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What's New in Google Chromebooks

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A Chromebook is a relatively new breed of ultra-portable netbook computer – kind of like a tablet PC but with a keyboard. The typical Chromebook is fast and light and has a very long battery life, and is considerably lower-priced than a comparable Windows-based computer.

One of the factors that contributes to that lower price is that Chromebooks don't run Windows. Instead, a Chromebook runs Google's Chrome operating system (Chrome OS), which is a web-based operating system that requires very little on-board storage.

Because (or perhaps in spite) of all of this, Chromebooks are among the hottest computers being sold today. In the early days of the market there were only a couple of companies offering Chromebooks for sale; today, everybody and their brother is edging into the Chromebook market. In fact, Google just announced a bevy of new Intel-based Chromebooks that are sure to shake things up even more. Read on to learn all about them.

What's a Chromebook?

Just looking at one, you'd be hard pressed to distinguish a Chromebook from any other smallish notebook computer on the shelves of your friendly big box electronics retailer. A Chromebook is a notebook computer, after all – albeit one of the smaller, thinner, lighter ones out there.

What makes a Chromebook different from traditional notebook PCs is that instead of running Microsoft Windows or the Mac OS, it runs the Google Chrome OS. Google's operating system is based on Linux but looks very much like the traditional Windows desktop, complete with a Launcher bar that docks your apps much like the Taskbar in Windows. The applications you launch open in their own multiple windows on the desktop, and you can easily switch from one open window to another.

Figure 1 The Chrome OS desktop – looks a lot like Windows

The big difference between Chrome OS and Windows is that all the apps you launch are housed on the Web, not locally. This means you need to use cloud apps such as Google Docs and Google Sheets, or even Microsoft Office Online; since a Chromebook has very little onboard storage, you can't run traditional software applications or even store your files locally. But anything you can do on the Web – including email and Facebook and Netflix – is a piece of cake with the Web-based Chrome OS.

In terms of the hardware itself, a typical Chromebook is smaller and lighter than a traditional notebook PC – because Chromebooks don’t contain a hard disk or CD/DVD drive. By removing the traditional local storage, that space and weight is removed from the equation. Most Chromebooks have 12-inch (or so) screens, are very thin, and weigh less than three pounds.

Figure 2 The Samsung Chromebook

If there’s no hard drive inside, how does a Chromebook store your data? The answer is solid state storage, the same kind you find on USB flash drives and the memory cards you use with your digital camera. Most current Chromebooks come with 16GB of internal solid state storage – considerably less than what you find with a traditional notebook, but about the same amount you have on an iPad or similar tablet. When it comes to storing your data, that’s what the Web is for; a Chromebook needs only minimal local storage.

By leaving out the physical drives and not paying Microsoft a hefty licensing fee, Chromebooks tend to cost less than comparable Windows-based notebooks. Today's best-selling Chromebooks sell for less than $300, with some models as low as $199. This makes them very attractive to budget-conscious consumers; Chromebooks currently make up a quarter of the sub-$300 PC market.

Chromebooks are also attractive to the education market, used in more than 10,000 schools across the U.S. – up from just 5,000 schools half a year ago. In fact, Google's share of the K-12 school market is now a very healthy 19%. (That compares to Microsoft's 28% share – which is about 20 points lower than it was the year before.)

So if your computing needs tend to revolve around stuff you do online, or if you use your notebook mainly for schoolwork, a Chromebook is a great deal. And there are lots of them to choose from.

Currently Available Chromebooks

Google is a relatively new player in the personal computer market. The first generation of Google Chromebooks launched just three years ago, in 2011. These were more expensive units, running anywhere from $349 to $499. As you might suspect, that pricing made them less than stellar performers in the marketplace.

In mid-2012, Samsung introduced two second-generation Chromebook models, priced at $449 and $549. Despite display and keyboard improvements, these models were also viewed as too expensive and were generally ignored by consumers.

That all changed in October of 2012, when the third generation of Chromebooks hit the market – and were an immediate hit with consumers. Not only was Chrome OS itself improved over the initial version, but these new Chromebooks – from Acer and Samsung – offered a lot more bang for the buck. With pricing starting as low as $199, Chromebooks suddenly became a lot more attractive, especially for users looking for a second computer-like device for casual use. In fact, these new Chromebooks were so popular that they sold out well before Christmas, and the Samsung Chromebook was Amazon.com’s best-selling notebook PC of that holiday season.

We're currently nearing the end of Chromebook's third generation, but there are still a lot of these models still available for purchase. You can find affordable Chromebook models from Acer, Samsung, HP, Lenovo, Toshiba, and Google itself. The following table details the most popular of these third-generation Chromebooks.

Currently Available Third-Generation Chromebooks


Acer C720-2848

Samsung Chromebook

Dell Chromebook 11

HP Chromebook 11

Toshiba CB30-A3120 Chromebook

HP Chromebook 14

List price







Screen size







Resolution (pixels)

1366 x 768

1366 x 768

1366 x 768

1366 x 768

1366 x 768

1366 x 768


8.03" x 11.34" x 0.75”

8.1" x 11.4" x 0.69"

7.9" x 11.6" x 0.91"

7.68" x 11.69" x 0.69"

8.9" x 12.9" x 0.80"

9.44" x 13.56" x 0.81"


2.8 lbs.

2.4 lbs.

2.8 lbs.

2.3 lbs.

3.3 lbs.

4.1 lbs.

