Asus Chromebox review (Chrome desktop with Celeron CPU)

Over the past few years, almost every major PC maker has released a low-cost laptop or two running Google’s Chrome operating system. But Asus is taking a slightly different approach: its first Chrome OS is a desktop.

The Asus Chromebox is a tiny PC with an Intel Celeron processor, a nice range of ports, and an attractive price tag. It has a starting price of just $179.

asus Chromebox angle_01

How good can a desktop computer that costs about as much as a Nintendo 3DS be? That depends on how you plan to use it. But it turns out you get a lot of machine for your money.

Asus loaned me an Asus Chromebox to take for a test drive, and just like most Chromebooks I’ve reviewed recently, it offers decent performance, excellent value… and a user experience that may not necessarily be right for everyone. The good news is that folks who aren’t thrilled with Chrome OS can relatively easily install Ubuntu or other operating systems.

Overview

The Asus Chromebox measures just 4.9″ x 4.9″ x 1.7″ and it’s small enough to hold in one hand. It takes up less space than a CD case.

Asus Chromebox

But Asus manages to pack a lot into this little system including a decent x86 processor, two memory slots, and a solid state drive. That’s hardly surprising — Intel and Gigabyte have been doing it with their NUC and Brix mini-computers for the past year or two.

Still, it’s pretty impressive to see a PC that’s this small, this cheap, and which comes with memory, storage, and an operating system pre-loaded. While you can find other low cost tiny desktops, the Asus Chromebox is one of the few that you can pop out of the box, plug in, and start using within moments.

asus Chromebox ports

The system Asus sent me features an Intel Celeron 2955U Haswell processor and 16GB of storage. It’s supposed to have 2GB of RAM, but I accidentally received a developer unit with 4GB.

Good news: The Asus Chromebox works with 4GB of RAM… and it can even support up to 8GB! It’s also fairly easy to upgrade the memory since there’s room for 2 SODIMM sticks inside the case.

You can open the case by removing the rubber feet on the bottom of the Chromebox to reveal screws. Take them out and you can get at the memory and storage, making upgrades relatively painless.

asus Chromebox bottom

Asus says opening the case won’t void the warranty (even if the screws are kind of hidden). But the warranty won’t be honored if the Chromebox has been “tampered with or damaged after opening,” so proceed with caution.

asus chromebox open

Simply upgrading the RAM should be pretty safe, but you might not want to try installing a liquid cooling system if you care about the warranty (You probably wouldn’t need one anyway, the system doesn’t run very hot and it’s pretty quiet).

The Chromebox ships with a 16GB SanDisk M.2 SATA solid state drive. It’s one of the tiniest solid state drives I’ve held in my hands, and while it’s not the fastest SSD on the market, it’s zippy enough to help keep the Asus Chromebox booting quickly and running smoothly.

ssd

If 16GB isn’t enough disk space for you, all you need to do is open the case and remove the screws holding the wireless card and SSD in place and pop out the storage for a higher capacity SSD. You’ll have to copy your disk image or install a new operating system.

While it’s possible that the extra memory skewed some of my test results, I recently reviewed an Acer C720p Chromebook with the same processor, similar storage, and 2GB of RAM and it jumped through hoops just about as well as this model.

Asus also plans to offer models with Intel Core i3 and Core i7 Haswell processors at higher prices.

asus chromebox inside

Each model has dual-band 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, HDMI and DisplayPort, 4 USB 3.0 ports (2 on the front and 2 on the back), a headset jack, and a full-sized SD card slot.

While the 16GB of built-in storage isn’t a lot of space for music, movies, photos, or other files, it’s plenty of space for the Chrome operating system and some Chrome Packaged apps and cached data for offline use. Customers who buy an Asus Chromebox also get 100GB of free cloud storage with Google Drive for 2 years, as well as a 60-day free trial of Google Play Music All Access.

asus chromebook vesa

Since the Chromebox is so tiny it wouldn’t look out of place next to your TV and you’d barely notice it next to a PC monitor. But Asus also includes a VESA mount in the box. Just screw the mount into the back of your monitor or TV, add a few screws to the bottom of the Chromebox, and you can slide it into the mount so that it hangs out behind your display.

This turns any old display into a sort of all-in-one desktop PC… with a few extra cables running around. You’ll still need to hook up the Chromebox to your display with an HDMI or DisplayPort cable and plug in separate power cables for both your TV and the Chromebox.

asus chromebox vesa_03

Asus included a wireless mouse and keyboard with my demo unit, but they’ll be sold separately at retail. You can either supply your own keyboard and mouse or buy the Asus models (which are designed for use with Chrome OS) for $50.

Just plug the included USB dongle into one of the ports on the Asus Chromebox, make sure there are batteries in the keyboard and mouse, and you can type and scroll away.

asus chromebox accessories

Like most Chromebooks, the Asus Chromebox has a special keyboard. Instead of Fn keys at the top, there are dedicated forward and back buttons, a refresh key, brightness and volume keys, and a power button (which looks like a lock).

For the most part I don’t have any problems with the keyboard layout — I never use the Caps Lock key, so it’s OK if I never use the Search button that replaces it on Chrome devices. But I really wish someone would ship a Chrome OS device that actually has Home, End, PgUp and PgDn keys.

