Age Of The Thin Client And Cloud: HP Has A Chromebox, Too (UPDATED: ASUS Goes Big)

Way back in May 2012 (yeah, that was darn near two years ago now), Samsung rolled out a Chromebox--a compact desktop running Google’s Chrome OS. A year later, Google was touting Chromeboxes as ideal for kiosks, and now we’re seeing a spate of Chromeboxes designed for use by both individuals and businesses that portend a new wave of thin client-type cloud computing.

ASUS just announced a Chromebox of its own, and HP has one in the works, too. ASUS promise at least two iterations, one with an Intel Celeron chip and one with an Intel Core i3, and HP will have a pair, too. Both will have Intel Haswell processors; one, called HP Chromebox for meetings, will actually rock a Core i7 chip, but HP did not disclose what sort of Haswell processor the other will use.

HP Chromeboxes
HP Chromeboxes

The tiny HP Chromebox will also feature HDMI, DisplayPort, and four USB 3.0 ports and come in four colors: Smoke Silver, Ocean Turquoise, Snow White, and Twinkle Black. There’s a VESA mounting bracket sold separately for hanging in a variety of places, too.

That’s a lot of power in such a tiny box--especially the Core i7 version, which will ostensibly be geared for video conferencing--and it’s ideal for a host of applications ranging from web browsing to media streaming to basic productivity, all fueled by Chrome OS and the cloud.

A sticking point may be the price. We’re extrapolating rather heavily here, but the Celeron version of the ASUS Chromebox will cost $179--a terrifically low price--but the company didn’t disclose pricing on the higher-end Core i3 version, which will certainly cost more. How much more exactly is up for debate, although the Core i7 version will almost certainly break the $300 mark.

ASUS Chromebox
ASUS Chromebox

What these Chromeboxes portend is a new twist on thin client computing. For businesses, Chromeboxes offer relatively inexpensive, easy-to-deploy machines that can be used for a variety of applications including employee productivity, in-store kiosks, and more. For individuals, a few Chromeboxes could offer a suddenly connected home.

Let’s break down that idea. First, Chrome OS works by having the user log in to his or her Google account, and so instantly, the user has access to all those Google apps--search, email, YouTube, Google Drive, and more, as well as all the Chrome Web Store apps and, of course, the Chrome web browser. Any Chromebox becomes personalized the moment you log in, so if you had several Chromeboxes around the house, they would all offer a nearly identical experience. And because they’re not terribly expensive, you could afford more than one. For instance, you could have one hooked up in a kids’ area, another in the living room, and yet another in the kitchen.

If you went with the lower-powered Celeron version ASUS offers for $179, that’s three computers for a total of $537 (plus tax, of course). That’d be a decent price for a modestly-appointed notebook. Even if you rolled with higher-end Core i3 machines, that’d still likely be less that $900 for all three. True, you need monitors, but let’s be honest--you can find inexpensive used ones on Craigslist for $50 a pop if you’re trying to be frugal.

For as concerned as everyone seems to be about the waning PC market, there’s a new wave of cloud-powered computing devices rising that offer intriguing possibilities.

ASUS Chromebox for meetings
ASUS Chromebox For Meetings

Update: ASUS and Google released more information on another Chromebox. The ASUS Chromebox For Meetings starts at a whopping $999. That includes the Chromebox, a 1080p HD camera, a mic/speaker, and a remote control. The Chromebox itself rocks an Intel Core i7 (Haswell) processor, HDMI and DisplayPort, four USB 3.0 ports, and Ethernet and built-in 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi.