Meet Acer’s Chromebook 13

The Google Chromebook has a rather interesting history, starting as an always connected device with all your data stored in the cloud and slowly but steadily transforming into a platform that can function as a full laptop replacement. That’s not to say that everything you might want to do on a modern laptop is possible, but if it can do 95% of what most users need that could very well be enough, and there are clear benefits to Chrome OS as well.

Perhaps the strongest point in favor of Chrome OS is that it is a closed ecosystem. Unless you enable developer features, you’re effectively locked in to a collection of curated apps, all available through the Chrome Web Store. That being the case, viruses and other malware are pretty much a non-issue, at least in my experience, which removes a potentially huge support headache for users and administrators.

Along with the curated ecosystem, you also store most of your files in the cloud on Google’s various services (or in another cloud, e.g. Microsoft’s OneDrive), which means if something really goes south on a Chromebook – i.e. if the hardware malfunctions and can’t be fixed, or if your Chromebook is stolen – all you need to do is get a replacement Chromebook, log in, and outside of files you may have stored locally you can pick up right where you left off. It’s a benefit that can be extremely useful in a variety of other situations as well, like school classrooms where students don’t need a personal Chromebook, or offices where Chromebooks can be shared with no real concern for ownership.

Of course storing files in the cloud is something you can do with any laptop or other electronic device, but Chromebooks are basically purpose built for this sort of use. And there are other great benefits as well, like generally improved battery life relative to similarly equipped Windows laptops, a more responsive user interface given the limited hardware resources, and of course cost. That last point is a bit less of a clear win over Windows laptops these days, as Windows 8.1 with Bing has been able to effectively match the price point of Chromebooks.

Brett recently took a look at the HP Stream 11 for example, which costs $199 (and occasionally less); it’s definitely a $200 laptop, though, with compromises in many key areas. So let’s look at the Acer Chromebook 13 specifications, and we’re primarily going to be interested in seeing how it stacks up against other Chromebooks as well as inexpensive Windows laptops.

Acer Chromebook 13 Specifications
Processor NVIDIA Tegra K1
Quad-core Cortex A15 2.1GHz
192 CUDA core GPU)
Connectivity 1x1 dual-band 802.11ac
Bluetooth 4.0
Memory 2GB DDR3L
Storage 16GB eMMC
Battery 4-cell 15.2V 3220mAh 48Wh
I/O 2 x USB 3.0
HD webcam
headphone/mic jack
SD Card reader
Dimensions 12.9" x 9.0" x 0.71" / 328 x 229 x 18 mm
Display 13.3-inch TN 1920x1080
Weight 3.31 lbs. / 1505g
Price $300 MSRP, $250 Online

The big differentiator with Acer’s Chromebook 13 compared to other options is the use of NVIDIA’s Tegra K1 SoC. It’s a pretty potent SoC in the tablet world, with NVIDIA’s SHIELD still placing near the top of most benchmark charts. But when we switch over to the world of laptops and Chromebooks, TK1 has a very different set of competitors. Intel’s Bay Trail chips are around, sure, but along with a few ARM-based SoCs there’s also one rather interesting competitor: Intel’s Haswell-based Celeron 2955U. That’s actually the chip used in Acer’s previous Chromebook, the C720 variants, and while it’s the lowest end Haswell chip Intel makes, as we’ll see later it can still pack a punch.

So why would Acer switch from the Celeron 2955U to the TK1? Simply put, performance isn’t the only important element with a Chromebook. Battery life is certainly another factor, and while the 2955U isn’t necessarily a power hungry chip, the TK1 definitely wins out in pure power use and thermals. That means two things: better battery life, and possibly more importantly is that the Chromebook 13 is entirely fanless. Cost is likely another contributing factor, and while the C720 sold well, it has now been replaced by an updated 11.6” Chromebook with Intel’s Celeron N2830/N2840 Bay Trail SoC.

