Computers running Google’s Chrome OS are often presented as inferior alternatives to similarly specced cheap laptops and budget desktop PCs. But the truth is that when you give Chrome OS the right hardware, it’s is just as capable as any budget PC out there. And this is where the best Chromeboxes enter the fray.
The best Chromeboxes are to mini desktop PCs as the best Chromebooks are to small laptops. Primarily geared towards educational and professional sectors, Chromeboxes are desired because they’re very affordable and can get much better performance out of less-powerful hardware than Mac OS and Windows.
But there is one big caveat: Chrome OS is built entirely around its namesake web browser, and so anything that isn’t web-based (or Android-based) won’t run on Chromeboxes. This means that you can’t install traditional or resource-intensive apps, such as Photoshop or Steam, even on the best Chromeboxes. But for most of us, so much of what we use computers for these days takes place in a web browser that there’s not much of a difference once you get used to the UI. And it’s even less of an issue if you already use Chrome as your web browser.
Who Should Buy a Chromebox in 2021?
A lot of people have a work laptop and a party laptop. During the day, you get your work done on a reliable Macbook Pro or desktop. After hours, you switch to your personal computer. And for basic web browsing and streaming, Chromebooks are a great option. So why buy a Chromebox? If you like using a Chromebook for everyday online activities but prefer to use a computer monitor, then Chromeboxes are made for you.
Chromeboxes are also an ideal choice for many businesses. Because they’re compact and affordable, they’re a great alternative to desktops for small businesses and other companies on a budget. Companies like Acer have an enterprise division where commercial buyers can purchase Chromeboxes for their workforce.
What Can You Do With a Chromebox?
Just like any other desktop PC, the best Chromeboxes can watch YouTube, Netflix or any other streaming service, listen to Spotify, play AAA games with one of the best cloud gaming services or even get productive with cloud-based productivity software like Google Docs or Microsoft Office. They also work with any plug-and-play peripheral, so you can pick out your favorite keyboard, mouse, webcam, gamepad and monitor.
While this is a device that is largely designed to be used with an internet connection, the best Chromeboxes are still functional in the moments when they’re offline. You still have access to whatever videos, MP3s or images or documents you have stored locally, edit offline with Google Docs or even save movies and TV shows from Netflix for offline viewing. Plus you can download Android apps for your favorite services, which will also allow you to save Spotify songs to your Chromebox.
And while this can be more than capable as a primary work computer, it’s also an ideal choice to keep around as your second computer, or to buy for your kids for remote learning purposes.
While this is a relatively small product category, the best Chromeboxes of 2021 come from top companies such as Acer, Asus and HP. So with that in mind, here are our picks for the best Chromeboxes you can buy.
1. Asus Chromebox 4
BEST CHROMEBOX OVERALL
If you are looking for an affordable desktop computer that will deliver excellent performance for day-to-day use and provide you with plenty of versatility in how you use it, the Asus Chromebox 4 sits at the top of the list when it comes to the best Chromeboxes. This comes with plenty of ports and connectivity options, including 2 USB 2.0 ports, 3 USB 3.0 ports a USB-C port and a pair of HDMI ports. In addition, you have a MicroSD slot for external flash storage to go with an ethernet port and 3.5mm audio out.
And while the 10th-generation Intel Core i3 powering the Asus Chromebox 4 might sound underpowered for a desktop, the efficient nature of Chrome OS means that it’s more than enough power, especially when combined with 8 GB of RAM. While the Asus Chromebox 4 isn’t quite as versatile or powerful as the best desktops like the Dell XPS Tower or the M1 Mac Mini, you can’t beat this kind of performance for the money.
2. Acer CXI4 Chromebox
Like the Asus Chromebox 4, the Acer CXI4 offers up the same wealth of connectivity options in terms of ports. But the big difference here is that it runs on a dual-core Intel Celeron CPU clocking in at 1.9 GHz and 4GB of RAM. This means that it might not be able to handle quite as many tasks at once, but it’s also an even more affordable option when it comes to the best Chromeboxes, which will be a tradeoff some will happily make.
Editor’s Note: Due to high demand, the Acer CXI4 is back-ordered at most retailers and the Acer online store. The previous model, the Acer CXI3, is available and worth considering as an alternative. (It’s also on sale via Amazon Prime.)
3. HP Chromebox G3
BEST CHROMEBOX SPLURGE
If you are a Chrome OS veteran, you might be willing to pay a little extra for a step up in power. And while there aren’t a ton of truly powerful options out there, you’re not completely out of luck. The HP G3 is a great choice, containing a 10th-generation Intel Core i5 CPU, 8 GB of RAM, support for 4K video and an attractive-looking case. These are the same type of specs you would find in a quality Windows desktop and considering how efficient Chrome OS is, your days of stuttering video and remembering to close browser tabs will be a thing of the past.
4. Asus Chromebox 3
BEST BUDGET CHROMEBOX
Conversely, if you really want a desktop computer for as little money as possible, you can look to previous-generation models to save a little bit of cash. This Asus Chromebox 3 features an older Intel Celeron CPU and only 4GB of RAM, so it almost certainly won’t stand up to the best Chromeboxes you can buy. But this also costs less than $100, which is an insane bargain for a fully functioning desktop computer. We can’t think of a Chromebox on this list that offers more bang for the buck.
5. Acer CIX3 Chromebox
There isn’t a ton separating the Acer CIX3 from the Asus Chromebox 4 in terms of specs as they both have an Intel Core i3 CPU and 8 GB of RAM. The big difference here is that the processor on the CIX3 is only 8th Generation instead of 10th Generation and only offers half the amount of local storage at roughly the same price. If the Asus Chromebox 4 is sold out for whatever reason, this is still a great alternative to consider if you’re looking for similar performance at a great price.