ASUS Chromebit CS10
(Rockchip RK3288C CPU with Chrome OS)
Given the evolution of mini PCs from Android to Windows the appearance of a Chrome OS based devices was never really a given considering the reluctance of mainstream PC manufacturers to embrace this form factor (Lenovo being a recent exception). Equally because of the refusal by any mini PC stick manufacturer to improve the base specification to include larger RAM and increased storage the current default configuration seems an obvious choice for a Chromified offering. Fortunately ASUS has answered the call with the introduction of their Chromebit CS10 model.
The ASUS Chromebit CS10 uses a Rockchip's RK3288C SOC which includes an improved GPU (Mali T764) with full HD 1080p playback support. Together with 2GB LPDDR3 (1066MHz) RAM and storage limited to the Chrome OS standard of 16GB eMMC (although it does come with 100GB of Google Drive space for two years) and dual-band wifi the rest of the specifications are similar to the de facto standard for mini PCs but with a major exception: there is no SD card. Also there is only a single USB 2.0 port which seems unnecessarily restrictive. Power (12V 1.5A) is supplied via a 'plug brick' using a jack rather than a micro USB connection and there is no button; once the power supply is inserted the Chromebit will power on automatically. And because there is no fan the unit does warm up although not alarmingly so.
The device itself is slightly longer than typical mini PC stick and disturbingly tactile to hold. However having the HDMI port on one end and the USB port on the other means a larger footprint. As ASUS targets the device as a TV dongle or for commercial digital signage and kiosks this probably wouldn't typically be a usage concern.
In terms of functionality the device performs well with Chrome OS (for example, running Octane 2 gave a score of 6929) and there are already plenty of user-reviews extolling its virtues. Equally there are also reviews comparing and contrasting the Chromebit against Android and Windows devices. However as a mini PC my interest has always been in what it could really capable of.
Unfortunately when trying to exploit the Chromebit device the lack of SD card has ruled out non-evasive alternative booting options. Equally I could not get the device to successfully boot from USB. It may be possible to flash alternative firmware from a PC however I was reluctant to try that given this was a loan review unit from ASUS.
So the alternative was to put the device into developer mode and install 'crouton' which while successful highlighted another limitation: Linux hardware acceleration on ARM. Switching to developer mode requires the device to be unplugged and then a paper-clip is needed to press the internal switch reached through a pin-hole on the reverse of the device while power is reconnected. Anyone who has flashed other RK devices will be familiar with the ambidextrous physical requirements although sometimes it is easier just to ask someone for help. On entering developer note that the device will wipe the existing Chrome OS just like a typical Chromebook or Chromebox. To be totally leading edge you can then even go so far as to switch to the development channel for Chrome.
Anyway once restarted and from within Chrome the crouton installer can be downloaded from https://github.com/dnschneid/crouton which also includes detailed instructions on usage.
For those preferring Unity then you can only install 'precise' or Ubuntu 12.04 as subsequent releases require hardware acceleration for which the source code hasn't been released for incorporation into Linux video drivers.
As a result to run crouton you also need to fix the DRM device issue with a simple revised start script:
To show a performance indication I ran Octane 2 in Chromium from within the Ubuntu chroot getting a score of 6529:
with and the following screenshot shows the details for Chromium:
To leave crouton I 'logout' to return to Chrome as 'shutdown' works on the device (logically) rather than the chroot.
Slightly disappointingly is the price here in Australia. In the US (and as they say, at the time of going to press) the price differential is around USD 45 between the ASUS Chromebit ($85) and the Intel Compute Stick FC ($129) whereas here it is only around AUD 20 ($159 vs $179). As a comparison the RKM V5 is around $100 in the US or around $145 here in AU with free shipping. So value for money becomes a more difficult equation to solve. For me the missing SD card distinguishes the product as being a TV dongle rather than a mini PC. It's a capable device for what it is designed for and great to use but unfortunately too limited for my purposes.