Asus Chromebox M031U review
The Chromebook has established Google’s Chrome OS as a credible player in the laptop market, but now it’s creeping into the desktop space as well. Samsung didn’t make much of a mark with its first- and second-generation Chromebox units, and has since flounced out of the Chromebook and laptop business completely in Europe, but others are undeterred: HP and LG have revealed new desktop models, and now Asus has joined the fray with the Chromebox M031U.
Asus Chromebox M031U review: design
The Chromebox M031U itself is a compact little box, outwardly similar to an Intel NUC, measuring roughly 5in along each side and standing just less than 2in high. It’s no Apple Mac mini, but it’s solidly built and actually rather attractive – the combination of textured black plastics and rounded edges look very smart for a £205 device. Best of all, it’s near-silent except for a few moments when the fans spin up as it wakes from sleep.
There’s a power button on the front-left corner, with two USB 3 ports just to the right. On the left-hand side there’s an SD card reader and a Kensington lock, while the rear holds another two USB 3 ports, HDMI and DisplayPort outputs, a headphone socket and a Gigabit Ethernet port. That last port is a very sensible addition, in our view: for a portable computer, wireless networking is a foregone conclusion (the Chromebox has dual-band 802.11n as standard), but a faster and more robust wired connection makes more sense for a desktop system, especially one aiming to appeal to businesses and schools.
Asus Chromebox M031U review: specification & performance
Predictably, the Chromebox offers performance similar to a regular Chromebook. There are pricier Core i3 and Core i7 models available, but our review model came equipped with a 1.4GHz Intel Celeron 2955U CPU, 4GB of RAM and a tiny 16GB SSD.
That’s not as disappointing as it sounds, though. The Celeron CPU is a dual-core part based on Intel’s Haswell architecture, so surprisingly potent for a low-end CPU, and the small amounts of internal storage aren’t a big issue given the plentiful number of USB 3 ports and Chrome OS’ focus on cloud-based storage.
Unsurprisingly, the Chromebox M031U turned in similar results to the similarly specified Toshiba and Dell Chromebooks we’ve seen. The Asus scored a respectable 2,990 in Futuremark’s HTML5 Peacekeeper browser benchmark, and followed this up with a decent score of 3,156 in Rightware’s Browsermark. Graphics performance is decent, too, and in AlteredQualia’s WebGL Cubes browser-based test the Asus averaged a smooth 31fps. In several days of use, the Chromebox coped with every task we threw at it, from word processing to HD video streaming, spreadsheets to editing images, without any noticeable hiccups or slowdowns.
We can also report that Chrome OS works surprisingly well as a desktop OS. Since you can take connectivity pretty much for granted when you’re sat at a desk, a lot of our issues with the OS melt away. Printing via Google Cloud Print works perfectly well, and Chrome OS thrives on a big screen, making it easy to keep multiple apps and windows open and work between them – indeed, with a standard PC keyboard, a mouse and a 24in display, it’s easier to get serious work done than it is on a regular Chromebook. A Chromebox also makes a handy little media player, with apps for Google Play Movies and Netflix, and the ability to play just about anything that will stream across the web.
In fact, if you pick the right apps and adjust your workflow, you may very quickly stop missing your Windows PC. We only felt the need to switch back when we ran across something involving PivotTables or Macros in Excel, or wanted to carry out advanced image-editing in Photoshop Lightroom.
Asus Chromebox M031U review: verdict
We’re not sure of the point of the pricier Core i3 and Core i7 systems – with the Core i7-4600U model bumping the price up to around £599, the Asus Chromebox finds itself going head-to-head with Mac mini and Intel NUC systems that can do a whole lot more. Set your sights on the more sensible Celeron-powered model here, though, and there’s much to like – for many homes and small businesses, a cheap, low-cost Chromebox might be all the desktop PC you need.
|Warranty||1 yr return to base|
|CPU family||Intel Celeron|
|CPU nominal frequency||1.40GHz|
|Wired adapter speed||1,000Mbits/sec|
|Dimensions||124 x 124 x 42mm (WDH)|
|3.5mm audio jacks||1|
|Front panel USB ports||2|
|Front panel memory card reader||yes|
Operating system and software
|OS family||Chrome OS|