While it’s not too hard to remember to hit Alt + up arrow for page down and Alt + down arrow for page down, I also have issues remember that Ctrl + Alt + Up is Home while Ctrl + Alt + Down is End. I can’t count the number of times I’ve used a left or right arrow key and exited a web page when I meant to go to the start or end of a line of text that I was typing.

A Del key would also be nice, but Alt + Backspace works too, I guess.

Chrome OS notes

Chrome OS is an operating system based around the Chrome web browser and it’s designed to access web sites, stream online music and movies, run web apps, play online games, and maybe run some Chrome Packaged apps which can download data to your system and run like native apps (which can offer improved performance and the ability to use your Chromebox even when you don’t have an internet connection).

In the early days of Chrome OS it was easy to dismiss the operating system as little more than a web browser. “Why buy a device that just runs a browser when I could buy a Windows, OS X, or Linux machine that runs a browser and much more?” was a pretty frequent question… and to be honest, it probably still is.

asus chromebox

But Chrome OS has a way of growing on you… and growing as a platform. Chrome OS isn’t just a full-screen browser window anymore. There’s a taskbar, a desktop, and an app launcher. You can resize and rearrange windows on your screen. And there are apps that let you do many of the most common tasks you’d perform on a Windows machine.

Want to create a spreadsheet? There’s Google Drive and Google Sheets for that. Need a distraction? There are thousands of online games and video sites. Want to manage your finances? Mint could be your Quicken replacement, or QuickBooks Online your… QuickBooks replacement.

There are still some things that are tougher to do in Chrome OS than in a desktop operating system. I have yet to find a simple image editing app that’s as fast and easy to use as Irfanview for Windows. And while there are some ways to edit videos using web apps, the idea of shooting a video, uploading it to the web, editing it, downloading it, and then uploading it to the site where you want to host it… well, it just gives me a headache.

asus chromebox with shell

Chrome OS could be the only operating system you need… depending on what you need to do with a computer. If you absolutely need Microsoft Office and can’t get by with Google Docs, Microsoft Office Web Apps, or another online alternative, you’re going to be better off with Windows or OS X. If you absolutely must store your entire music and video collection on a hard drive, you’ll probably either want an enormous USB hard drive or another operating system.

But I don’t think Chrome OS is supposed to replace Windows for most users… at least not yet. At this point, a Chromebook is a laptop that offers ease of use, speed, and security at a low price. And the Asus Chromebox shows that Google’s operating system can bring the same experience to desktops… for an even lower price (monitor not included).

I suspect Asus and other Chromebox makers expect to sell most of their devices to business and education customers. Chromeboxes provide a cheap, easy, and relatively secure way to allow students, employees, digital kiosk visitors, and others to get online. But Chrome OS is also a surprisingly usable platform for that second or third computer in your house.

Ubuntu notes

Not convinced? No problem. Installing an alternate operating system on the Asus Chromebox is pretty easy… as long as that alternate OS isn’t Windows. It’s probably not impossible to install Windows on the Asus Chromebox, but it’s not exactly easy at this point… and if you really want a Windows machine you’d probably be better off just buying one.

There are a few ways to install Ubuntu, Debian, or other Linux-based operating systems. They all involve entering developer mode.

Here are the steps for doing that:

  1. Turn off the Chromebox.
  2. Find the tiny hole near the Kensington lock slot.
  3. Stick a paperclip in that slot and press down until you feel a button click.
  4. Hold the paperclip down while pressing the power button to turn on the device.
  5. When the device boots into the scary white screen, press Ctrl + D on your keyboard and then follow the on-screen directions.

That’s pretty much it. Note that this process will wipe any data on your device and basically present you with a factory-fresh version of Chrome. But once you login with your username and password again, it’ll automatically grab your settings from the internet and you’ll be pretty much back where you were in no time.

asus chromebox reset button

Just make sure to hit Ctrl+D whenever you reboot your device from now on so you’re not stuck staring at the recovery screen.

Now that OS verification is turned off you could theoretically wipe Chrome OS off the device and install a different operating system. I prefer to use a tool called Crouton which installs Ubuntu or Debian side-by-side with Chrome OS.

This lets you run both operating systems at the same time, and Ubuntu uses the same Linux kernel as Chrome. That means you don’t have to worry about installing drivers for WiFi or any other hardware. It also means that you can literally flip back and forth between Chrome and Ubuntu with just a few key-presses.

asus chromebox lxde_02

Want to wipe Crouton, free up the disk space it was using, and go back to a Chrome-only device? Just reboot your machine and follow the steps for re-enabling OS verification and the Chromebox will delete all your data again and return you to the factory settings.

You can find instructions at the Crouton page for installing Ubuntu or Debian. For example, I used the installation script to load Ubuntu 13.10 with the LXDE desktop environment by running the command “sudo sh -e ~/Downloads/crouton -r saucy -t lxde” without quotes.

With Ubuntu running, I was able to install GIMP for editing images, Audacity for editing audio files, and the Firefox web browser, because I get a kick out of running Firefox on a Chrome device. You could also install Chrome or Chromium.

asus chromebox xbmc_01

I also loaded XBMC with mixed results. While it was easy to install and run the full-screen media center software, only a few of the plugins I tried worked properly, I wasn’t able to connect to my Windows network to stream videos stored on another PC, and I had some audio glitches when trying to watch online videos.

asus chromebox xbmc_02

I doubt any of those problems are insurmountable, but I didn’t spend a lot of time tinkering with XBMC settings.

