The growing Chrome OS family has a new member. On Tuesday, Asus announced the Chromebox desktop model, priced at $179.

The company is emphasizing the unit's easy setup, and, because it uses the Net-based Chrome operating system, its automatic updating and integrated malware protection Relevant Products/Services.

The model is available with either an Intel Relevant Products/Services Core i3 or Celeron processor Relevant Products/Services, or i7 in some markets, and features up to 4 GB of RAM, a 16 GB solid-state drive and as much as 100 GB of online Google Drive space for two years, 802.11 a/b/g/n, a card reader, four USB 3.0 ports, and ports for both HDMI and DisplayPort, supporting dual monitors and the next-generation 4K/Ultra High Definition display format. The unit comes without keyboard, mouse or monitor, but it does include a VESA mount for installation behind a display.

'Very Smart'

The fanless box, measuring 5 inches by 5 inches, will be available in March. Felix Lin, director of product management at Google, said in a statement that the new Chromebox "offers the simplicity, security Relevant Products/Services and speed of Chrome OS in the most compact and powerful Chrome device to date." The product, he said, is targeted at the home, the classroom and the office.

Laura DiDio, an analyst with industry research firm Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, told us that timing of this product release "is very smart" if the intention is to possibly grab a bit of market share from Microsoft Relevant Products/Services, since that company has had the "water muddied" for its Windows 8/8.1 platform by talk about the projected release of Windows 9 in spring of next year.

Users of Windows 7 and XP machines that are interested in upgrading, she said, now might want to wait until the next major Windows version is out -- which might give them time to consider a low-priced alternative, like a Chromebox.

The Chromebox

Asus is pitching this model in ways that go beyond its use as another computer. It comes with access to YouTube, Hulu Plus and Netflix, meaning that, with its HDMI output, it could serve as an entertainment hub. Given the 100 GB of Google Drive space, with more available for purchase, the company noted that it can also serve as a data Relevant Products/Services hub for other PCs, smartphones or tablets so that users can access data and files stored in the cloud Relevant Products/Services through the Chromebox, by logging into their Google account.

The first Chrome OS-based desktop computer was launched in Spring of last year by Google and Samsung. Also called the Chromebox, it came without keyboard, display or mouse and started at $329.

The Chrome OS, which was announced in 2009, offers a lightweight, browser-based platform that allows devices to boot up almost immediately and emphasizes cloud-based applications and storage. Chrome-based laptops have begun to find a beachhead of interest in schools and businesses, where anyone can use any of the machines and the pricetags are relatively low.