Best Chromeboxes

Updated May 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Pros
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

32 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
136 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best Chromeboxes

If you’re in the market for an inexpensive desktop computer, let us introduce you to the Chromebox. Chromeboxes are small, affordable, plug-and-play desktops that use a web-based operating system called Chrome OS. With Chrome OS, users can stream video, listen to music, use Android apps, and accomplish a variety of productivity tasks, all through an intuitive interface based on the Google Chrome web browser. Chromeboxes are fantastic picks for those who use Chrome already and see high-end PCs as overkill for their needs. 

Sounding similar to a Chromebook? That’s no accident. Chromeboxes offer similar features to Chromebooks but in a desktop instead of laptop format. While less portable, they offer significantly more freedom because you can choose your monitor, keyboard, and mouse instead of relying on factory options. They’re also great for productivity because they help you set up a permanent workspace. Chromeboxes generally don’t come with peripherals, but they do include a variety of connectivity ports to interface with monitors, smart TVs, and other tools. 

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Instead of a graphics processing unit (GPU), Chromeboxes use integrated graphics. This means graphical memory is provided by the CPU instead of a dedicated GPU. This cuts down on cost and is a smart concession given that a GPU isn’t necessary to run Chrome OS apps.

Key considerations

Why choose a Chromebox?

On the plus side, Chromeboxes are noticeably cheaper than traditional PCs and laptops. They’re very easy to use, requiring very little setup out of the box. With their low-profile design, they give you a roomy workspace, and they work with most peripherals. Chrome OS is very secure and constantly updated with new features by Google. In a rush? Chromeboxes boot up very quickly. 

On the downside, many, but not all Chrome OS apps require an internet connection to work properly. Chromeboxes fall behind traditional computers in terms of processing power, and because of this they’re not suitable for intense gaming, rendering, or media editing. Google provides automatic system updates to Chromebox operating systems, but not indefinitely. Each device has an “update expiration date,” meaning after a certain time, usually five or six years, they won’t be updated with new features or receive security patches or technical support. Similarly, teachers and business users won’t be able to access Google Admin. (Google lists update expiration dates here.)

Processor

Like other computers, Chromeboxes feature a central processing unit (CPU) that essentially acts as the device’s brain. A CPU’s speed is measured in gigahertz (GHz), and the higher the gigahertz, the faster and smoother the device. In addition, a computer with higher gigahertz can run several tasks at once without bogging down. 

Keep the gigahertz rating in mind when shopping, but remember that Chromebox CPUs are not designed to compete with powerful laptops and high-end gaming rigs. With the limitations of Chrome OS, Chromeboxes simply don’t need the power. Anything over 1.5 gigahertz will likely be sufficient for the average user, but, of course, more is better if you can afford it.

Memory

Another factor in the speed of a Chromebox is memory, specifically random-access memory (RAM). This is active memory for running programs, and the more you have, the more data your computer can load at once. It’s essential for multitasking.

Chromeboxes are available with varied amounts of random-access memory, ranging from 2 to 16 gigabytes. We recommend 4 gigabytes at the absolute minimum, with the knowledge that more RAM results in a much more satisfying user experience.

Storage

The main goal of a Chromebox is to stream media and use web-based apps, and those tasks don’t require an excess of local storage. Instead, Chromeboxes and Chromebooks lean on virtual cloud storage, meaning your photos, music, and other data are stored in a remote data center. As long as you’re connected to the internet, you can access your files.

It never hurts to have a backup, however. That’s why the majority of modern Chromeboxes have an internal solid-state drive (SSD), allowing you to save your stuff locally and access it even if the internet goes out. A 16-gigabyte SSD is a common size for even inexpensive Chromeboxes, but there are 32- and 64-gigabyte models available as well.

Ports

Connectivity is particularly important with Chromeboxes because, with some exceptions, they do not include a display, mouse, keyboard, and the like. The amount and variety of ports vary from model to model, but at a minimum, we recommend the following:

  • Ethernet port for wired internet (if you have no wireless connection)
  • HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort, or VGA port for connecting to monitor or TV
  • USB ports for mouse and keyboard

Again, additional ports increase your connectivity options and can greatly expand the functionality of your device overall. Redundancy is a plus! Other options include the following:

  • USB-C ports
  • SD card slots
  • Audio-out ports for speakers

Chromeboxes don’t always have cooling fans. Some models don’t create enough heat to need them, using instead internal heat sinks and vents to reduce buildup. However, you can improve thermal performance with cooling pads, external fans, and ventilation.