Performance Notes

Intel’s Celeron 2955U chip is a 1.4 GHz dual-core processor based on the same architecture as the company’s 4th generation Core chips, code-named “Haswell.”  It has Intel HD graphics, and the 64-bit chip has  a TDP of 15 watts.

The chip is more commonly found in laptops than desktops, but the Celeron 2955U is a relatively inexpensive chip that offers a decent balance of power, performance, and price. Since it’s designed to play nicely with laptops, it fits pretty nicely into the tiny Asus Chromebox case, and while there is a fan in the case, you won’t hear it running very often… the chip runs cool enough to keep the fan paused most of the time.

Not surprisingly, the Asus Chromebox performed a lot like the Acer C720p in most benchmarks I ran. The Acer laptop has the same Celeron processor.

Chart

What’s interesting is that both machines ran circles around the HP Chromebook 11, a Chrome OS laptop with a Samsung Exynos 5 dual-core ARM Cortex-A15 processor.

The Asus Chromebox scored twice as high as the HP Chromebook 11 in the Google Octane HTML5 benchmark and nearly three times as high in the FutureMark Peacekeeper benchmark.

The results were similar with the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark.

asus chromebox sunspider

All told, the benchmarks suggest the new Celeron-powered Chrome OS devices come closer to Google’s $1299 Chromebook Pixel than they do to the HP Chromebook 11.

That’s not to say that any of these devices feel sluggish… but the dual-core Celeron processor is clearly faster than the dual-core Exynos chip.

What does that mean in terms of real-world performance? Here are a few different things I was able to do without the system slowing down to any noticeable degree:

  • Open well over a dozen web browser tabs to research various topics while typing blog posts in a second browser window
  • Stream HD video in full screen
  • Stream video from Netflix and Hulu at the same time in side-by-side windows
  • Play a bit of Extreme Tux Racer in Ubuntu

All told, as long as you have reasonable expectations for what you can do with a Chrome OS desktop (or a Linux desktop with 16GB of storage), the Asus Chromebox seems to have plenty of power for day-to-day tasks.

It’s not a high-end gaming machine. It’s not a speed demon. And it might not be the best system for folks who have spent the last 20 years getting addicted to specific apps that’ll only run on Windows or OS X. But as Chrome OS devices go, it’s pretty good… especially for the price.

I wrote almost all of this review on the Chromebox.

Verdict

Google has made a pretty compelling case for Chrome OS as a laptop operating system. Chromebooks are basically laptops that run Chrome instead of Windows. But they’re cheaper, easy to use, and relatively secure thanks to the way Chrome downloads updates automatically and sandboxes apps to make it difficult to load malware.

Since your data’s stored in the cloud, it’s also easy to switch from device to device, picking up where you left off, whether you’re using another Chrome OS device or a different machine altogether.

I’m not convinced Chromebooks are full-fledged laptop replacements for everyone… but they’re certainly interesting alternatives to tablets or other portable devices. Priced around $300 or less, it makes at least as much sense to pick up a Chromebook for surfing the web while watching TV or while on vacation as it does to grab a tablet.

But does Chrome OS make as much sense for desktop computers? The Asus Chromebox helps make the case that the answer is yes… Chrome OS in a box seems to have earned a place in the computer world.

asus chromebox vesa_04

Again, I’m not sure I’d replace a Mac or Windows PC with a Chromebox as my only desktop. But a Chromebox could make a good second or third PC.

Need a simple machine your kids can use to watch YouTube? Why give them a Windows PC when a cheap Chromebox will do? Have an older relative who just wants to read the daily news and send email? A Chromebox could fit the bill. Want to watch Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu content on your TV and also have the option of surfing the web? An Asus Chromebox may be more expensive than a $50 Roku or $35 Google Chromecast, but it’s also a lot more versatile.

asus chromebox front

But even if you’re not sold on Chrome OS as an operating system, the Asus Chromebox isn’t just a device that runs Google’s browser-based operating system. It’s one of the cheapest small form-factor desktops available which also includes some memory and storage.

Sure, the $179 model doesn’t include a lot of memory or storage, but it’s got everything you need to set up Ubuntu or another Linux-based operating systems.


  • werewolfc

    Liked the review. 180$ looks promising…. but in Europe 180Euros not so much :(

  • Arrdee

    I’m really surprised nobody has introduced similar hardware with an Android build optimized for non-touch operation and larger monitors yet. Perferably with the multi-widow and even multi-monitor support so many 3rd parties have demonstrated. It would find a market at this pricing level.

  • nards barley

    Does Skype work with Linux on this?

  • Galactus Schroeder

    If one were to install steam OS with the i7 version would there be room to add a graphics card in there?

  • piratesmvp04

    Another excellent review, Brad! Thanks for testing XBMC and Ubuntu on this. I am wondering, have you tried running some Windows games via Wine or Playonlinux?

