Asus Chromebit review: An inexpensive Chrome OS PC on a stick

asus-chromebit-11.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

Early mockup images of the Chromebit showed its end-mounted HDMI output rotating 90 degrees to better fit some monitors. That feature does not appear to have made it to the final version. The HDMI connector sticks straight out from the end, where it's covered by a removable plastic cap and a 1-foot (30cm) HDMI extension cable is included for easier connectivity.

On one edge is a proprietary power connector that leads to a small power brick. On the Intel Compute Stick, power comes through a standard Micro-USB port, which makes it easier to replace if needed. The Compute Stick also includes a microSD card slot, good for expanding the on-board memory. Here you're stuck with 16GB, although it's assumed your photos, files and music will all be stored online, either in Google Drive or another cloud storage service.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Connecting the Chromebit to a TV or monitor is easier if you use the included one-foot HDMI extender cable. Asus also includes a small package of adhesive disks you can use to stick the lightweight chassis to the back of your display and out of sight. The Chromebit isn't unattractive by itself, but connected to its power supply, dangling from an HDMI input, and with something potentially sticking out of its USB port, things can get cluttered quickly, so tucking as much as possible out of the way is a good idea.

Ports and connections

Video HDMI
Audio None
Data 1 USB 2.0
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0

Performance

We've previously reviewed Chrome OS systems with low-end Intel and ARM processors, mid-range Intel Core i3 chips, and even custom Nvidia CPU/GPU combos. The best thing we can say about the Rockchip-branded processor here is that in everyday Web-surfing and office productivity use, you'll probably forget it's even there.

Streaming HD video worked well, although loading up a movie from Google's own Play store took several seconds to commence each time. Opening a half-dozen simultaneous browser windows, including email, word processing, Google searches and light photo editing via Pixlr, presented no problem.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

For more intensive tasks, you may be pushing the limit of the hardware, but in head-to-head browser-based tests it was only slightly slower than the Atom-powered HP Stream 11 laptop, and both were much faster than the Intel Compute Stick, which can be very sluggish in real-world use. The thing about the Chromebit that makes it feel even faster than the scores would suggest is its instant-on booting, while the Intel Compute Stick, for example, always feels like it takes forever to boot up.

Conclusion

Just when you think the steadily dropping price of Windows-based laptops and micro-desktops has made the idea of Chrome OS obsolete, you get something like the Asus Chromebit. It undercuts everything this side of a Chromecast on price, and when connected to a monitor and used for casual online tasks, you'd no doubt say it feels like a lot more than $85 worth of computer.

But it still suffers from the same identity crisis as other online-only Chrome systems, even more so because you can't use it as a cheap on-the-go laptop. I like the Chromebit, but it will only be the right machine for a small slice of shoppers.

Google Octane

HP Stream 11
7685
Asus Chromebit
7464
Intel Compute Stick
3019

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

JetStream

HP Stream 11
53.19
Asus Chromebit
44.05
Intel Compute Stick
24.4

Note:

longer bars indicate better performance

System Configurations

Asus Chromebit Chrome OS; 1.8GHz Rockchip RK3288-C; 2GB RAM; 16GB SSD
HP Stream 11 Microsoft Windows 10 (64-bit); 2.16GHz Intel Celeron N2840; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz; 64MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 32GB SSD
Intel Compute Stick Microsoft Windows 8.1 (32-bit); 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3735F 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz; 64MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 32GB SSD

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