The Samsung-built Series 3 Chromebox is Google's first attempt at bringing its Chrome OS to the desktop. And while it may look like a Mac Mini, the Chromebox is anything but your standard desktop machine. In this week's Cracking Open episode, I take you inside the Chromebox's case and show you why.
Given Chrome OS's Web-centric nature (where all the heavy lifting is done in the cloud), the Chromebox doesn't need a lot of high-end hardware. Our test unit had a 1.9GHz Intel Celeron Processor (B840), Intel HD Graphics 1000, 4GB DDR3 SDRAM, 16GB SanDisk SSD, and Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n support. It measures 7.5" (H) x 7.5" (W) x 1.28" (D) and weighs 2.64 pounds.Full teardown gallery: Cracking Open the Samsung Chromebox Series 3
Easy to service
Getting into the Chromebox is a snap—just pop off the bottom cover. Once you're inside, you can remove individual components either by hand or with a small Phillips screwdriver. The power supply is located along the side of the case and below it is a small circuit board with the Developer Mode switch. There's a single cooling fan, small I/O board with two USB ports and the Recovery button, of course the motherboard.
Not your average desktop
- Limited local storage: Given the machine's $329 dollar price tag, the Chromebox's processor and RAM are on par with other budget PCs. The 16GB SSD is another matter. And, it's the first way in which the Chromebox isn't your average desktop. To be fair, Google doesn't expect users to store much data on the Chromebox, thus the small SSD. And if you're wondering if you can swap out the factory SSD for a larger one, the answer is maybe. I've read of people trying it, but with different levels of success—depending on the make and model of the replacement drive, whether they replace the RAM or not, and if they were trying to run Chrome on the new drive or replace it with Linux.
- Removable RAM (possibly upgradable): The second difference between the Chromebox and your average desktop computer is RAM. The Series 3's motherboard can handle two DDR3 SODIMMs, and the unit comes with 4GB RAM (2 x 2GB modules). On most desktops, you can replace the stock chips with higher-capacity ones. This isn't necessarily the case on the Chromebox. As the chips are removable, you could theoretically swap them out for two 4GB chips or even two 8GB ones (for a total of 8GB or 16GB of RAM respectively). I've read of people doing this, but with limited success. I haven't tried it myself, so I can't confirm that it will work. In fact, I've read conflicting reports of Chrome OS actually being able to support that much memory.
- Empty Mini PCI-e slot: Another interesting feature on the motherboard is the empty mini PCIe slot next to the mSATA slot used by the SSD drive. I've seen reports of people trying, without success, to put a second SSD drive in this slot—thus the theory that's it's a mini PCIe slot and not mSATA. It's possible that this slot was intended for use with a cellular modem card, but that's just speculation.
- Developer Mode switch: The last interesting hardware characteristic is the Developer Mode switch. Flipping it allows you to modify the existing Chrome OS or even replace it with a different one. And if you make a mistake during your tinkering, you can use the Recovery Mode button and a recovery USB drive to return the machine to a factory-fresh state.
- 1.9GHz Intel Celeron Processor B840
- Intel BD82HM65 Platform Controller Hub
- 4GB Samsung DDR3 SDRAM (M471B5773CHS-CH9)
- 16GB SanDisk SSD (SDSA4DH-016G 54-90-13954-016G)
- Atheros AR5BHB116 Mini PCIe Wireless card
- Forcecon 5V 0.5A fan (DFS531005MC0T F81G-T BA-31-00120A)
- 2W Mono speaker
- Samsung PSA-8019 power supply unit
- Cirrus Logic CS4210A Audio Codec (4210ACOZ1142)
- Alpha & Omega Semiconductor AON6912A 30V Dual Asymmetric N-Channel MOSFET
- ITE Tech IT8772E I/O chip (IT8772E 1213-CXG AC0X1C)
- Infineon SLB9635TT1.2 Trusted Platform Module (TPM)
- Winbond 25Q64CV 64M-bit Serial Flash Memory (25Q64CVSIG 1209)
- Realtek RTL8111C Gigabit Ethernet LAN (RTL8111E C1E4421 GC06L)
- Bothhand GST5009 LF 1000 BASE-T Magnetics Module (GST5009 LF 1216S)
- Parade PS8101 HDMI/DVI Level Shifter (PS8101 B0 U08AGH R0HL4 1512)
Bill Detwiler has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the social research and energy industries. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Louisville, where he has also lectured on computer crime and crime prevention.