  • atlo

    When I install Fedora or Ubuntu using a default ISO, will I always have to press Ctrl+D each time I reboot/power on? If I replace the SSD, would I have to reinstall Chrome OS and then overwrite it like before? I ask because I read somewhere that on the C720 someone had to do that when he replaced the drive.

    Are there issues when installing from a regular ISO? For example, GPU, WiFi and general boot issues.

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      Probably. There’s a reason I use Crouton when testing Linux… it’s probably the simplest, most risk-free way to try Linux on a device like this.

      If you want to do something more complicated, you’d best either know how to edit your configuration manually or wait until someone who’s a lot more knowledgeable about Fedora or Ubuntu than I am writes up a step-by-step tutorial.

      Given how attractive the price/performance of this machine is, I suspect it won’t take *too* long for someone to do that. But this is officially sold as a Chrome OS device, so don’t expect any official support for loading alternate operating systems from Asus or Google.

      • atlo

        It looks like people found a way to do it on the C720. A Google employee spilled the beans on how to do it. It works on some other Chromebooks. You also need to remove a write protect screw but you’ll have to guess which screw it is for other Chromebooks if it exists.

        I wonder if there’s a write protect screw in this Chromebox and if the script works to change the boot options.

      • Dave

        There is a write protect screw…. it’s the silver screw in the upper right of this image: http://cdn.liliputing.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/asus-chromebox-inside.jpg

      • Bpnine

        Great! You can see the little split in the ground plane in this picture even. Now all we need is a working BIOS to flash to it :)

      • Dave

        Try using “PANTHER F5U-24Q” instead of “PANTHER F5U-B5M” with the image download tool… I just upgraded to a new 128GB SSD and that image restored just fine :)

      • Dave

        Once flash is enabled (remove screw and “flashrom –wp-disable”), the ‘set_gbb_flags.sh’ seems to have options to enable seabios along with other things. Still playing with the options… but until we have a bios image to flash this may help.

      • Mike

        How about this: http://forum.xbmc.org/showthread.php?tid=185329&pid=1667228#pid1667228. That would make seabios boot from usb by default. Would the live usb then load? And would a plugged-in keyboard then be recognized?

      • Darren Enns

        This tends to confirm my theory (elsewhere in these comments) that all 216 ‘hwid’ codes match to a single ‘bin’ file. In fact, when I run the Linux-based recovery download utility, and ask for ‘Chromebox’, it gives me a single choice (‘ASUS Chromebox CN60′) and then proceeds to download a single zipped bin file:

        Downloading image zipfile from https://dl.google.com/dl/edgedl/chromeos/recovery/chromeos_5116.88.0_panther_recovery_stable-channel_mp.bin.zip

        On my internet connection, it took 30 minutes to download a 445M file.

    • Jason

      I want to make this into an HTPC/NAS/media server but if I have to keep pressing Ctrl+D when restarting after updates then I’ll probably pass on this box. I was thinking ASUS was offering an i7 version mostly to cater to people who plan on replacing Chrome OS with another desktop Linux distro.

      On the C720, after you enable the SeaBIOS you have press Ctrl+L on each boot. That sucks.

      Oh well, I guess I’ll see how a similarly specced NUC,
      BRIX or even an ugly Zotac costs. I planned on maxing the RAM and using a 64 GB SSD for holding multiple VMs.

  • Darren Enns

    Great review! Now just to look for a Canadian online retailer that will sell it, and for a reasonable price :)

    • Peter

      Canada Computers is listing it.

      • Darren Enns

        Yep, thanks! Canada Computers and CenDirect both have it for about the same price i.e. $200 CDN, accounting for the currency difference. Next challenge: find one that has free shipping (instead of $15 or so) :)

  • Rickey Shortt

    I want one of these – with an additional 2GB of RAM – very much. But,,, my two or three year old Asus VH235 monitor has VGA and DVI ports only – no DisplayPort or HDMI. Will the Asus Chromebox work with this older monitor? I assume I will need to purchase a DisplayPort to DVI adapter or a cable with one DisplayPort plug and one DVI port? If the Chromebox will not work well with this monitor, I may have to go with the Acer C720 instead – but I definitely want to give Chrome OS a try.

    • Quindor

      Just use a HDMI to DVI cable. The video signal that HDMI carries is actually DVI, so no problems there, should set you back about 10$ or so.

      • Rickey Shortt

        Thanks! I ordered a Chromebox and cable this morning. I want the keyboard too after it’s available. By then, I should know whether or not I want to order more RAM at the same time!

      • Rickey Shortt

        Another short term advantage is I can keep my Windows 7 pc hooked up to the same monitor with the VGA port until I finish my ongoing project of scanning all my old pre-digital pictures!

  • BrianS

    “Again, I’m not sure I’d replace a Mac or Windows PC with a Chromebox as my only desktop. But a Chromebox could make a good second or third PC.”

    In our household (2 computing professionals and a teenager), we have a number of machines. We are looking forward to buying this Chrome as the shared machine in the space between the kitchen/family room. The machine there currently is an aged iMac. We find that that it is really only used for the Web plus some very limited tasks such as file transfer from a camera sd card or simple word processing (print a “free” sign).

    The speed at which we are dropping Mac/Windows usage astounds me.

    Games: Moved from Macs and consoles (PS/3, Xbox 360) to tablets (first iPads, now Android).