Here’s where things get a bit interesting. There are quite a few variants of the Chromebook 13. The lowest end model comes with 2GB RAM and a 1366x768 resolution LCD at $229; there’s a model with the same LCD but 4GB RAM but it’s too expensive. The option we’re reviewing costs $20 more and upgrades the display to a 1920x1080 LCD while staying with 2GB RAM, or if you want both the LCD upgrade and 4GB RAM upgrade plus 32GB of storage, the price ends up being $289 (marked down $91 from MSRP now). The version we received use to be the most sensible option, and at $249 it’s not a bad deal, but $40 to double your RAM and storage is certainly a reasonable price.

We’d also be remiss at this stage to not point out the updates that have been made to Acer’s Chromebook line in the past month. Acer has now announced the Chromebook 15 along with the C740 and C910 education models. All of those feature Intel’s new Broadwell-U processors, so they should be even faster than the C720, and the Chromebook 15 is available with a 1080p IPS display

Acer Chromebook 13: Subjective Evaluation
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  • lefty2 - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    Beware, Haswell and Broadwell Chromebooks are being subsidised by Intel, but the subsidy is only tempory. As soon as Intel corners the market the subsidy will disappear and they will be replaced with cheaper Bay Trail chips:

    is a strategy by Intel to make
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    Intel subsidizes a lot of things by offering chips at discounted prices. You'll note that the article talks about Haswell Celeron chips being subsidized by Intel, and yet here we are with a Broadwell Chromebook six months after that article was written. And yes, a lot of Chromebooks in the meantime used Bay Trail.

    Celerons are used in other laptops besides Chromebooks, but where the limited RAM and other cut corners are a problem on Windows that's not generally the case with Chrome OS. Intel may have dropped the price of the Celeron chips $50 to get into things like the C720, but as I've just shown with the benchmarks, C720 at $249 (i.e. unsubsidized) would hardly be a bad option.

    Long term, we'll have to see what's available and the pricing -- and we still don't have a clear idea how much the 1080p IPS Chromebook 15 from Acer will cost. But if they can get that out at $299, it's guaranteed to win a ton of awards. At $349, it ends up more like the Toshiba Chromebook 2: lovely display, but $349 for a Chromebook is getting to be a bit high in pricing.
  • errorr - Sunday, January 25, 2015 - link

    of course what you suggest is illegal as well...
  • savagemike - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    Doesn't Toshiba offer a 13 model with an IPS display? I think it only has a baytrail though.

    One great thing about ChromeOS you didn't mention was the upgrade paradigm/procedure. It takes literally 10 seconds or so to upgrade my Chromebook. Compared to the hours of my life I've spent tapping my fingers and waiting for Windows to cycle through installing updates it's a breath of very fresh air.
    I would actually say a Chromebook does 100% of what 'most' people want. I think you'd only have to look at some simple numbers to see that 'most' Windows computer users aren't in fact running Photoshop or high end games or anything like that. And the Windows machines available at these same prices would not be a good choice for those activities at any rate.
    Most computer users are surfing the web, doing some e-mail and facebook and that's about it.
    I see a lot of comments about needing Windows to do 'real work'. This usually referring to MS Office I suppose. A lot of businesses run using Google Docs though. And I'm sure their work is just as 'real' to them. So I don't really get such notions. You can do plenty of 'real work' on a Chromebook, depending on what your work is. There certainly isn't anything stopping you from doing school work or running a business or writing the great American novel on one.
    I'm interested to see what Google does with ChromeOS going forward. Frankly I think the answer lies in the massive uptake of containerization going on in the Linux community.
    It would be very easy for Google to take advantage of the wide range of powerful Linux apps while still maintaining the high security and ease-of-use of Chromebooks if they implemented some type of Docker type container mechanism into the heart of it.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    Yes, I mentioned the Toshiba CB2 with 1080p IPS a couple times. As for the "100% of what most people want"... no, I don't believe that at all. It's 100% of what some people do, sure, but even my non-techie wife ran into limitations pretty quickly when I had her use a Chromebook. Some of it was due to differences in how you use the laptop (where are my files kind of stuff), and she could live with the platform if necessary, but there are lots of small things that can get missed. Maybe it's 99% of what most people need, but that 1% can still be too much if it's an important item (e.g. a bank site that doesn't work properly with Chrome, though that's rare these days).
  • savagemike - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    Use certainly depends on ... well... use. But of the handful of friends and family I help out with computer stuff most only need to know anything about the file system ever to download and install applications. Typically a browser or virus program or flash plugin installer and the like. Most of that stuff goes away with ChromeOS. For the little that's left I don't find using the file system any worse than explaining how to use a traditional file system to them.
    But yes, certain people will have certain needs or uses which either wouldn't work or would require learning a new routine.
  • AmdInside - Sunday, January 25, 2015 - link

