Take a look at the device above. It's a colorful USB drive, right? Maybe a very pretty streaming stick?
Nope. That's a computer.
That's right: The device before you is ASUS' Chromebit, a new sub-$100 dongle you can plug into any display and turn it into a full-blown computer running Google's Chrome OS. The Chromebit packs 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and HDMI and USB ports. The HDMI port is for connecting to external displays, while the USB helps with attaching a keyboard and mouse — and the Chromebit has Bluetooth, too, making that even easier. (Intel is working on a similar but costlier device running Windows 8.1)
The ASUS Chromebit certainly won't run laps around a Mac Pro speed-wise when it launches this summer. But that's not the point. The idea here is more profound.
Using the Chromebit and a decent Internet connection (Chrome OS relies heavily on web access), you could turn any aging computer into a lean, mean processing machine on the cheap. That's going to have huge implications in places where cost is a major roadblock to better tech, like public schools or the developing world. Instead of upgrading every computer in every school, a cost-strapped district could just buy a whole bunch of Chromebits, plug them in to classrooms' old computers (or monitors) and essentially turn them into lean terminals for running web apps like Google Docs.
How well the Chromebit performs has yet to be seen. But right off the bat, this is one of the most exciting new products to hit the market in some time.