    Secure Web (such as banking): From Mac/Windows to Chromebooks

    Personal Office Usage: Moved from MSOffice/LibreOffice (Windows and Mac) to Google Docs.

    Even on the professional side, web-based IDE’s are already making great strides. I’m already doing some legacy work using RDP/VNC/SSH from Chrome Apps on a Chromebook.

    So I kind of agree with your comment, that Chromebox/book usage needs to be secondary at this point. Inventorying all of my family’s usage, I only see a few areas not currently there: video editing, photo editing, word processing of large documents and IDEs. All of these are partially there already. All are being actively worked on. It won’t be long before a ChromeOS device can be your primary device. For development it will need to be backed with servers (cloud and local). Mine is a 3″x 5″ Atom-based box that draws 12 watts, running Ubuntu. It’s amazing how small and cheap things can be when you don’t have Windows/Mac bloat.

  • Greg Post

    Upgradeable RAM and storage, winner.

  • Slinky

    Brad, can android be used as the second os on this box?

  • tiny

    Thanks for the review. How loud is the fan compared to the Acer C720 or C720p? Do you think it comes on less often? Is it less annoying for someone who hates even quiet fans?

  • Peter Frazier

    i’m very tempted.. i have a 27″ tv at home this would just love to play with..

    or two 19″ widescreen monitors..

  • https://www.google.com/+GeorgeChave George Chave

    Where can I buy the extra 2 GB of Ram from? Amazon? I’m a bit new at this…does it need to be a specific brand or model?

  • http://www.personal.psu.edu/~j5j/ John A. Johnson

    That should be “sudo sh -e ~/Downloads/crouton -r saucy -t lxde” rather than “sudo sh -e ~/Downloads/crouton -r saucy -t lxe” I am in the middle of trying to install Ubuntu in order to install XBMC. I’ve already discovered that by bluetooth keyboard, which connected fine to the original Chrome OS, has trouble connecting while in developer mode. If I can’t get straightened out, all this will be for nil.

    • DoesItWork?

      I’m facing similar keyboard problems. Cannot get into developer mode because the chromebox does not receive the ‘Ctrl+D’ command from the keyboard when its on the ‘scary’ screen. What kind of keyboard did you use when enabling the Developer Mode for the first time?

      • http://www.personal.psu.edu/~j5j/ John A. Johnson

        I used a Dell USB wired keyboard, which worked immediately.

    • Veronica Burgos

      Hello can you please try the following:
      sudo sh -e ~/Downloads/crouton -t xbmc
      Like I posted in xbmcforum. I think many would appreciate more feedback about this box running xbmc.

      http://forum.xbmc.org/showthread.php?tid=185329&pid=1658949#pid1658949

      • Matt Devo

        that installs xbmc 11 (Eden) which runs in software only mode and is pretty unusable

  • Bpnine

    Thanks for the great review!

    I intended to use this as a backup router with Fedora on it but so far have had no luck booting anything other than ChomeOS. Some stuff I’ve run into:

    1) Can’t make a recovery image — chome://imageburner (the documented method) hangs trying to download the image from google. Running the OSX recovery creator from google the ASUS chromebox’s part number (shown on the developer screen — F5U-B5M) does not appear as a valid selection.

    2) I enabled developer mode w/o any issue and enabled legacy and USB boot (using google’s suggested commands: ‘crossystem dev_boot_usb=1′; ‘crossystem dev_boot_legacy=1′, and ‘chromeos-firmwareupdate –mode=todev’ from a root shell, but:

    3) Legacy boot mode with CTL-L (SEABios) just prints ‘Booting from hard disk’ then hangs regardless of what media I’ve plugged in (Fedora live, ubuntu installer, fedora installer on flash or SD card, just the ISO’s dd’ed onto the card or the ISO’s installed with unetbootin over an MSDOS filesystem). Pressing ‘esc’ (or F12) does not go into a boot menu. So no luck with legacy boot for me.

    4) USB boot mode with CTL-U with the above media just ‘beeps’, looking at the bootstrap source this means the bootstrap ‘failed’, sadly the reason doesn’t end up printed somewhere I can see it. I did manage to ‘install’ chomeOS onto an SD card from the internal SSD and that card boots fine with ctl-u, but the unsigned fedora/ubuntu stuff I’m trying does not.

    5) There is no developer documentation for this specific board (panther) on the google dev site, its listed in the table but there is no link behind it. There’s no description of how to turn off write protection I’ve found (screw, jumper, other?) and I haven’t yet gone spelunking to see if I can find it by inspection. If I *did* find it I’m not sure where I’d get a working coreboot/SEABIOS for this board, if there’s a community using/hacking this board I have yet to find it.

    The hardware is *really* nice and very solid feeling. This is a fantastic little box from the h/w point of view. As a chrome platform it works really well with the usual problems (can’t watch netflix, can’t use a printer, etc), its very fast and snappy compared to the chomebooks my daughter uses at school.

    • Darren Enns

      Very much hoping that the ‘trailblazers’ like yourself will figure out how to do this stuff so that it all works nice-and-slick for me later if/when I get my own Chromebox :)

      That being said, a few things I have noticed while browsing other threads on this:

      – I think I read someone that the recovery image for the Chromebox is not yet available (?)
      – I read that one guy had trouble booting any USB3-based device (!!)

