We like mini desktops around these parts, but one thing that makes them less than ideal for every use case is that their price tag usually isn't very mini. By the time you buy something like Intel's NUC and stuff it full of all the parts it needs, you'll end up spending somewhere in between $400 and $700, depending on the kit, parts, and operating system you decide to use.
Asus' first Chromebox changes that formula. Its specs won't necessarily impress, but starting for $179 you can get your hands on a fully functional Chromebox that requires no extra expenditure. The catch, at least for most, will be Chrome OS, which while pretty low-maintenance isn't as powerful as Windows or even other Linux distributions.
In evaluating the Chromebox, we wanted to answer three different questions: where does a cheap Chromebox make sense? What kind of performance and power consumption do you get for $179? And can you get around Chrome OS to install and run other software on the Chromebox, circumventing Google's limitations?