. If it works for you though at that price to basically have a browser in an attractive form factor then that's perfect for you. I just tend to side with the majority who thinks it's way overpriced for what you're getting and you can do better for the same price.
  10. argedion

    argedion The TechnoFrog Moderator

    I have 2 PC's and 3 laptops in the house. Laptop 1 runs Windows 7, Laptop 2 runs Windows XP. Laptop 3 and the 2 PC's run on Fedora 17 in one flavor or another. 1 is a Printer Server and 2 is the file server. We don't do a bunch of media so most of my stuff is through my laptop. I have my music on Google Play and I use my old EVO as a media player.

    Each of us have different uses and different needs for our computers. Add phones into the mix and the little home network starts to be come a lifeline. We seem to need and want our information when we want it and NOW. :p

    Rather its collecting media such as Ringtones and Wallpapers for both the laptop and the phone or if its just checking tapatalk to see if anyone has posted anything that would be benificial to me to using Appy Geek to stay up with important Geek news. These things have become a lifeline do to the advances we have made and are still making. My Network is probably as much as some's laptops but its not the price that makes it effective its the use.
  11. GeorgeinLA

    GeorgeinLA Well-Known Member

    Good comment. Certainly if we used our computer for half the stuff that you do, a Chromebox wouldn't make much sense.
  12. OstrichSaK

    OstrichSaK Well-Known Member

    But you could so why limit yourself? I think that's one of the biggest drawbacks is it's about the least future-proof machine you can buy for pretty much the same price.
  13. breadnatty08

    breadnatty08 pain rustique VIP Member

    Great writeup!
    I'm going to check out the new Chromebook at Best Buy tomorrow and see what I think. My PC usage is very similar to yours and having just Chrome really is no problem for me.
  14. GeorgeinLA

    GeorgeinLA Well-Known Member

    That looks like a great deal. $249 for a Chrome laptop? Good luck!
  15. mikedt

    mikedt 你好 Guide

    There used to be a rather good online/cloud audio and music production suite called Aviery Myna, but it looks like it's been shut down.
    The Advanced Suite is Officially Offline | Aviary Blog

    I guess that's one of the dangers of relying on cloud computing. A company pulls the plug on a cloud service you may have come to depend on, what do you do? Say Google at sometime in the future decides to discontinue Google Docs? - maybe because of low numbers or whatever?
  16. Davdi

    Davdi Well-Known Member Contributor

    If your Home Internet connection is down, then what?

    a) use your phone as a wifi hot Spot?
    b) Go to Starbucks/Costa Coffee for free Wfi?
    c) piggyback on a neighbour's open setup?
    d) ask to use a neighbour's secured wiFi?

    Without a connection you're basically shafted, can't even edit a document.
  17. GeorgeinLA

    GeorgeinLA Well-Known Member

    They do have offline editing of doc's, but yeah, my computer won't be particularly useful if the internet goes down at my house. For the past couple of years, that's happened less often than my power going out, and all computers are useless once the power goes out!
  18. GeorgeinLA

    GeorgeinLA Well-Known Member

    Well, worst comes to worst, I could always flip the developer switch and download a version of Linux. Take the OS out of it, and you still have an i5 processor, SSD memory, 4MB RAM, lots of in's and out's and a nice form factor. I don't think you could get all of that for much less than $300 even without Chrome OS.
  19. mikedt

    mikedt 你好 Guide

    Think that's what I'd do if I had one of these browser only computers. Although having said that, I don't think Google will exactly be in a hurry to sell Chrome OS computers in China. :rolleyes: They'd be rather useless here. The ChromeBox is United States only?

    I see a potential serious issue for something like Google Docs. That's if you're handing confidential customer information, things like HIPAA compliance in the US, Data Protection Act in the UK, etc.
  20. GeorgeinLA

    GeorgeinLA Well-Known Member

    Possibly, but I do know of large government entities that have already converted their email/calendar/database systems over to Google, so there must be some way that Google provides a sufficient level of data security to allow them to do that and still comply with their legal requirements.

    I think a lot of you don't realize how much the average user is already completely dependent on the cloud. As I mentioned in my original post, I've had a MacBook Pro for the last few years. I can't remember the last time I did something on it that didn't have to do with its connection to the Internet and/or other devices such as cameras, phones and iPod's. It still works fine and it's sitting in my living. Anytime I need a computer beyond a browser, I'll be booting it up, but I seriously doubt that will happen more than a couple of times a year. A lot of my time over the past couple of years has, in fact, been spent getting the things on my computer hard drive into the cloud so that (1) they would be backed up in case of theft or damage to my hard drive; and (2) they would be accessible to me from my mobile devices. And 100% of everything I do at work professionally is in the entirely cloud. My work computer is really just a thin client, and IT has said that in the next round of computer purchases, we won't have hard drives on our desks anymore.

    My home computer then is basically a way to translate between inputs and outputs in my home -- display, speakers, headphones, cameras, phones, music players, keyboard, and mouse -- and the Internet, and it needs to do so quickly and smoothly. So far, the Chrome box has fit that bill perfectly.

    One thing that I think is slightly ironic is that Chrome OS has mostly been deployed through the Chromebook laptops. I sort of want one of those too, but I can see the argument against an Internet-dependent laptop more because you never know where you'll be and whether you'll have data. At home though, I'm about as sure of having a data connection as I am of having electrical power itself, so I feel much more comfortable using a system that is useless without the Internet.
    mikedt likes this.
  21. Rxpert83

    Rxpert83 Dr. Feelgood Moderator

    Most large colleges have switched over already as well
  22. mikedt

    mikedt 你好 Guide

    I do use Google's services for a few things, namely contacts, email and calendar. Bought a new phone a few weeks ago, synced it with Google, and there's all my contacts, email and calendar. However my office productivity is done l
  23. wyndslash

    wyndslash Well-Known Member

    The chromebook sounds tempting. Maybe I'll get it when I won't need to use productivity programs anymore
  24. GeorgeinLA

    GeorgeinLA Well-Known Member

  25. 350X

    350X Well-Known Member

    can you run all the android devlopment software on that chromebox?

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