Asus Chromebit review

No frills, no excuses: Asus' Chromebit is the $85 PC that doesn't disappoint

Asus’ no-frills Chromebit does everything basic users want for $85.
Asus’ no-frills Chromebit does everything basic users want for $85.
Asus’ no-frills Chromebit does everything basic users want for $85.

Highs

  • Pocket-sized design
  • Good connectivity
  • Quick performance
  • Streams 1080p video smoothly

Lows

  • Runs hot

As manufacturers continue to improve on Intel’s reference design for the original Compute Stick, it only makes sense that other platforms want in on the action. There’s already been miniature Android-powered computers, but the lightweight, web-based Chrome OS hasn’t found its way into the fray – until now.

Asus’ Chromebit is a small form factor PC running Google’s Chrome OS, an operating system that’s essentially a Chrome browser with some expanded file management and app capabilities. It’s powered by a Rockchip SoC with a quad-core 1.8GHz CPU and a Mali GPU, with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of eMMC storage.

All of this is sold at a pleasantly affordable $85, less than the Windows 10-powered Intel Compute Stick and similar competitors. Can Chrome OS make the jump from affordable laptops to the big screen, or does it mobile origin show through?

Well-rounded

Asus manages to find a little bit of room to stand out in a form factor that doesn’t allow for a lot of creativity. The rounded edges and dark port interiors help the Chromebit blend in behind a monitor or television, and build quality is high. The device looks and feels more durable than Intel’s rickety Compute Stick.

It’s light, at just 75 grams, which will help keep the device from bending or stressing out an HDMI port once plugged in. If that’s still an issue, the Chromebit includes an HDMI extender. Power is provided by an AC adapter instead of a USB port, like some other stick PCs.

The Chromebit includes USB 2.0, Bluetooth 4.0, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Setting it up is as easy as hooking up the power and HDMI, and connecting a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, or plugging one into the USB port. Log into a Google account, and the Chromebit is off and rolling.

Rock on

The Chromebit is powered by a Rockchip RK3288, a quad-core chip with a clock speed of up to 1.8GHz. That’s paired with a quad-core Mali-T624 for graphical rendering, and 2GB of memory.

1080p video streams and plays smoothly, even if it isn’t the only tab open. Multi-tasking does make the Chromebit sweat a little bit. While tabs might stall for a second or two when there are too many open, the experience is mostly smooth, and wait times for tabs to change are short and consistent.

Chrome OS runs well, despite the ARM processor.

That’s thanks in large part to the lightweight performance requirements of Chrome OS. While a full desktop version of Windows 10 might be too much for the Rockchip, Chrome on its own runs smoothly, especially without a lot else going on in the background.

That performance is in stark contrast to some of the Intel Atom-powered systems we’ve reviewed lately. Even when running Chrome OS, those systems tend to experience noticeable slowdowns with just a few tabs running. Streaming works fine, but only if it’s the only task for the system to handle. This Rockchip processor gives entry-level Atom a run for its money.

Unfortunately, doing so also causes the fanless Chromebit to heat up at an alarming rate. The top side of the device reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit at peak usage, which would be uncomfortable if it was meant to be held during use. Thankfully, it’s not, and that temperature is nowhere near hot enough to damage the Chromebit or the device it’s plugged into.

ASUS Chromebit
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The Chromebit is efficient when it comes to power draw. At idle it pulls just 1.5 watts, and hovers around 3.5 watts under normal use. Stress the Chromebit, and that number rises to just under 8 watts, but doesn’t go above that mark. These figures put it in line with Intel’s Compute Stick and well below the average laptop.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, there are two important factors that set the Asus Chromebit apart from other competing mini computers. The first is the Mali GPU, which helps pick up the slack in video playback, light gaming, and quick tab switches — an area where low-price computers often suffer. The other key victory is Chrome OS.

While some are likely to dismiss the browser-based OS, even its detractors would be hard pressed to argue with its utility here. Today’s stick PCs struggle with modest performance, and Windows 10 only drags down those which attempt to run it. Chrome OS’ functionality is more limited – but most additional tasks you might accomplish in Windows will be too much for a stick PC to handle. That means supports for Microsoft’s OS isn’t much of an advantage.

