Not the cheapest Chromebox on the market, but one of the best
- Lots of connections
- Generous accessories bundle
- Not the cheapest option
Think Chrome OS and you’ll probably think of affordable laptops running Google’s browser-based operating system. That’s fair enough; most Chrome devices are indeed cheap laptops. But there are also desktop machines that run Chrome OS and Acer has just sent me one of its latest: the Intel Core i5-based CX14 Chromebox.
The CX14 is available in two flavours, one built around a Celeron dual-core processor with 32GB of storage and 4GB of RAM costing £329 and the rather more capable i5 model costing around £500. I was sent the latter for this particular review.
Acer CX14 Chromebox review: What do you get for your money?
Quite a bit, as it happens. Inside the box, as well as the usefully compact CX14 itself, you’ll find that Acer has also bundled a decent-quality wired mouse and keyboard, a desktop stand, a VESA mount and a Type-C to HDMI adapter. All you need to bring to the party is a monitor and a pair of speakers. The generous package has a lot to do with the fact that Acer is pitching the CX14 to businesses as much as home users but, hey, free kit is free kit.
Acer hasn’t skimped on the internal hardware, either. The CX14 Chromebox runs on a 10th generation Intel Core i5 processor (a quad-core 1.6GHz 10210U to be precise) and comes with 8GB of DDR4 RAM and a 256GB SSD. The box has no fewer than five USB Type-A 3.2 ports (all 5Gbits/sec Gen 1 spec), a fully functional 10Gbits/sec Gen 2 USB Type-C port, two HDMI 2.0 ports, an RJ45 connector, one 3.5mm audio jack and a microSD memory card slot. There’s no need to fret about wireless comms either, with the CX14 supporting both Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0.
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Acer CX14 Chromebox review: What’s it like to use?
Setup is simplicity itself: just plug it in and log in with your Google account. This sort of idiot-proofing and freedom from worrying about updates or security is a major Chrome OS selling point.
Once you’re up and running, the CX14 is fast. No matter what I did I couldn’t slow it down, even with a couple of dozen Chrome tabs open and Android apps and Linux applications such as Gimp and Handbrake running in the background.
This, of course, should come as no surprise, as the hardware could run Windows 10 at a decent clip and Chrome OS is nothing like as demanding. Performance is further enhanced by an active rather than passive cooling system, not that you’ll notice the fans because they run very quietly.
The GeekBench 5 benchmark app recorded scores of 880 single-core and 2,827 multi-core, which is not too shabby from something costing £500, and it ran the GFXBench Manhattan 3 benchmark at 53fps (native resolution) or 59fps (1080p, off-screen).
More subjectively, the CX14 is noticeably faster than my Celeron-powered HP laptop. The cost of moving from a Celeron-based system to an Intel Core machine is clearly money well spent.
The primary function of a Chromebox, however, is to access Google’s online resources, and this it does very well. And thanks to Google’s Stadia service it makes a pretty decent gaming platform, too. Titles such as Doom Eternal, Metro Exodus and Hitman 3 can all now be found in the Stadia store.
Local storage or lack thereof is often cited as a limiting factor with Chromebooks and Chromeboxes, but the Acer CX14’s 256GB PCI-E SSD kicks that problem into touch effectively.
Acer CX14 Chromebox review: What isn’t it good at?
At the risk of stating the glaringly obvious, running Windows apps. Of course, these days a lot of Microsoft’s services can be accessed through a web browser or via an app so you can easily run the likes of Office, Outlook and Teams on a Chromebox that way.
Adobe, meanwhile, offers app-based versions of some of its core photo-editing services in the Lightroom and Photoshop Express Android apps, and the list of other applications that don’t have either an online offering or a Linux alternative is getting smaller all the time.
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Acer CX14 Chromebox review: Should I buy it?
Unless you’re wedded to a very specific application that will only run on Windows or macOS, I’d say yes. The speed and security of Chrome OS on a powerful hardware platform is easy to appreciate and, if you’re not yet a fully paid-up devotee of all things cloudy, a good Chromebox may well quickly turn you into one.
The Acer CX14 Chromebox isn’t the cheapest way to access Chrome OS on the desktop with an Core i processor – the Asus Core i3-powered Chromebox 3 can be picked up for under £300 while the Core i5 HP Chromebox G2 is yours for less than £400 – but the power and versatility of the Acer CX14 Chromebox makes Google’s operating system shine oh so brightly.