Asus Chromebit review - a PC stick that almost makes sense

22 Dec 2015
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
80
inc VAT

A super-cheap Chrome OS PC, but netbook-level performance limits its appeal

Specifications

Processor: Quad-core 1.8GHz Rockchip RK3288C, RAM: 2GB, Front USB ports : 1x USB2, Rear USB ports: None, Total storage: 16GB eMMC, Graphics card: Integrated ARM Mali-T764, Display: None, Operating system: Chrome OS

Expert Reviews has a love-hate relationship with stick-based computers. Two previous efforts, the Intel Compute Stick and Hannspree Micro PC, both failed to win our hearts. They were too small, too clunky and didn't have any obvious use for the average person. Unlike those Windows-based devices, the Asus Chromebit runs Google's Chrome OS, so can the lightweight, yet cloud-heavy, operating system make the difference?

Asus's marketing for the Chromebit is a little confusing to say the least. It's apparently targeting families, businesses, schools and buyers in the market for digital signage. This means one of two things; Asus is just trying to cover all the bases possible or the Chromebit really has something for everybody.

The same physical limitations that hold back the Windows-powered sticks are present on the Chromebit. There's just one full-size USB port and a power connector, and that's your lot. Bluetooth 4 is also included, but you'll need a Bluetooth-compatible keyboard and/or mouse to take advantage of this. Alternatively, you can use a conventional wireless keyboard and mouse set that comes with a single dongle, but that will eliminate your ability to connect any other USB peripherals to the Chromebit. It all starts to get a bit unwieldy when you add on a USB hub, and rather defies the portability the Chromebit offers. If you're going to need a USB hub, you should probably buy a mini PC such as the Dell Inspiron Micro.

The Chromebit is powered by an ARM-based Rockchip RK3288C processor. It's a quad-core chip that runs at up to 1.8GHz paired with 2GB of 1066MHz LPDDR3 RAM. It's not a powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination, but as is so often the case with Chrome OS, things aren't nearly as bad as they could be. Google Docs runs smoothly and I never had any issues working on multiple documents and switching between windows. Things were a little slower with some of Expert Reviews' rather large Google Sheets spreadsheets, and copying and pasting between them took a little longer than I'd have liked. As a demanding user I found myself feeling slightly hamstrung most of the time, but I wasn't overly frustrated. I got everything I needed to do done, just a little slower than usual.

^Chrome OS has a familiar desktop-based interface, but also includes features such as Google Now. You can also install Chrome extensions as 'apps' for easy access from the menu at the bottom of the screen

Multimedia- and ad-heavy web pages tended to lag and stutter when I scrolled down them, and loading times weren't exactly lightning quick. But it's all very acceptable for an £80 PC. I was particularly impressed with the performance of Polarr, the free photo editing program. Manipulating 20MP images, the sort of resolution you can expect to find from some high-end smartphones, was quick and easy, thanks to the 600MHz ARM Mali-T760 GPU. I also attempted to play a few web-based Flash games, but these website's penchant for huge ads meant most games were unplayably laggy.

The GPU capably handled 1080p video without a hitch, which make it a viable media streamer if you also want to plug it into the back of your TV. If you plug it into a device capable of a resolution greater than 1,920x1,080, your desktop will be stretched because the HDMI connector on the Chromebit only supports Full HD resolution.

The Chromebit only comes with 16GB of onboard storage and there's no MicroSD slot to expand this further. With Chrome OS installed I had just under 10GB of free space. Not much to work with, then, but since Chrome OS is heavily focused on using the cloud for data storage, pulling stuff down to your device as and when you need it, it shouldn't be a huge problem.

It's a completely different way of thinking versus the traditional store-everything-locally-and-sometimes-back-things-up many are used to, but with internet speeds getting faster all the time (in most places) and Google's web-based applications improving, working on files that never really exist on your local device is starting to feel like the norm. You can also work on documents offline using a Chrome extension if you find yourself taking the Chromebit to a place that has a dodgy or non-functional internet connection.

Conclusion

On the face of it, the Asus Chromebit is a good-value device. £80 for a relatively capable PC is a bargain however you look at it, although it's not as cheap as I would have expected for such a low-powered device that isn't lumbered with an expensive Windows licence. The Chromebit makes sense if you're a light user and already have a monitor with an HDMI port. Furthermore, you'll also have to splash out on either a wireless keyboard and mouse set or a USB hub to connect your current wired peripherals. If this sounds like you, the Chromebit is perfect. For everyone else, it's too limited both in terms of power and flexibility to replace a genuine PC.

Core specs
Processor Quad-core 1.8GHz Rockchip RK3288C
Processor socket N/A
RAM 2GB
Memory type LPDDR3
Maximum memory 2GB
Motherboard N/A
Motherboard chipset N/A
Ports and expansion
Front USB ports 1x USB2
Rear USB ports None
Other ports None
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi
Case type Stick
Case dimensions HxWxD 17x123x31mm
PCI (free) N/A
PCIe x1 (free) N/A
PCIe x16 (free) N/A
Serial ATA (free) N/A
Memory slots (free) N/A
Drive bays 2 1/2" (free) N/A
Drive bays 3 1/2" (free) N/A
Drive bays 5 1/4" (free) N/A
Storage
Total storage 16GB eMMC
Memory card reader None
Optical drive type None
Graphics
Graphics card Integrated ARM Mali-T764
Graphics/video ports HDMI
Sound
Sound card Not stated
Sound card outputs None
Speakers None
Display
Display None
Native resolution N/A
Inputs N/A
Other hardware
Keyboard None
Mouse None
Extras 100GB Google Drive for two years
Software
Operating system Chrome OS
Operating system restore option Chrome OS Power wash
Buying information
Warranty One-year RTB
Price including delivery (inc VAT) £80

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