The number of upcoming Chromebook devices continues to grow at what seems to be an exponentional pace. The hot ticket at the moment?
Around every corner we seem to uncover another 360° device. From high-end flagships to price-conscious EDU models, these all-in-one machines will be available for the masses before you know it.
What about Chromeboxes?
It’s been a couple of years since we’ve seen one of these tiny powerhouses land on the market. With the spreading popularity of Chromebooks and the addition of Android Apps, the tablet and convertible market is primed and ready for a surge of consumer demand.
Maybe the market for a stationary Chrome device has died. Maybe there’s really no need for a fixed device when you can have the best of both worlds in a shiny new high-end Chromebook like the HP 13 G1.
Or maybe, Chromeboxes have devolved to find a better home.
My opinion of Chromeboxes is that they were designed with the power-user in mind. Hard drives and RAM are easy to upgrade and the small form factor allow for a clutter-free work station that can accomodate a multiple monitor set up.
Now, however, you have Chromebooks that have the best of the best in processing, more RAM, somewhat better storage and the ability to support multiple displays.
So, why would I need a Chromebox?
Maybe you don’t. But it appears someone may.
Robby recently came across a commit in the Chromium repository referencing the enabling of 4K on the Rockchip RK3288. The same SoC that powers the ASUS Flip. I was a little shocked. Honestly, I didn’t even know the previous generation chip supported 4K. A little research enlightened me. Apparently this chip is also used in a number of Android TV and similar devices. They support 4K.
Does this mean my Flip will soon support 4K?
I have no idea and that will be another article.
On to the point.
In digging into the 4k support for the Rockchip, Robby came across a device/board codenamed ‘Fievel’. So, I started to dig. I presumed, being the older Rockchip, ‘Fievel’ would end up being a test board or prototype of some sort. Most likely I would find commits for this board going as far back, if not father, than ‘Minnie’.(ASUS Flip)
I was wrong.
This device, whatever it was, had only been in the repositories since May of this year. With very little information to go on, I continued to dig. The device was built on the veyron_pinky baseboard. The same board used by the Flip, the Hisense 11, ASUS C201 and a couple others, to boot.
But why a new Rockchip device with an old Rockchip SoC?
That had me stumped. With all the rumors of ‘Cave’, what sense would a refresh of the first generation Flip make? None, in my humble opinion. Could it be an ODM making a cheap mass-producable convertible for the masses? Maybe. But the cost of the Braswell chips are dropping and the performance is worth the miniscule cost difference. So, that didn’t seem to fit either.
Then I found this; the .dts file for veyron_fievel, clearly stating that “Fievel is Chromebox without panel.” The link below will take you to the smoking gun.
Wait, a Rockchip Chromebox? Can they do that? If so, why?
That was my next conundrum. This is purely speculation on my part. But, with the explosion of Chrome devices in the education sector, wouldn’t a computer lab benefit greatly from a truckload of low-cost, easily replaceable Chromeboxes that can comfortably handle classroom computing? Don’t get me wrong. The RK3288 is no barn burner. But, the ASUS Flip holds its own in a very nice form-factor and has no problem chewing through the Android Apps we’ve tested on it.
Schools could continue to use the monitors they have in place. Then, at a relatively cheap cost, replace antiquated and legacy devices all while freeing up desktop space in the classroom.
Now for the disclaimer. We have clearly seen this device being added and developed. We have seen 4K support added to the RK3288. It’s fairly obvious there is a reason behind it. Having said that, just like many “developmental” devices, what ‘Fievel’ emerges as remains to be seen. We will definitely be keeping a close eye on this device to see what, if anything, it becomes.
Personally, I think this would be a brilliant move by manufacturers to solidify an already firm grasp on the Education market. Chrome OS and Chrome devices doing in schools what they do everywhere else: just work.