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.”
“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!