​Old XP machine or TV? Google's $85 Chromebit will turn them into Chrome OS devices

Got an old Windows XP desktop and need a cheap way to move to a more secure OS? Google's Chromebit might be the answer.

The $85 Chromebit connects to the HDMI input on a TV or computer display. Image: Google/Asus

Google and Chromebook partner Asus have launched the Chromebit, a thumb-sized device that can make any display with an HDMI port a Chrome OS-based computer.

The device went on sale in the US today and is available from Google's store for $85, well within the $100 range it announced earlier this year when it revealed the computer on a stick.

Prices haven't been announced for Europe, however at today's exchange rates the Chromebit would cost £56 and €79.

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The device adds another cheap computing option for consumers, who can buy a number of Windows 10 laptops and Chromebooks for under $200 or Intel's Intel Compute Stick running Windows, which costs about $120, and even less for the Linux version.

For owners of Google's Chromecast, setting up Chromebit should be a familiar affair with both devices lacking a battery and therefore needing to be plugged into a power supply.

The Chromebit similarly connects to the HDMI input on a TV or computer display and requires a separate keyboard and mouse connected via Bluetooth or a USB dongle.

The device, which is powered by a Rockchip 3288 chip, has 2GB RAM and 16GB storage. Without a display, those basic specs are similar to Asus's Rockchip-powered Chromebook Flip two-in-one.

While 16GB doesn't offer much space to store files, it is, like other Chromebooks, designed primarily as a cloud device with Google's Chrome browser at the centre of the experience.

It also comes with 100GB Drive storage for two years and allows users to run any web app, making it easy to stream content from Google Play or Netflix. Presumably, it will also be able to run some Android apps supported by the Apps Runtime on Chrome (ARC).

The new computer on a stick arrives as Google's Chromebooks continue to gain traction in the US and Europe, where schools remain the largest user group, followed by consumers and business. Notably, Chromebook sales have grown in some segments faster than Apple and Windows laptops, as tablet sales have declined.

The computer on a stick isn't really ideal for the road-warrior given that it still requires a display, power and keyboard to be usable, though as Google argues in a blogpost, it does offer schools and businesses a cheap way to upgrade an existing desktop PC.

Given that 11 percent of the world's PCs are still running Windows XP, there are likely to be a lot of people out there who could do with such an upgrade.

The other potential use is as a device to power a digital display and offers a cheaper alternative for customers already using Chromeboxes for signage.

As a Chrome OS device, the Chromebit should also see improvements to the platform recently outlined by Google when denying claims it would fold Chrome OS into Android.

The updates include a new media player and a Material Design refresh. The Chromebit should also receive security updates for the next five years.

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