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Features

Included peripherals

As we’ve mentioned, chromeboxes typically do not include peripherals like a mouse and keyboard. Some companies offer these as an add-on bundle, however, allowing you to get a comprehensive computing system in just a few clicks. These are often packaged as Chromebases, and while convenient, they lock you into a specific mouse, keyboard, and display.

SD card readers

An SD card reader might not seem like an important thing to budget for, but it has more utility than you might think. For one, it allows you to access photos and videos directly from your camera’s card, forgoing the need to fumble with cables. It also facilitates adding additional, albeit temporary, storage to your machine, much like a USB flash drive.

Upgradability

One of the primary concerns when purchasing a new computer should be how upgradable it is. Is this machine going to satiate your needs for a year? Two? Six? The same applies to Chromeboxes, specifically with regard to RAM and storage space. 

If your chosen model has additional RAM slots, that means you can drastically improve its speed and responsiveness down the line if you want to. Similarly, a model with headroom for a larger solid-state drive allows you to easily increase your local storage should the need arise.

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DID YOU KNOW?
You can activate Google Assistant on a Chromebox by pressing Search + A at the same time.
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Chromebox prices

Inexpensive: You can buy Chromeboxes for $200 or less. For that money, expect capable processors in the 1.5- to 1.8-gigahertz range, with 4 to 8 gigabytes of RAM and a modest array of connectivity ports. Internal storage is likely fairly limited as well. 

Mid-range: As you approach $300, you can find Chromeboxes with faster processors, 8 to 16 gigabytes of RAM, and larger solid-state drives above 32 gigabytes. These devices typically have more connectivity ports and often include neat features like SD card readers. 

Expensive: Exceed $400 and you can enjoy the fastest processors and RAM available in a Chromebox. Your media will load very quickly, and you’ll be able to use several apps at a time with little issue. Expect large, 64- to 128-gigabyte solid-state drives in this price range as well as tons of ports for maximum flexibility.

When you boot up your Chromebox, it instantly syncs with your existing Chrome devices and services. Chromeboxes also commonly include free Google Drive space for a number of years.

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Tips

  • Secure your Google account. Chromeboxes do the majority of their work online, so take steps to secure your Google account. One measure is to turn on two-factor authentication (2FA) in your security settings. This requires you to verify using your phone, so if your password is ever stolen your account will still be safe. 
  • Connect to a new display for best results. Chromeboxes are fantastic for streaming movies and shows in high quality, so you’ll get the most out of them with a display that connects via HDMI, DisplayPort, or DVI cable. Older monitors and TVs can work with adapters, but you’ll get poorer results. 
  • Use a keyboard built for Chrome OS. While you are free to use essentially any keyboard with a Chromebox, we recommend using one designed for Chrome OS because of the unique features. One example is the dedicated Search button, which takes the place of Caps Lock on a standard keyboard.
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Due to the Chrome OS operating system, you can’t install full desktop versions of Microsoft Office on a Chromebox. Newer models include the Google Play Store, though, providing access to various Office Android apps. You can also use Office Online in your browser.

FAQ

Q. Outside of the Chromebox itself, what else do I need for a full computer system?

A. Chromeboxes package all of the “computer” bits inside a svelte, low-profile box, but you’ll need a few components to round out your setup. The basics include a display (a computer monitor or TV), keyboard, and mouse. If you want to expand the device’s use, consider speakers, webcam, and/or an external hard drive. As we’ve mentioned, Chromeboxes that include a keyboard, mouse, and display are called Chromebases.

Q. Do Chromeboxes work offline?

A. In the beginning, Chromebooks and Chromeboxes were fairly useless without an internet connection. And while they are still at their best online, there are myriad offline-accessible apps to give your computer utility even during an outage. 

For games, head to the Chrome Web Store or Google Play Store and search for games with the Runs Offline box checked. You will need to install the games locally first. For music and movies or TV, simply download the files locally and watch at your leisure. You can even read, search, and draft with Gmail offline if you click Enable Offline Mail in settings. 

Q. Are Chromeboxes suitable for gaming?

A. Chromeboxes sacrifice CPU and GPU power for cost, resulting in machines that are not gamer friendly compared to burly tower PCs. That being said, there are many options in the form of browser games and apps. These may not wow you with their graphics or physics simulations, but they can still be a load of fun. Peruse the Chrome Web Store or Google Play Store to find your favorite.

There is another option as well: cloud gaming. Through services like Google Stadia and Nvidia GeForce NOW, you can remotely connect to a dedicated gaming rig and play with your home controls even if your Chromebox isn’t powerful enough to do it locally. This is because you’re not actually playing the game on your machine. You’re sending your inputs to another machine and having the audio/video streamed back to you. There may be some input lag when gaming this way, but it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for Chromebox and Chromebook users.

 

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