Thursday, November 27, 2014

Introduction to Chromebooks (and Chromeboxes)

I'm going to cover "Chromebooks" (and the related Chromeboxes) on this blog entry, to provide information on whether purchasing a Chromebook could be right for you. There is no better time than now: Until the 5th of January, any new purchase of a Chromebook or Chromebox has an offer of 1 terabyte of Google Drive space free for two years.

The ASUS Chromebox model I bought for $180 is now available in specials below $120. My Chromebook is a Lenovo (the brand that bought the PC side of IBM), whom say that they will produce a Chromebook with a Chinese CPU for around $100 USD. It's very possible to take advantage of the Drive offer without spending much at all.

If you are able to do your computer tasks from within a web browser, you are exactly suited for a Chromebook. Especially since Google Drive provides an ability to do compose documents in a wordprocessor, spreadsheet, or as a presentation. Chromebooks are most-heavily utilized in the education sector, with each student in some districts issued a managed Chromebook.

As Systems Administrator for Western New Mexico Communications, I am able to easily accomplish more than 90% of my tasks with the Chrome OS. I can remote into my Windows 7 system for the occasional program I need to run from that environment, but my Chromebook is even able to pull up a "Secure Shell" console session on our core router unassisted. No external programs can be installed (so the Chrome OS also avoids computer viruses and "malware" as well), only Chrome "extensions" from the "Web Store" (currently there are thousands of "apps" available, more than Android apps in the Google "Play Store".

How do you know when it is a good product? When competitors like Microsoft jump in the market with Windows RT, and offer Office 365 access free for a year. Chromebooks have a community of volunteers to provide assistance (I am one of them). Issues that are deeper still have access to a Chromebook "agent" that will typically call YOU within minutes of opening a case. Setup and the possible "powerwash" (which reverts the Chromebook to factory settings in less than a minute) are easily accomplished.

Since the Chrome OS is so optimized for its minimalist approach, it boots up in seconds (a video I made below shows the process completing in less than 20 seconds, outside of me typing my password to log in). The system can be locked with a single keystroke. A second display can be connected to display another desktop (even to an HDTV of the last several years, with an HDMI interface), Chromeboxes are designed to run dual displays, in any orientation, straight out of the box.

However, any device operating from that native Internet connectivity depends on it. Chromebooks and Chromeboxes can do some tasks without being online (Google Drive can be set in an "offline" mode), but if the Internet connection is down it will be an impact. My Chromebook (as most models) only has wireless capability, the Chromebox has an Ethernet connection in addition to wireless. The Chrome OS has most items you would expect in a mini-laptop: USB, webcam, internal speakers and microphone. Although a Chromebox is just the main system without peripherals, common devices of mice and keyboards, headsets, and USB webcams are recognized.

My Chromebook booting up in 20 seconds

Both of my Chrome OS systems are based on an Intel Celeron - the Chromebook has a 1.83GHz CPU (with four cores), and 4Gb of RAM, but my Chromebox runs well even at 1.4GHz (two cores) and 2Gb of RAM (ASUS has other models that increase the RAM to 4Gb, and with i3 and i5 CPUs, and able to run new "4K" displays). Any other modern operating system wouldn't run well at those levels, but the Chrome OS does.

Ask any questions you have in the comments, and I will try to answer everything...

1 comment:

  1. In the video, the auto-focus of my webcam has to adjust for the lid position. I pause only for my password entry, the video is authentic to the true power-on sequence (current "Stable" channel build 39) otherwise. Note that from about time 0:16 to 0:20, a complex page has already loaded, and the new Google Hangout app (the floating green circle, known to heavily use system resources) is connecting.