    Agreed. When patch Tuesday is here and I see an update to .Net I cringe cause those are the slowest updates, even with Windows installed on an SSD.
  • harrynsally - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    I'm not digging Chromebook's power / functionality / utility.

    I just purchased a Dell laptop with 15.6" touch screen, Intel Haswell core i3, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD, DVD, HDMI, USB 3.0 & 2 x USB 2.0, 6 cell battery etc. for $299. For less than $100 replaced the HDD with a Samsung 250 GB 850 EVO SSD,

    OK, it came with Win 8.1 OS. I've been using Windows since it first came out (e.g. 3.1, 95, XP, 7) and have yet to have a malware issue. I set it up to boot to desktop mode (e.g. have a Android tablet for touch apps) and find the Win 8.1 experience comparable to Win 7 and sometimes better. Additionally, MS just announced that they will provide a free upgrade to Win 10 (to users of Win 7 and 8.1).

    I find the ability to easily choose/ add upgraded components, run applications and have productivity independent of the cloud, USB / HDMI connectivity and much higher performance for just a few $ more, a no brainer.

    On a budget? My daughter just purchased a ASUS laptop with 15.6" screen, Intel 2.16GHz N2830, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD, HDMI, USB 3.0 & USB 2.0 and Win 8.1 BING for $219.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    I don't know when the last time is I actually got hit by malware/virus on one of my PCs. But I have friends and family I help who are not as savvy that get malware ALL. THE. TIME. It's crazy to me -- like a person will have a system for less than two weeks, and it has malware (that happened with my dad just this past month). I'd blame porn sites for some users, but that's not even the problem on some of these systems. It's looking for "free [anything]" and going to the wrong web sites, or searching for a web site in Bing instead of typing in the URL (that's what got my dad I'm pretty sure).

    I'd love to say the solution is user education, but that just doesn't work. Get yourself a bunch of friends or relatives with children 8+ years old who are allowed to use the PC on a daily basis and I guarantee some of them will get hit with malware within a month. I tend to fix at least 20 computers a year where the only problem is that they got hit by malware. Thankfully, most of them aren't as bad as Cryptowall, which wiped out my dad's desktop and is asking for a $2000 ransom. (And that was with Norton AV running.)
  • BackInAction - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    @JarredWalton: I hear you loud and clear! My father gets stuff on his machine within days after I clean it. I dread going home. I just can't protect him enough from his stupid habits. In his case, I think is 'gun' sites. And randomly clicking on anything that pop-ups up in his face.

    While my kids were young it wasn't much of a problem. Now that they are older it is crazy ("gee I can get free music, or the latest episodes of Teen Ware-wolf before it is on Netflix, from this site, all I have to do is download this .exe." Doh!). I had to remove their admin rights. It is a bit of pain now and then, but it was the only way I could keep sane.

    That said, I have a Chromebook (13" Toshiba for $180 last fall) and they all fight for it. I don't care what they do on that thing. I can wipe and rebuild it in 15 min if needed.

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