Battery life

8.5 hours

6.5 hours

10 hours

6 hours

9 hours

9.5 hours

Wi-Fi wireless connectivity

802.11 a/b/g/n

802.11 a/b/g/n

802.11 a/b/g/n

802.11 a/b/g/n

802.11 a/g/n

802.11 a/b/g/n








Solid state data storage








1.4GHz Intel Celeron (Haswell)

1.7GHz Samsung Exynos 5

1.4 GHz Intel Celeron (Haswell)

1.7Ghz Samsung Exynos 5250

1.4GHz Intel Celeron (Haswell)

1.4Ghz Intel Celeron (Haswell)

Figure 3 The third-generation HP Chromebook 11

As you can see, these third-generation Chromebooks are all fairly similar, running either 1.4GHz Intel Celeron or 1.7GHz Samsung Exynos processors, offering 2GB memory and 16GB solid state storage, and a similar array of ports. The lower-priced (and lighter-weight) models have a netbook-like 11.6" screen, while the higher-priced (and heavier) models offer 13" and 14" screens. All have Chiclet-style keyboards and offer impressive battery life.

Then there's Google's own Chromebook Pixel, a state-of-the-art ultrabook computer that happens to run the Chrome operating system. What makes the Pixel different from other Chromebooks is the hardware. Instead of a standard Chiclet keyboard, it features a pretty cool backlit keyboard that lights up for nighttime computing. The touchpad is made from etched glass for smooth control and enhanced accuracy. The Pixel also features an ultra-high resolution 12.85" touchscreen display, a speedy 1.8Ghz dual-core Intel i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and 32GB of solid-state storage. It also sells for $1,299, which makes it more of a proof of concept than a viable consumer PC. But it's there if you want it.

Figure 4 Google's high-end Chromebook Pixel

New Chromebooks – On Their Way

As popular as the third-generation Chromebooks have been (and will continue to be, while supplies last), the upcoming fourth generation models look to blow the old units out of the water. Google announced the new Chromebooks at a special event on May 6th, 2014, and it was a big deal.

First, there are going to be a lot of new models to choose from. Just about every major computer manufacturer is jumping on the Chromebook bandwagon, including Acer, Asus, HP, Lenovo, LG, and Toshiba. Expect up to 20 different models of Chromebooks to hit the market by this fall.

The vast majority of these new Chromebooks will have Intel processors inside. (Samsung being the holdout here, still equipping their Chromebooks with their homegrown Samsung CPUs.) Expect three different CPU configurations:

  • Haswell architecture. The lowest-priced 4th-generation Chromebooks will look and run much like the current third-generation models, by using the older Intel Celeron Haswell CPU. While performance and battery life isn't quite as good as that offered by newer chips, there's a definite price advantage.
  • Bay Trail-M architecture. Move into the new mid-range models and you'll find Chromebooks powered by Intel's Celeron Bay Trail-M chips. The Bay Trail-M CPU is optimized for power, price, and performance, and promises up to 11 hours of battery life. These new models will also be the first Intel Chromebooks to be fanless – and will weigh in 15 percent lighter than current models.
  • Core i3 architecture. Higher-end 4th-generation Chromebooks will use Intel's Core i3 chip, which offers much faster performance than Celeron-based models. These i3 Chromebooks should be quite zippy, performance-wise – but come at a slightly higher price.

While full specs for all models aren't yet available, here's what to look for from the major Chromebook manufacturers:

  • Acer. Acer is updating its popular C720 Chromebook with Intel's Core i3 chip, and pricing it at $349. The company will also offer a lower-priced Bay Trail-powered model – hopefully near the $199 pricing of its current best-selling model.
  • Asus. Asus will offer two new Chromebooks, the 11.6-inch C200 (priced at $249) and 13.3-inch C300. Both are powered by 2.42Ghz Bay Trail-M CPUs. The C200 sports the normal 2GB RAM and 16GB solid-state storage; the C300 has 4GB of RAM and 32GB storage.      

Figure 5 Asus' new C200 Chromebook

  • Dell. Dell will have a new version of its Chromebook 11, powered by Intel's Core i3 chip.
  • Lenovo. The company previously offered a higher-priced Chromebook geared for the education market. Moving forward, Lenovo is targeting the consumer market with the $279 11.6-inch N20 Chromebook, along with the $329 N20p variant with touchscreen display. There's also the $349 Thinkpad Yoga 11e Chromebook with a hinged display that lets you use it like a tablet. All of Lenovo's new Chromebooks are powered by Bay Trail-M CPUs.
  • Toshiba. The company will revamp its recently released 13.3-inch Chromebook with a Bay Trail-M CPU.

Figure 6 Lenovo's Thinkpad Yoga 11e convertible Chromebook

HP also announced a new Haswell-powered Chromebox, which is the desktop equivalent of the portable Chromebook – just a system unit with no monitor or keyboard. In addition, LG is offering the Chromebase, an all-in-one Chrome-based desktop computer with 21.5-inch integrated monitor. This puppy will sell for just $349, which should have appeal to both home and business users.

Figure 7 LG's all-in-one Chromebase

Not to be outdone, Samsung separately announced its new-generation Chromebook, imaginatively named the Chromebook 2. Unlike Samsung's previous model, the Chromebook 2 sports a 13.3-inch screen with an impressive 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution. It also offers 4GB of RAM (compared to the 2GB found on most Chromebooks) and a new ARM-based processor. The new model looks to be a bit pricey at $399, although a lower-cost ($319) 11.6-inch model will also be available. That's still more expensive than Samsung's uber-popular $249 third-generation unit, so it'll be interesting to see how this new unit is received.

Figure 8 The new Samsung Chromebook 2

With these new models, it looks as if Chromebooks are officially entering the mainstream of the PC market. Prices are up a tad over all, although the increased competition might bring them down eventually. The big news, however, is the improved performance and increased choice for consumers, both of which are quite welcome, thank you.

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