The new Google Chromebit computer is the size of a chocolate bar. (Credit: Google)
Google is the latest to back a trend to shrink the computer down to a sub-$100 chocolate bar-sized dongle.
The web giant is partnering with ASUS to create the Chromebit – a new class of Chromebook described as a "full computer that will be available for less than $100."
"By simply plugging this device into any display, you can turn it into a computer," Google said in a brief blog post.
ASUS provided more specs: it's to be powered by a Rockchip quad-core ARM processor, and will come with dual-band wifi 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0 support – likely to connect peripherals.
Techcrunch reported it would have 2GB of RAM and 16GB of eMMC flash storage, while Mashable said it would come with two ports: HDMI to connect to a screen, and a USB 2.0 port for power.
One of the nifty features of the ASUS device is a built-in swivel that allows the user to connect to even hard-to-reach HDMI ports, Gizmodo reported.
Apart from upgrading the desktop tower of an old PC at home, several other use cases were discussed at an event at Google HQ. They include using Chromebits to run terminals in an internet café, to power digital signage or to be supplied to school students, though Google is also keen to see other use cases emerge.
Google's Chromebit is not the first entrant into this dongle computer space.
Chipmaker Intel used this year's Consumer Electronics Show to unveil the Compute Stick, which is expected to land sometime this year. Also powered by a quad-core processor, the stick can run Windows 8.1 or a Linux operating system, and will have onboard storage and micro SD expansion slot.
Dell offers a thin client dongle targeted at enterprise users. Wyse Cloud Connect runs on Android OS, plugs into a screen via HDMI, and can be operated with either Bluetooth peripherals or via smartphone or tablet.
Chinese builders have been similarly offering dongle computers that run Android and use Rockchip processors.
Foad Fadaghi, managing director of analyst firm Telsyte, noted that screens "have a longer lifetime than other computer hardware", so consumers and businesses were likely to have some that could be brought back to life with a dongle PC.
However, he saw usability and the user experience afforded by streaming devices as potential inhibitors to take-up of the Chromebit and similar products.
"The concept of streaming from a tablet or smartphone to a screen may compete with [the Chromebit]," Fadaghi told Information Age.
He said it could be easier and cheaper to work with a tablet or smartphone and stream that to a larger display via a device such as Google's Chromecast.
"In some ways [Chromebit] is like buying another PC - sure, some people at a low price point might see some utility in that, but others will look for an even cheaper Chromecast-type device and just stream from their handset and get the same kind of benefit.
"In the consumer world, you can see that maybe [Chromebit] is not going to be as successful given that people might already have streaming devices," Fadaghi said.
Fadaghi saw potential for Chromebits in the enterprise, noting they could act as a kind of "rudimentary upgrade" for PCs in a call centre, for example.
"In the business environment it could be a way of upgrading enterprise machines cheaply, particularly when you're replacing ageing desktop computers," he added.