The Chrome Unboxed EDU Week is underway and we’re bringing you the best how-tos, buying guides, resources, and more to help you breeze your way into the 2021-2022 school year. Whether you’re a teacher, student, administrator, or parent, our goal is to answer some of the most essential questions about Chromebooks in the classroom and Google education products. One question I get a lot is “which Chromebox should I buy?” Unlike buying a Chromebook, getting a new Chrome OS desktop device is relatively straightforward. All you need to gauge is how much horsepower you need, how much you’re wanting to spend, and if you plan on upgrading down the road. That’s because all current 10th generation Chromeboxes are built off of the same baseboard and, for the most part, offer up the exact same features inside and out.
So, what’s the best model to buy? To answer that question, let’s take a look at what you get when you buy a new Chromebox powered by Intel’s 10th Gen Comet Lake CPUs as well as who offers them. As with Chromebooks, Chromeboxes come in a variety of internal configurations and you can get anything from a Celeron CPU to a beefy Core i7 should you need some serious power for things such as Linux applications. Should you find yourself in need of just a basic Chromebox for web browsing, you can find some really good deals on an 8th Gen device like the Acer Chromebox CXi3 that will run you about $230 on Amazon and it comes with a wired mouse and keyboard. Keep in mind, the shelf life on the 8th Gen devices is only good through June of 2025 so you may want to consider a more recent model for the long haul.
If you’re looking at a newer Chromebox powered by Intel’s Comet Lake CPUs, you’ll need to consider price, power, and the ability to upgrade. Many of the Celeron models come with eMMC storage in either 32GB or 64GB variations. This storage is generally soldered to the board and you can’t swap it out for a larger drive. If you need a bit more horsepower, most Chrome device makers offer a Core i5 or Core i7 with up to 16GB of RAM and a swappable SSD that you can upgrade to a terabyte or more if you need that kind of space. Should the former suffice, you can grab a Celeron Chromebox from HP, Acer, ASUS, or CTL but the prices vary greatly depending on where you buy and whether or not you need a Chrome Enterprise Upgrade for device management. Acer’s Celeron Chromebox CXi4 comes preconfigured with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage but I can’t seem to find a model that doesn’t come with the Chrome Enterprise Upgrade already attached. That said, it will run you $409 which is a bit steep for an entry-level Chromebox and the Acer seems to be back-ordered everywhere that I’ve found it listed. Correction: Acer has a listing for the Celeron model with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMC storage for $259.
ASUS and HP both have a Celeron model that you can find at various online retailers. The ASUS will run you roughly $300 while the HP Chromebox G3 is a reasonable amount less $264 but either model will get you just the Chromebox and the power cables. You’ll still need to pick up a monitor and a mouse/keyboard combo. You can check out some great options for Chromebox accessories in my recent hardware rounded. Either of these devices will serve you well but you’re likely only going to find them from third-party resellers at the moment and that means little to no support outside of returning the Chromebox if it is defective. The other option is to pick up a new Chromebox from CTL. While you may not be familiar with CTL, the Oregon-based technology company has been making Chrome devices and working with enterprise and EDU clients for years and they know Chrome. Thankfully, you don’t have to have a Google Workspace account or work at a school to get a new device from CTL.
CTL’s Chromebox CBx2 is powered by the same Intel Celeron CPU as other manufacturers and you get the same features and port selection but CTL offers up the most bang for your buck. The same Celeron 5205U Chromebox with 4GB of RAM and twice the storage at 64GB eMMC will only run you $259. For a mere $27, CTL will upgrade the RAM to 8GB which has become the sweet spot for Chrome OS. The Celeron with 8GB of RAM will run most daily tasks with ease and is capable of making a very capable work or school desktop setup. If you need a Chrome Management Licence or Enterprise Upgrade, you can purchase it all at once directly from CTL. Again, all of these Chromeboxes will perform almost identically but you’re getting more for your money with CTL’s Chrome OS mini PC.
Looking for something a bit more powerful? Core i5 and Core i7 Chromeboxes give users the power needed to run resource-heavy Linux applications or Parallels Windows Desktop as well as utilize serious multi-tasking with Virtual Desks and Android applications. As with the Celeron models, you can find Intel Core Chromeboxes from ASUS, Acer, HP, and CTL and those who are purchasing through resellers and channel partners can likely get wholesale discounts that you won’t find from your consumer-facing retailers. Whatever you go with, just make sure that you can get support directly from the OEM and you may even consider using a partner that offers Zero-Touch Enrollment. This will allow you to deploy your devices quickly with very little after-purchase effort on your IT admin’s part.
If you aren’t getting a bulk discount, the winner of the high-end Chromebox award once again goes to CTL. Dollar for Dollar, CTL offers a much better price for the same hardware. The Core i7 HP Chromebox G3 with 16GB of RAM and 128GB swappable SSD will run you upwards of $1,300 while you can get the same specs from the CTL Chromebox CBx2 for only $829. That’s a huge difference even if you’re only purchasing a single device and if you aren’t sure if a Chromebox is right for you, CTL offers a “Buy and Try” program for eligible customers. You can buy a demo Chromebox for as little as $99 and give it a test drive before making a bulk purchasing decision. If you decide to equip your school or office with a fleet of new devices, CTL is also offering basic Zero-Touch Enrollment for free through the month of June. That means your new devices will be assigned to your Admin Console and ready for use directly out of the box.
When it comes to picking the right specs, only you can determine how much computing power you need but I can tell you that I worked from a Celeron Chromebox for quite some time at my desk. Paired with 8GB of RAM, the Intel 5205U has enough oomph to handle moderate tasks and even some decently powerful Linux packages. A 10th Gen Celeron Chromebox will likely be more than enough for home use, primary schools, and even offices that simply need web access and basic applications. For developers, admins, and other power users, a Core i5 or i7 with at least 8GB of RAM is my recommendation. Regardless of which one you pick, our pick goes to CTL because you just can’t beat their prices and they offer all the Google Workspace and deployment services you need to get your Chromeboxes up and running quickly. Check out all of CTL’s products and services below.