Using a Chromebox as My Primary Day-to-day Computer

The following article has little to do with genealogy, family history, DNA, or the other topics normally covered in this newsletter. However, it does discuss my recent experiences with low-cost computing and I think it may be of interest to many readers of this newsletter.

Here is a conversation I had recently with a friend:

“A couple of weeks ago I installed a Chromebox computer and it soon became my primary computer.”

“A what?

“A Chromebox.”

“What is a Chromebox?”

“It is essentially the same as a Chromebook computer except that it is not a laptop computer. Instead, it is a small desktop computer that requires an external, plug-in keyboard, a mouse, and an external monitor. It is powered by plugging it into a wall outlet, not by batteries. It runs the Chrome operating system, the same as the operating system used in Chromebooks.”

In fact, the Chromebox has become a better addition to my collection of computers than I expected. Of course, I haven’t disposed of my other computers. I still have the Macintosh, Windows, Linux, and Android systems.

I also have a Chromebook laptop which has become my primary computer when traveling. I have always been able to use the Chromebook for almost all computer tasks that I need to do. However, when returning home, I used to switch to the iMac desktop system for my day-to-day tasks. The iMac is the most powerful and flexible of all the computers that I own so I simply assumed it should be the one that I used most of the time. However, I have changed my mind in the past few weeks.

I purchased an ASUS CHROMEBOX 3-N017U several weeks ago. This is a tiny (5.8 x 1.6 x 5.8 inch) desktop computer that runs the Chrome operating system. At $249, it is neither the cheapest nor the most expensive Chromebox computer available but it does have specifications that meet my needs. For instance, it has a modest Intel Celeron 3865U processor along with 4 gigabytes of RAM memory. (Some Chromeboxes and Chromebooks only have 2 gigabytes of memory but I know the more memory in most any computer, the faster it runs.) The ASUS Chromebox also has both USB 2.0 and USB 3.1 ports, along with wi-fi, Bluetooth, and an ethernet networking connector.

What I really liked best about the ASUS 3-N017U is that the owner can plug in two separate monitors and enjoy dual screens, such as email being displayed on one screen while simultaneously surfing the web and also monitoring baseball scores on the second screen. The screens can be any size. If you really want to get carried away, you can even connect two 72-inch television sets to be used as monitors!

The ASUS 3-N017U also has a 32 gigabyte internal “hard drive.” Actually, it isn’t a mechanical hard drive. Instead, it is a high-speed SSD solid state storage device, resulting in much faster operation than computers that still use mechanical (spinning) hard drives.

32 gigabytes wouldn’t be much storage space for a Windows or Macintosh computer but it is probably more than any user will ever need on a Chromebook or Chromebox. Any computer running the Chrome operating system defaults to storing all files in a secure, private space on Google Drive or most any other cloud-based file storage service. Most Chromebook or Chromebox users never come close to filling the internal disk space in their systems. However, if you really do want more local storage space, you can always plug in a USB flash drive or an external USB hard drive to obtain as much storage space as you want. One-terabyte flash drives are available and 16-terabyte external hard drives are becoming common these days. The ASUS 3-N017U Chromebox will even handle multiple USB drives if you really need a huge amount of storage space in addition to the many terabytes available in the cloud.

In addition, the ASUS 3-N017U has a slot for plugging in a microSD card to add even more storage space. 500 gigabyte microSD cards are now available. (Not all Chromeboxes include a slot for a microSD card.)

What I like the most about Chromebooks and Chromeboxes is the simplicity of using them. They are super simple. You don’t need to be a computer expert to use one of these systems. I do consider myself to be a computer expert but I still find Chromebooks and Chromeboxes easier to use and more enjoyable than Windows, Linux, or even Macintosh systems. The Chrome systems are also strongly recommended for use by children, computer-illiterate adults, or for anyone else who is not a computer guru.

