I’ve gradually acquainted myself with the idea of notebooks running Google’s web-based Chrome OS. Despite my resistance these devices have made a case for themselves as inexpensive, no-nonsense computing for students or small businesses looking to avoid the maintenance of traditional full-powered computers. But what if you made the same device, only much cheaper amd without the portability.
So with Chromebooks selling in relative droves is there a market for a tethered internet machine like the Acer Chromebox CXI? Some would argue that the idea is too niche, even by desktop standards. So much in fact that companies like HP and ASUS have attempted to break into the market, with sporadic results; even Samsung appears to have given up the battle with little fanfare. So where does that leave the CXI among the thinning crowd?
Having good looks is one way to stand out, and all told, Acer did a decent job with the CXI. You won’t mistake this for anything expensive thanks to a hard plastic shell but it does try with a textured surface on the sides, and the minuscule dimensions of 6.5” x 1.3” x 5.1” (HWD) means it barely weighs more than a pound. Basically, it’s slick enough and occupies little space on your desk.
This is good considering you also get a healthy amount of I/O connectivity to round everything out, with four USB 3.0 ports (the front two are Sleep Charge enabled), memory card reader (SDXC), headphone jack, and LAN port; video input options are also accounted with HDMI and DisplayPort for compatible monitors. Of course it wouldn’t be a Chrome device without Bluetooth (4.0 + LE) and Wi-Fi a/b/g/n built-in if Ethernet and other wired peripherals are too plebeian.
As far as accessories are concerned, you shouldn’t have to worry since a wired Chrome chiclet keyboard and optical mouse are bundled in to start you off. For typing and navigation, the offerings get the job done adequately but I recommend buying a decent Bluetooth equivalent if you need those rear USB ports.
Also in the package is a VESA monitor mounting kit meant for permanent workstation setups and a vertical stand if you want the CXI to remain upright. Technically, a monitor will be the only required component that you’ll have to bring to the party; simply plug it in and enjoy. Being a Chrome OS machine there was no tinkering involved and the display even scaled flawlessly with a 27” Lenovo 1920×1080 display I currently had on tap.
On the off-chance you were expecting anything else – the Acer CXI performs like most other Chromebooks available now. I tested the step-up model (CXI-4GKM) which comes equipped with a 4GB stick of DDR3L RAM (for shrewd types, the $179 base 2GKM model has 2GB of memory but listed as upgradable to 4GB maximum), and as a consequence costs more at $219 MSRP. Aside from that, both units share the Intel 2957U Celeron processor and 16GB SSD as stock, making them average in terms of specification.
But it would be an understatement to say the extra memory makes a considerable difference for everyday productivity. Chrome OS is built for internet-heavy tasks and that helps free up precious resources that client-side software consumes. Multitasking chores in Google Docs and YouTube forays didn’t have the CXI chugging along or struggling compared to my previous tester from ASUS. In fact, it’s one of the smoother Chrome devices I’ve experienced.
More resource-intensive features such as video chats and voice messaging in Hangouts did slow the activity down and that probably can’t be helped. Fortunately (and as I hoped) the extra memory played a pivotal role in mitigating the problems of hanging feeds and multiple browser tabs crashing on me. Overall, the CXI handles itself well enough under a demanding load of tabs and tasks, especially when you factor in that the larger monitor you connect the more workspace you essentially have. Just keep in mind the more content you have playing the slower the performance, typical from a machine like this.
With the traditional PC market as a whole in continual decline, it looks like open season for Chrome OS machines like Acer’s Chromebox CXI. Although in the Chrome world, mobility and efficiency has always been the selling point. Chromeboxes, on the other hand, can only rely on simplicity versus all-around performance with all-in-ones and custom ATX builds. It’s not perfect but the CXI can still make a great second computer around the house, a first computer for children, or a budget HTPC device for casual viewing if you’re in need of alternatives. For those people, this should be more than enough.