Comparing the $85 Chromebit to other systems in the category is tricky. Its specifications are close to other, less expensive RK3288-powered mini PCs, but those competitors look shoddy by comparison. They also run Android, and its UI doesn’t translate well to keyboard and mouse use. The Chromebit is significantly cheaper than the Intel Compute Stick at $150, and although it lacks support for Windows, forgoing it contributes to the Chromebit’s lower price tag and better performance.

While PC manufacturers act like these small devices are traveling around in people’s backpacks, in my experience they’re more commonly used to smarten up an older TV, or serve as a basic PC for a very light user. In those situations, the Chromebit is a slam dunk. The lightweight OS allows access to streaming services and casual couch browsing, but is still quick to handle basic productivity. It’s hard to go wrong with this bargain-priced computer.

Highs

  • Pocket-sized design
  • Good connectivity
  • Quick performance
  • Streams 1080p video smoothly

Lows

  • Runs hot
Product Review

LG Gram 14 proves 2-in-1 laptops don’t need to sacrifice battery for light weight

The LG Gram 14 2-in-1 aims to be very light for a laptop that converts to a tablet. And it is. But it doesn’t skimp on the battery, and so it lasts a very long time on a charge.
Computing

The Asus ZenBook 13 offers more value and performance than Apple's MacBook Air

The Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 is the latest in that company's excellent "budget" laptop line, and it looks and feels better than ever. How does it compare to Apple's latest MacBook Air?
Deals

From Chromebooks to MacBooks, here are the best laptop deals for January 2019

Whether you need a new laptop for school or work or you're just doing some post-holiday shopping, we've got you covered: These are the best laptop deals going right now, from discounted MacBooks to on-the-go gaming PCs.
Computing

Chromebook 13 vs. Google Pixelbook: Acer model takes on the king

Acer's Chromebook 13 is throwing tons of speed at the Chrome OS market, to go with a midrange build and traditional clamshell design. Is that enough to challenge the Google Pixelbook?
Computing

AMD Radeon VII will support DLSS-like upscaling developed by Microsoft

AMD's Radeon VII has shown promise with early tests of an open DLSS-like technology developed by Microsoft called DirectML. It would provide similar upscale features, but none of the locks on hardware choice.
Computing

You could be gaming on AMD’s Navi graphics card before the end of the summer

If you're waiting for a new graphics card from AMD that doesn't cost $700, you may have to wait for Navi. But that card may not be far away, with new rumors suggesting we could see a July launch.
Computing

Cortana wants to be friends with Alexa and Google Assistant

Microsoft no longer wants to compete against Amazon's Alexa and Google's Assistant in the digital assistant space. Instead, it wants to transform Cortana into a skill that can be integrated into other digital assistants.
Computing

Is AMD's Navi back on track for 2019? Here's everything you need to know

With a reported launch in 2019, AMD is focusing on the mid-range market with its next-generation Navi GPU. Billed as a successor to Polaris, Navi promises to deliver better performance to consoles, like Sony's PlayStation 5.
Computing

Microsoft leans on A.I. to resume safe delivery of Windows 10 Update

Microsoft is leaning on artificial intelligence as it resumes the automatic rollout of the Windows 10 October 2018 Update. You should start seeing the update soon now that Microsoft has resolved problems with the initial software.
Computing

Stop dragging windows on your Mac. Here's how to use Split View to multitask

The latest iterations of MacOS offer a native Split View feature that can automatically divide screen space between two applications. Here's how to use Split View on a Mac, adjust it as needed, and how it can help out.
Computing

It's not all free money. Here's what to know before you try to mine Bitcoin

Mining Bitcoin today is harder than it used to be, but if you have enough time, money, and cheap electricity, you can still turn a profit. Here's how to get started mining Bitcoin at home and in the cloud.
Computing

Need a free alternative to Adobe Illustrator? Here are our favorites

Photoshop and other commercial tools can be expensive, but drawing software doesn't need to be. This list of the best free drawing software is just as powerful as some of the more expensive offerings.
Computing

What is fixed wireless 5G? Here’s everything you need to know

Here's fixed wireless 5G explained! Learn what you need to know about this effective new wireless technology, when it's available, how much it costs, and more. If you're thinking about 5G, this guide can help!
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!