For instance, the ASUS 3-N017U Chromebox boots up in about ten seconds. I can start using the computer long before a Windows or Macintosh system has finished booting up. The Chrome operating system and apps update automatically in the background without interrupting the user. Next, Chromebooks and Chromeboxes never get viruses. They are safe and very secure for use anywhere online.

Finally, software updates are made automatically and almost always are performed invisibly while the user is performing other tasks. You never end up staring at a revolving beachball icon or at any message of “Do not power off. Software update in progress…” or anything similar.

I find that I can usually perform most computer tasks easily and quickly on my new Chromebox. Of course, having a full-sized keyboard and a large monitor really helps. The fast boot time is also an asset and I like the fact that Chromebooks and Chromeboxes never get viruses and are also immune to most types of other malware (malevolent software).

Please keep in mind that Chromebooks will not run Windows programs or Macintosh programs or iPad apps. However, most of the newer Chromebooks and Chromeboxes will run Android programs (including my new ASUS 3-N017U Chromebox). Google has also announced that by the end of 2019, all new Chromebooks and Chromeboxes will also run Linux programs.

In other words, my Chromebox will not run Family Tree Maker or RootsMagic or Legacy Family Tree or Reunion or similar Windows or Macintosh programs. However, there are several genealogy apps available for Chromebooks, many more for Android, and one of the best genealogy programs is the free Linux app called Gramps. These will all run on Chrome devices today or in the near future. Best of all, most of these programs are available free of charge.

You can read more in my earlier article, Will a Chromebook Computer Run Genealogy Programs?, at: https://blog.eogn.com/2019/02/18/will-a-chromebook-computer-run-genealogy-programs/.

In addition, there are Chromebook/Chromebox versions of Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, Google Drawings, Gmail (and many other email programs), Facebook, Netflix, Adobe Photoshop, Pixlr (photo) Editor, Google Photos, Google Maps, Fusion 360 by Autodesk, as well as almost any app that runs in a web browser. Web browser apps include MyHeritage, Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, WikiTree, almost all banking and stock broker web sites, and thousands more.

You can also work offline on a Chromebook. Read your Gmail and compose new messages while offline? View your Google Calendar? Edit documents in Google Drive? No problem. You can do that  and more while online or offline.

Beyond the basics, you can download Kindle eBooks, videos, music, and PDFs to view offline. Use a Chrome app like Google Keep to compose notes or manage your to-do list with an app like Wunderlist or Any.DO. You can even purchase TV shows and movies from Google Play Movies & TV and download them to watch them offline, too. If you just want to kill some time, you can also install hundreds of games that run online or offline.

Chromebook and Chromebox computers are not suitable for very “heavy duty” programs that require a lot of computing power. You won’t want to run CAD/CAM or engineering programs on Chrome devices, with the exception of Fusion 360 by Autodesk that has a Chromebook/Chromebox version available. Anyone who wants to use graphics-intensive games also won’t want to use a Chromebook or Chromebox. For those applications, you will probably need a $1,500 or more computer system. But for most people, the $150 to $400 Chromebook and Chromebox systems make sense.

As to my choice of genealogy programs, I switched to keeping all my genealogy information in the cloud a couple of years ago. Both the Chromebox and Chromebook work well with cloud-based genealogy apps.

Again, I am using the new Chromebox more and more often than any other computer when I am at home, then using the Chromebook laptop when traveling. Not bad for inexpensive computers!

NOTE: OK, I will admit that I purchased the most expensive Chromebook laptop available about a year ago, the Google PixelBook. However, I did that because the screen display on that laptop is first-class, better than any other laptop I have ever used with the possible exception of Apple’s laptops with a Retina display. Unlike Apple’s MacBooks, however, the Google PixelBook has a touch-screen: I use my fingertip as a mouse instead of wrestling with a blankety-blank touchpad. (I hate touchpads!) The Google PixelBook is a pleasure to use. Still, it runs all the same programs that any new $200 Chromebook or Chromebox can run.

