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Lenovo ThinkCentre Chromebox review: A speedy Chrome OS system that stays on your desk

MSRP: $199.00

The Good Lenovo's business-oriented ThinkCentre Chromebox is inexpensive, provides plenty of connectivity, and offers easy access to online and cloud-based tools.

The Bad More flexible Windows-based systems are not much more expensive. The inherent limitations of Chrome OS make it less than ideal for many professionals.

The Bottom Line The Lenovo ThinkCentre Chromebox doesn't exactly inspire, but if you or your employees need simple online access, it performs well for a very small investment.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

Chromebook laptops, which run Google's Chrome OS instead of the Windows or OS X operating systems, have an easy to understand pitch. These are generally inexpensive, portable PCs that spend nearly all their time online, and are handy for basic Web surfing and cloud-based tasks. It may not be the solution for everyone, or even most, but a Chromebook is clear about what it does and who it's for.

Take that same Chrome OS, which is essentially Google's own Chrome Web browser and a few wraparound file management features, and turn it into a desktop, and you have a pitch that's a little tougher to make. A Chrome desktop, such as the Lenovo ThinkCentre Chromebox, doesn't try to solve the same problems a Chromebooks does, which is how to give people a low-cost way to connect to the Internet on the go.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Simple desktop PCs, especially for business users, are already inexpensive, starting at under $300 for small towers with Windows 8 or Windows 10, and 500GB or larger hard drives. The ThinkCentre Chromebox undercuts most of them, starting at $199, but that includes only 32GB of SSD storage and a very basic Intel Celeron 3205U CPU.

The model reviewed here is a more expensive configuration that upgrades the CPU to a mainstream Intel Core i3 5005U, but also costs $319. The Chrome OS configuration of the ThinkCentre isn't currently available in the UK or Australia, but you can get a similarly configured Windows 8 system, in the same chassis, starting at £255 in the UK and AU$599 in Australia.

That's still less than you can get a Core i3 desktop for from most PC makers, but you can find a Windows-powered small tower with similar specs, such as the HP Mini for under $450.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Using a Chrome OS desktop can offer some unique advantages. Because users can't download and run new standalone applications, there's little chance of downloading malware or viruses (aside from browser-based threats), and these are great for giving employees limited access to online tools and features, without giving them a full PC.

For using cloud-based tools, such as Google Docs, Office Online, online mail apps and even streaming entertainment services from Netflix to YouTube to Spotify, Chrome OS works fine, and even HD video streaming was no problem.

Lenovo also sells a separate 23-inch monitor designed around the ThinkCentre Chromebox. The entire mini tower slides into a slot on the back of the display, which costs $229 in the US, creating a Chrome OS all-in-one desktop once you add a keyboard and mouse.

For connecting to online services with minimal cost, I could see giving someone a Chromebox instead of a Windows desktop, and this is one of the least expensive ways to get an Intel Core i3 CPU. But outside of businesses looking to keep costs down, it's hard to say spending a little more for a Windows-powered mini desktop with more flexibility and more storage wouldn't be a smart investment.

Lenovo ThinkCentre Chromebox

Price as reviewed $319
PC CPU 2.0GHz Intel Core i3 5005U
PC memory 4GB RAM
Storage 16GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Google Chrome OS ver. 44.0.2403.156

Design and features

About 7 inches square, the Chromebox can lie flat, similar to a Mac Mini, or stand upright in an included plastic desktop stand. Either way, it looks more like a nondescript router than a desktop computer, and will pretty easily tuck out of the way.

A colorful Chrome OS logo on one side panel and a lit power button on the front edge are the most eye-catching elements, along with a white ThinkCentre logo at the bottom of the front panel. Actual Lenovo branding is practically invisible, with an embossed black-on-black logo near the rear of the chassis.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Most of the ports are tucked away on the rear panel, making for a clean look, with only a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a headphone/mic jack and the power button on the front. If you connect the included Wi-Fi antenna, its black plastic aerial will stick up several inches past the top of the box.

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