Asus unveils tiny, Haswell-powered Chrome OS desktop

Last September at IDF, Intel teased a number of Chrome OS machines powered by its Haswell processors. One of those systems was an upcoming small-form-factor desktop from Asus. Today, Asus formally introduced that machine, which is simply dubbed the Asus Chromebox—and which has rather respectable specs for a tiny, web-only PC.

The Asus Chromebox features a choice of Celeron 2955U, Core i3-4010U, and Core i7-4600U processors, though the last of the bunch apparently won't be offered in North America. There's room for two 2GB DDR3-1600 SO-DIMMs, and Asus includes a 16GB solid-state drive based on the new M.2 (or NGFF) spec, which offers more bandwidth than mSATA. Supplementing that drive is a 100GB Google Drive subscription, which is free for two years. That plan will cost you $4.99 a month after that, barring future pricing changes.

On the connectivity front, the Asus Chromebox is endowed with 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, DisplayPort, and four USB 3.0 ports. There's a card reader up front, too. The system measures just 4.88" x 4.88" x 1.65" and comes with a VESA mount, so it can attach to the back of a TV or monitor. Despite its small size, the Asus Chromebox is cooled passively. That means no fans buzzing away under the hood.

Asus tells us the system will ship in mid-March and will cost $179 for the base, Celeron-powered version. An "optional wireless keyboard and mouse combination" will be offered, but it sounds like that will cost extra. Details on that bundle and on the Core i3 variant will be released next month, Asus says.

I'm not sure I personally see the appeal of a Chrome OS desktop, but then again, I'm probably not part of the operating system's target audience. Something like the Asus Chromebox could make a nice little web surfing and productivity machine for someone with basic computing needs. At $179, it's considerably cheaper than most Windows PCs out there, let alone Apple's $599 Mac mini.

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