I still have the (expensive) iMac desktop computer I purchased 4 or 5 years ago. However, it will eventually become obsolete. When that happens, I probably will not replace it with another (expensive) Macintosh. Instead, I will keep using the $249 Chromebox as my primary computer.

A Chromebook or Chromebox is the best way to do computing safely and efficiently. There is no maintenance whatsoever except to power up and power down once in a while. It boots up quickly, performs most tasks quickly, never gets viruses, performs almost all the computing tasks I ever need to do, and is chea… uh, inexpensive.

I think that a Chromebook or Chromebox is ideal for many people, either as their primary computer or as a low-cost second system, especially for use when traveling. I am now using my new Chromebox as my primary computer when at home. Life is easier now.

Disclaimer: I am not compensated in any way for writing about Chromebook or Chromebox systems or any other computer hardware. I am simply a satisfied user who would like to “spread the word” and possibly save you some money!

24 Comments

Had my first chromebox for four years and loved it. I now have a newer version and love it too. Turn it on and it’s so fast you won’t believe it.
My only complaints are the files aren’t as easy to work with, and I have a few windows programs that I really need for photos and genealogy, they are irfanview and Ancestral Quest, so I also keep a windows computer.

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What do you use as monitor? Does a HDMI work if so specs do you need? Thankjs

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    —> What do you use as monitor? Does a HDMI work if so specs do you need?

    The ASUS CHROMEBOX 3-N017U that I purchased has an HDMI video connector plus it can send video through the USB-C connectors. In addition, the specs for the ASUS CHROMEBOX 3-N017U state, “Integrated Intel 4K UHD Graphics supports 2x monitors using HDMI and DisplayPort over Type C for compatibility with legacy Display connections like VGA and DVI.”

    I haven’t tested DisplayPort over Type C. I simply plugged in an HDMI cable and it worked perfectly so I had no reason to experiment with other connections.

    I wasn’t too concerned with the video interface simply because the 4- or 5-year-old monitor that previously was gathering dust in my closet has both VGA and HDMI connections. That’s true of most monitors built in the past few years.

    Some other Chromebox computers have VGA connectors and still others have combinations of HDMI, VGA, and/or USB-C. For instance, my other Chrome computer, a PixelBook Chromebook laptop, only has USB-C connectors but inexpensive USB-C-to-HDMI cables and other USB cables are available to convert any Chrome, Windows, Mac Mini, or other computer’s video to VGA, HDMI, DVI, or even DisplayPort monitors.

    In short, the choice of video isn’t terribly important as inexpensive adapter cables are available to convert any Chrome, Windows, Mac Mini, or other computer’s video to VGA, HDMI, DVI, USB-C, or even DisplayPort monitors. Next, most monitors built in the past 5 years or so have connections for at least two different video formats: VGA and HDMI. Some of the more expensive monitors can support 3 or 4 different types of video.

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Thanks for taking the time to post this article on chrome boxes. I’ve been using the same Asus chrome box 3 system for close to a year. I retired my pc running windows 10 although I still use my older iPad Air for travel. I picked up my chrome box online for $215, bought a Onn 21 inch monitor at Walmart for $88, a Logitech wireless keyboard $19 and wireless mouse $8. That’s $330 for what I consider to be a awesome setup. The box hangs on the back of the monitor so it’s like a super light weight all-in-one system. I think Apple should consider iOS box, it would be like an iPad with a mouse & keyboard with a larger screen.

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    I also use a pixel book for travel and a slightly older model of the same Chromebox. I made the switch in 2014 starting with the excellent Toshiba Chromebook. ( Which still works great) I haven’t looked back. My IMAC experienced in unrecoverable failure and the Chrome box was supposed to be a temp solution till I decided on the specs for a new high-end Mac. That day never came because I never found it necessary. I switched entirely over to Google. I put my personal domain and my business on gsuite and went to Android, first with a Nexus 6 and now a pixel 2XL on Google Fi. No regrets.