      Out of curiosity, I downloaded the ‘recovery creator’ script and from just some simple poking around you do seem correct that there is no ‘FBU-B5M’ entry listed for the ‘ASUS Chromebox CN60′. Here is what the ‘config.txt’ (abbreviated) looks like for it:

      name=ASUS Chromebox CN60
      version=5116.88.0
      desc=ASUS Chromebox CN60
      channel=stable-channel
      hwid=PANTHER A2A-23Z

      hwid=PANTHER F5U-S66
      md5=56538c0e11d9c0f7d8aba4582b0dd644
      sha1=ec5931d47125d66b80a8093308e285423d86b841
      zipfilesize=466900474
      file=chromeos_5116.88.0_panther_recovery_stable-channel_mp.bin
      filesize=1509916672
      url=https://dl.google.com/dl/edgedl/chromeos/recovery/chromeos_5116.88.0_panther_recovery_stable-channel_mp.bin.zip

      To me, it actually looks like *all* the part numbers link to a *single* recovery image for the Chromebox (shown in the URL above). That being said, it is a bit worrying that the one listed for your machine is not listed :(

      • Bpnine

        It looks like the problem with legacy boot is that SeaBIOS doesn’t support the USB-3 controller — so it can’t see the keyboard or any flash or regular drive you might plug in. The ‘ctl-u’ boot is if you’ve built your own version of chrome-os (that isn’t signed), it works but only for that “distro”.

        So at this point its impossible to use this to boot another O/S natively. There’s a hint that for another board with the same problem you can make it work with a new coreboot/seabios and this may eventually work on Panther:

        https://code.google.com/p/chromium/issues/detail?id=339572#c12

        No one has yet admitted where the write protect screw is, but if there’s a working bootstrap at some point (with an xHCI driver) it shouldn’t be too hard to find.

      • Darren Enns

        Hmmm…doesn’t sound very good :( It looks like the current version of SeaBIOS in the Chromebook cannot do what we want/need it to do. There is hope for working around it, but if the ultimate solution is an updated/fixed version of SeaBIOS, how do we safely/confidently get that onto the Chromebox?

        The current alternatives are therefore Crouton (which works?) and CrUbuntu (which people are struggling with).

        Bottom line: my current Chromebox plans need to be put ‘on hold’ for now. I think I (and everyone) assumed that it would be just as easy to work with as the Acer C720 :(

      • Bpnine

        Once an xHCI driver (USB3) has been ported/written for the ASUS box (panther) and a new coreboot is available, the procedure is likely going to be something like this one:

        http://dev.chromium.org/chromium-os/developer-information-for-chrome-os-devices/upstream-coreboot-on-intel-haswell-chromebook

        … the location of the write protect mechanism is still a mystery but it shouldn’t be too hard to find with a little inspection (its just a pin from the flash BIOS getting grounded somewhere, maybe a screw, maybe something else). I just don’t want to take mine apart until I know there’s a working USB-3 legacy driver, I’ll probably keep the ASUS because it is pretty cool, but now I need another haswell board for my router project which I can’t stall too long on.

      • Darren Enns

        Thanks for giving me/us hope that this is ‘do-able’, given patience and time! On a related note, I have still not found a central site where all the clever folks are gathering to discuss ‘Chromebox Running Linux’. If you find one, please let the rest of us know :)

      • John Peter Lewis

        I have a fix for the SeaBIOS USB boot bug @ http://johnlewis.ie/asus-chromebox-owners-rejoice/

        If you are looking for somewhere to discuss things Chromebook/box + Linux, I have a small but growing community on G+ – https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/112479827373921524726

      • Bpnine

        I’ve been pulling from the downstream SeaBIOS git at google daily and nothing so far. I don’t think its really anyone’s priority to do any work to get SeaBIOS going on this board (it isn’t really what they built the box for). The bug claims that top of tree should work but the last activity related to an xHCI driver was back in January.

        There are no per-board branches on the SeaBIOS tree and there *is* an xHCI driver that looks for PCI devices with the standard XHCI id on the PCI bus: PCI_CLASS_SERIAL_USB_XHCI. Its possible that the SeaBIOS payload included with the Panther board is just older than this code that was added in Jan. If I was confident that I could replace just the SeaBIOS payload easily I’d give it a try. If anyone has done just that successfully let me know and I’ll try to build a SeaBIOS from ToT.

      • speedbal

        I tried, but what I built obviously wasn’t correct (full ToT). It error’d out since there was a size difference (thankfully). it is looking for a file ~8mb in size to flash.

        To create backup of your existing ….
        sudo flashrom -r current.bin

        To write just the SeaBIOS portion….
        sudo flashrom -w bios.bin -i RW_LEGACY

        To write the entire flashrom…..
        sudo flashrom -w bios.bin

        I used this thread (there are others) to figure out the commands needed to read/write: https://groups.google.com/a/chromium.org/forum/#!topic/chromium-os-discuss/IFCeicUAVZ8

        If you are able to figure it out, please upload the file you use to someplace we can all get it (like I said what I built obviously wasn’t correct). According to this thread ToT should work – https://code.google.com/p/chromium/issues/detail?id=339572 – see #13 comment

        Keep us posted

      • Max

        I’ve also been waiting for info on this (seabios update), but I’m starting to realize the whole way this box was launched was very… “beta”, what with the supply shortages, and complete lack of developer info on the chromium website. Also, absolutely no word on the core i3 version.

