Following on the news earlier this month that it would be releasing a new family of budget-priced Chromebook laptops, Acer on Thursday announced plans to begin marketing a desktop Chromebox. The Acer Chromebox CXI line -- aimed primarily at schools and small- and medium-size enterprises -- is set to become available in the U.S. and Canada late next month.

Acer's new Chromebox CXI will carry a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $179.99 for 2 GB of memory and $219.99 for 4 GB of memory.

The Chromebox CXI -- which can stand upright or be attached to a VESA mount -- features a chassis that is 6.51 inches wide, 5.12 inches tall and 1.3 inches deep, with an overall volume of just 0.6 liters. That will give it "one of the smallest available footprints" in the desktop market, according to Acer. The company said the computer's optimized use of space is designed to make it appealing to space-conscious users like libraries, cube and classroom environments and enterprises that rely on task-based terminals.

'Thousands' of Chromeboxes Manageable at Once

Powered by an Intel Relevant Products/Services Celeron 2957U processor Relevant Products/Services, the Chromebox CXI offers easy management for IT administrators, Acer said. Users can deploy apps across anywhere from one to thousands of devices via the Web-based Google Management Console, and the OS and any applications that have been downloaded will be automatically updated every six weeks.

The Chromebox CXI's Powerwash feature will also make it easy for administrators to clear local user data Relevant Products/Services and restore the device to factory settings whenever needed, according to Acer. That means any downloaded files, photos, saved networks and other preferences can be quickly deleted from the Chromebox when users change, without affecting the actual data saved to previous users' accounts.

Designed to boot up in about 8 seconds, the Chromebox CXI features a 16 GB solid state drive and comes with pre-installed Web apps and access to more than 30,000 additional apps, themes and extensions at the Chrome Web Store. It also provides wireless connectivity via 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 and Gigabit Ethernet.

Other features include four USB 3.0 ports, a smart-card reader supporting up to a 32 GB SD card, a LAN port for wired network Relevant Products/Services connections and a combo audio jack for use with microphones and headsets. The Chromebox CXI bundle includes a VESA mount kit, USB keyboard and mouse.

A 'Legitimate Third Platform'

Acer has been actively expanding its Chrome OS device line of late, with the company Thursday also announcing its release of a Chromebook 11 laptop. Set to begin shipping in "select countries" starting this quarter, the Chromebook 11 is also aimed at the school and small- to medium-size business Relevant Products/Services markets.

Earlier this month, Acer unveiled a new line of Chromebook 13 laptops with a battery life of up to 11 hours and a suggested retail price starting at $279.99. The Chromebook 13 features fanless cooling, a 13.3-inch screen and a quad-core Nvidia Tegra K1 processor.

Chromebooks now account for more than one-third of all channel notebook sales in the U.S., according to the market advisory firm NPD Group. NPD reported in July that Chromebook sales increased by 250 percent in the first half of 2014 compared with the same period in 2013.

NPD noted that Chromebook sales were strengthening especially as schools moved into their buying season.

"Building on last year's surprising strength, Chrome's unit strength ahead of this year's education buying season shows how it has become a legitimate third platform alongside Windows and Mac OS X and iOS," said NPD Vice President of Industry Analysis Stephen Baker upon release of the first-half 2014 market figures.

"The next test for Chrome will clearly be the most difficult, as both Apple and Microsoft get more aggressive in pricing and deal making over the next few months. By the end of the third quarter we will have a much clearer picture of the long-term impact Chromebooks will have in the commercial channel."