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We have a business that does 3D design work. We use Chromebooks exclusively, love the performance. We a web-based browser version of Fusion 360 by Autodesk.

We have no problems displaying the renderings on our external monitors. What we love is we have a pool of traveling Chromebooks when we are traveling that we use and have access to everything we need that’s in our Chrimebooks in the office.

Have a great day!

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Good review. I have the same Chromebox but does not play Netflix and Amazon prime videos. Done to Asus they couldn’t solve the problem.

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As Chromebook/box user from the beginning of the series today all my Windows PCs rest in the closet at the ready these days. 90% of my work is done on a tablet or phone. Coming from the pre-Windows days that’s a long step away from DOS and PC builder. The security and ease of use Chrome OS is the next best thing for my needs.

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Thanks. Very helpful. I have a Chromebook and have been considering adding a Chromebox to replace my aging Mac. I gathered s number of great tips on storage and using dual monitors.

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After my expensive gaming PC crashed about 2 years ago I bought a Asus M004u.
It’s been my primary computer since then. I would say the only thing that I miss is the ability to rip CDs and to watch the occasional DVD. (Yes, I’m one of those people who gets DVDs from Netflix)

I’ve read conflicting information on the ability to plug in an external USB drive CD writer or DVD player and was wondering if you might be able to confirm whether or not that’s a possibility with, if not this particular Chromebox, then with Chrome boxes in general.
Thanks for the great article 👍

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    —> I’ve read conflicting information on the ability to plug in an external USB drive CD writer or DVD player and was wondering if you might be able to confirm whether or not that’s a possibility with, if not this particular Chromebox, then with Chrome boxes in general.

    I don’t have an external, plug-in CD-ROM drive so I cannot test it myself. Oh, I guess I could run out to a computer store today and buy an external CD-ROM drive but I am reluctant to do so. After testing it, I don’t have any other use for a CD-ROM drive.

    Like you, I have heard and read conflicting reports about using CD-ROM drives on Chromebooks and Chromeboxes. However, one article that I would trust is found in the ChromebookHQ web site as that web site is written by Chrome operating system gurus. The article at: https://www.chromebookhq.com/chromebook-dvd-drive/ states:

    “If you’re wondering whether you can use an external drive CD/DVD with Chromebook, the short answer is yes, you can. But before you get too excited, know that there are some limitations to what an external drive can do.”

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Great article! I purchased a Dell Chromebox with a killer Intel core i7-4600u 4 years ago! It was marked down to $350.

Every time I go home and need the computer I go straight to the chromebox. It’s an amazing machine and it’s so convenient. It’s so fast at turning on in less than 10 seconds.

You’re right, ZERO viruses! Absolutely none. And again it starts up so fast I just love how fast it is. Everything is so snappy.

Going on 5 years with the machine and I don’t see why I would ever need to replace it.

Except for one thing that I’m curious of is Android apps. This is pre-Android Chromebox era so I can’t ask for much unless I upgrade to the newest Chromebox. But I’m not that much of an app user on a desktop anyways. I think I just like browsing the web on a computer. And using apps on a phone.

It’s been 5 years man and the things still starts up like a champ. There has been nothing wrong with it whatsoever.

Updates are so seemingless, you never even know it’s updating but you do know that it’s always updated to the current firmware.

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I’ll join the “Me Too” choir here. I would like to add that you can also use wireless keyboards, mice and track pads as well, at least on my Chromebox 3. Some use a little USB-A plug-in chip and some use Bluetooth. I will also add that experience has shown me that CD writers are highly problematic. If it is a requirement then Chrome OS may not be the best choice. With mp3, mp4, jpg etc files being so prevalent and file sharing via email, Google Drive and others being so simple I have found no need to use CDs for anything over the last few years. I love this low cost computing lifestyle.