        There is a thread on the coreboot mailing list about doing this manually on the acer c720, but it is way over my head. We don’t know if this board is exactly the same. Discussion: http://www.coreboot.org/pipermail/coreboot/2014-January/077087.html

      • John Peter Lewis

        I’m the guy asking the questions in the thread. A guy called Kevin O’Connor wrote a script to just replace SeaBIOS on the C720. In theory it should work on any of the 3rd generation (Haswell) Chromebooks/boxes. Even though I ran (what I think are) the important steps, all I end up with is a SeaBIOS that works, but doesn’t initialise the graphics, and still doesn’t want to recognise an external keyboard on boot. Further more, trying to use the external keyboard during boot appears to cause some sort of a race condition, because even then trying to use the built-in keyboard on my HP Chromebook 14 doesn’t work, and the fan starts periodically spinning up to high-speed.

        So, it seems the script/method for doing this isn’t water tight, all the 3rd generation Chromebooks/boxes suffer from this problem, the latest version of SeaBIOS from git doesn’t sort the problem out, and the Google/coreboot guys have some debugging to do. Sorry I can’t help more, but it’s beyond my expertise.

        I’ve done quite a bit of work getting custom ROM’s built for the 2nd generation Chromebooks, but until this point, haven’t seen the need to do anything with the 3rd generation. Don’t worry about the write-protect screw. If you are just replacing the RW_LEGACY slot i.e. SeaBIOS it isn’t protected by hardware write-protect anyway. FYI, the screw generally has a copper surround with a split in it, which the screw makes a circuit of.

        Apart from my the info on my blog and wiki, I also have a small but enthusiastic community on G+ that has a stab a dealing with most things coreboot + SeaBIOS + Chromebook + related. I would post a link but I don’t want to spam, and I’m a very modest self-promoter.

      • speedbal

        John: Assuming you are talking about this script… http://marc.info/?l=linuxbios&m=139043970525084&w=2 right?

        You said that you were able to build it and get it too boot, but you still had keyboard issues. If you set the “flags” to auto boot off of usb (0x11 if I remember correctly) would it boot of usb? If so, that would get us further. Source of file of script to change flags if you want further info: https://chromium.googlesource.com/chromiumos/platform/vboot_reference/+/7aa250f2db901f523b050ca897237ec1e2be678a/scripts/image_signing/set_gbb_flags.sh

        Since you are not a self promoter, I will post your site….. read a bunch about previous generation hacking and it helped me help a few others… http://johnlewis.ie/

      • John Peter Lewis

        Yes, that’s the one, speedbal.

        Well, I’ve just tried to boot off usb, blind, and it doesn’t seem to work, even with the latest git version of SeaBIOS. My guess is that the dummy USB 3 driver (which actually just maps to USB 2 EHCI) introduced at the end of 2013 (and prior to the ASUS Chromebox release) has broken things. I’m thinking that if I try a version of SeaBIOS from an older snapshot, or even the latest “stable” release (1.7.2) it will probably work enough for people to boot from USB.

        In fact, thinking aloud, there should be no reason why a copy of the SeaBIOS slot from the HP Chromebook 14 shouldn’t work (it’s from a SeaBIOS snapshot in September, and they share the same graphics card ID’s). Bearing in mind that it won’t make things any worse, and you can then flash back the original ASUS version from the shell-ball ROM if needed, do you fancy trying it?

      • speedbal

        sure…. as you said, shouldn’t make things worse (can always flashback to orginal). I tried mucking around with the script (kevin’s) and couldn’t get it do much. Is the process really as simple as downloading latest version from website (1.7.4 I think is out there) and just flashing with the above steps….. I know it can’t be that simple.

        SeaBIOS link for those interested: http://www.seabios.org/Download

        Happy to be the guinea pig on this since I have hit a wall with my other avenues.

      • John Peter Lewis

        Okay, well, I’ve learnt a few things in the last few hours that I’m still tying down and making sense of. I think the best way forward is to try changing the gbb flags as I mentioned above.

        I’ve learnt that extracting the VGA BIOS from CBFS using cbfstool is mostly a waste of time.
        I’ve managed to modify the shell-ball SeaBIOS/RW_LEGACY slot for the ASUS Chromebox to boot on my HP Chromebook 14 by dd’ing the VGA BIOS from the HP Chromebook 14 shell-ball.
        It still boots the same way it did before and will not recognise a non-bluetooth wireless keyboard (I don’t have a wired USB keyboard handy to try), and boots to USB first, if present.

        Did you make sure you took the write-protect screw out before setting the GBB flags?

      • speedbal

        yep… screw was first thing I took out. writing the gbb flags does force SeaBIOS to boot, but hangs because USB drives (tried many) and SD (again tried many) are not recognized. I have to assume it is due to the fact that USB drivers are compromised in SeaBIOS in the default load. If I could load a more current build (through whatever means) I will certainly do that, but my feeble attempt to compile ToT generated a file that was said to be “not correct size” per error mesg.