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Re: Chromebooks
My computer knowledge and skills are very weak and self-taught. I’ve been interested in making the switch to a Chromebook … but afraid to take the plunge. With limited knowledge, I am uncertain exactly ‘what’ I will not have with the Chromebook vs. what I now have with a Windows Computer.

Will I be able to access my Word Docs? Create Word Docs?
Any clarity anyone can provide would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you.

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Thank you …

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“Google has also announced that by the end of 2019, all new Chromebooks and Chromeboxes will also run Linux programs.” Then, we should wait until the “end of 2019” since it will only be the “new” Chromebooks and Chromeboxes that will be able to run Linux – which I would conclude excludes “old” ones from being upgradable.

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Thanks for your article(s) about the Chrome OS and Chromebooks. My major Windows-based software is The Master Genealogist. I’d like to find a substitute for it, but no Windows programs come close. I’ve spent several hours looking into GRAMPS (which apparently could run via Chrome) but it does not seem to have the same central person screen which I really like about TMG and have not been able to find elsewhere (I gave up on RootsMagic and Legacy). Any suggestions for asking questions to GRAMPS users? I can’t even find a non-subscription site to contact those users…

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Is it true that working on a Chrome book you need to be connected to the web. Or, can you work off line?

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    —> Is it true that working on a Chrome book you need to be connected to the web. Or, can you work off line?

    When Chromebooks were first introduced sveral years ago, they required an online connection all the time in order to accomplish any work. Since those days, however, many things have changed in the Chrome operating system and in the applications that run on Chrome. Today there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Chromebook apps that work offline. Unfortunately, many people still believe that an online connection is required to accomplish anything on a Chromebook.

    To see a few articles about today’s offline capabilities of Chromebooks, start at: https://duckduckgo.com/?q=chrome+apps+that+work+offline&atb=v132-2_j&ia=web

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ASUS Chromebox 3 (fizz) stuck on Version 76 – and does not update (as of Oct 2019). Any others with this problem? (Actually not really a problem but a concern… Does this mean my ASUS chromebox is “end of life” from Google’s perspective?

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    —> does not update (as of Oct 2019). Any others with this problem?

    I purchased an ASUS CHROMEBOX 3-N017U Mini PC almost a year ago.

    Normally don’t pay much attention to updates simply because they happen in background and are invisible to the user unless the user wants to go looking for them. Question: how do you know if your Chromebox isn’t updating when you never see the updates take place, unlike Windows?

    After reading your comment, I checked on my Asus Chromebox. I clicked on “About Chrome OS” and it says “Your Chromebox is up to date. Version 76.0.03809.136 (Official build) (64 bit.)”

    Unfortunately, I never recorded what version of Chrome OS was running in it when I purchased it nearly a year ago so I don’t know how many updates it has had. However, the claim of “Your Chromebox is up to date” is reassuring.

    You might check the version number in your Chromebox or Chromebook to see if it is at Version 76.0.03809.136.

    I’d be especially interested if anyone has a LATER version.

    Also, look at the article at https://www.computerworld.com/article/2897690/chrome-os-upgrades.html and read section #1:

    “The first rule of Chrome OS upgrades is that your device doesn’t talk about Chrome OS upgrades. Google’s software updates itself automatically in the background while you’re using your Chromebook; the system won’t pester you to reboot or make you wait while it applies new software at startup (with the exception being the very first time you power up and sign into a new Chrome OS device).

    “You’ll see a small arrow icon in the lower-right corner of the screen, near the clock, whenever a new update has been downloaded and is ready to go. If you open it, the system will offer you the opportunity to apply the update immediately; otherwise, it’ll just take effect on its own with no fanfare the next time you restart.

    “You can manually force a Chromebook to check for updates by going into its Help screen (chrome://help) — but unless you’re just impatient and itching for something new, there’s really no need to do that. The updates will always show up and take care of themselves in short order.”

    Like

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