      • speedbal

        that command is…. (run as root or with sudo command)

        # chromeos-firmwareupdate –sb_extract /tmp
        # flashrom -w /tmp/bios.bin -i RW_LEGACY

        didn’t work… same result

      • John Peter Lewis

        Just to keep other people up to speed who might be watching this thread – I’ve managed to create a new RW_LEGACY slot CBFS for my own HP Chromebook 14, which now does boot using external wireless (probably only non-bluetooth) keyboard. I think it may well sort the bug out on the ASUS Chromebox, but I need a guinea pig. Anyone else game, apart form speedbal?

      • John Peter Lewis

        Incidentally, changing the gbb flags as alluded to elsewhere in this thread should probably work in theory too (assuming the USB driver in the shipping version of SeaBIOS for the ASUS Chromebox isn’t completely broken). If you run it as in the linked post, you can still boot ChromeOS by holding down CTRL+D. If you do decided to do this, make sure you remove the write-protect screw prior, or it will wipe out the SeaBIOS slot completely.

        http://johnlewis.ie/how-to-make-seabios-the-default-on-your-acer-c720/

      • speedbal

        tried and failed with just setting the flag on stock. using 0x11 and 0x489

      • John Peter Lewis

        See below. You did remove the write-protect screw, didn’t you?

  • nightfishing

    Very well detailed review. I have transitioned 99% of my main usage from Win7 to Chrome over the past year and couldn’t be happier. It is amusing how annoying it is to have to go back to one of my windows machines for anything more than a quick visit. A couple of quick notes: (1) the lack of a delete key on Chrome keyboards is a PITA that I never got used to; switched to a normal keyboard and am much happier (plus home/end etc as a bonus). I never used the search key once (never really understood how that was easier than focusing the address bar). Did like the lack of accidentally hitting caps lock, but.. (2) Office is often mentioned as a drawback to ChromeOS but the online version is quite usable. Not as snappy as Quick Office/Google Docs but handles native Office docs without any formatting issues.

  • djfourmoney

    I don’t use Office as I have no need for about 80% what it does. Libre/Open Office + Google Drive does what is needed including Powerpoint style presentations. Using Office would only be an issue for those who depend on it for the work they do.

    $180 for a laptop without the screen seems reasonable. But this same processor without storage or memory but the same manufacturer (Gigabyte) and same size (Brix) can be had locally for $120. If you add memory and a decently sized SSD; for about $50 more you could easily run any Linux distro on it and XBMC would run better because this system is optimized for Windows.

    Also development is heating up on Linux for some of these ARM/Samsung based single CPU boards such as the Odroid U3, for general readers of this site, I would think that might be a better fit budget wise, $60 for a quad core Samsung CPU board? (Basically a Galaxy S3) Even if shipping bumps final cost to about $90, the Maker versions of the Beagleboard Black ($90) and Raspberry Pi ($125) are most expensive if you want either of those today, just by going to your local Radio Shack.

    Here’s another thing, with the money you saved, you can easily afford a NAS with 2-4TB of storage and it doesn’t even need to be anywhere near the client machine.

  • Jake

    When will the i3 version be available? I can’t seem to find this information anywhere and I’d like to buy one right away. Anyone have a link to preorder it? Thanks!

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      It’ll probably hit the streets in mid-April. Last I’d heard was around the 14th. It will probably just go on sale with no pre-order period.

  • Don

    Ubuntu on Chromebox (Works Great)

    I received my Chromebox just a few days after release (pre-ordered). With very little effort, I was able to enable Developer Mode and setup Chrubuntu and Crouton, play around with both, reset the device back to factory settings, and start the process all over again. More time was spent on finding the directions than it took to actually complete the process.

    NEXT, I was able to find and download a recovery image that worked. I upgraded the SSD to 128GB and added another 2GB of RAM. While the box was open, I removed the write-protect screw.

    Chrubuntu was then used to install Ubuntu 13.10. I set the flags to boot straight to SEABIOS. The result? I turn on the Chrombox and it boots straight to a full Linux OS in just seconds. I replaced the UNITY Desktop with MATE to reduce demand on the CPU. Everything is working great.

    NOTE: As been referenced plenty of times in various comments, there is a documented BUG in the SEABIOS that prevents it from BOOTING to USB. This prevents us from loading an OS directly from a USB … for instance, I would really liked to have installed LinuxMint but can’t until this bug is fixed. The Chrubuntu script allows me to installs Linux because it downloads and installs via the Command Line in the ChromeOS terminal. In the end, I do not have the exact setup I want at the second BUT we are really so very close as the solution I do have is a fully working Ubuntu setup — it is more about personal preference.

  • andrew del rio

    When I attempt to enter developer mode on my new Chromebox my keyboard is disabled and I cannot press CTRL D. How should I proceed? Using logitech with USB dongle.

  • Vince Sweet

    A Quick Question for those much wiser than myself… As I already own a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse (no dongle required), how does one go about “syncing” the peripherals to the Chromebox?

  • mylanet

    Nice box, the only problem I have right now is with Netflix. There no HD streaming, Netflix bit rate is restricted to 1750 kbps even though bandwidth is 25 mbps.