Hardware

Cheap Windows 10 Cloudbooks take aim at Chromebooks

New machines from Acer will bolster the ranks of low-cost Windows PCs seeking to challenge Chromebooks in the budget notebook space.

acer-aspire-1-cloudbook.jpg
The Acer Aspire One Cloudbook
Image: Acer
Chromebooks have a new challenger in the arena of low-cost computing and it's running Microsoft's latest operating system, Windows 10.

The Acer Aspire One Cloudbook will retail from just $169, putting the devices in the same ballpark as Google's Chrome OS-powered machines.

The $169 Cloudbook 11 includes an 11.6-inch screen and 16GB flash storage, upgradeable to 32GB. The larger Cloudbook 14, which has a 14-inch display, will sell for $199.99.

Like Chromebooks, the notebooks seem designed to rely on online storage and services. It's likely that available storage will be minimal on the base machine, even with Windows 10's compression features, because of the amount of space taken up by the OS.

To offset limited local file space, the machines will come with 1TB of cloud storage on Microsoft's OneDrive service, as well as one year's subscription to Office365 Personal.

As expected at this price, the machine's base processor is modest, an Intel Celeron N3050 with a base frequency of 1.6GHZ.

One area not to be skimped on by Acer's efforts to keep the price down is wireless connectivity, with the device supporting the 802.11ac wireless standard, which bumps connection speeds to up to 1,733Mbps.

Both Cloudbook machines are relatively thin, at 0.7-inches thick, and weigh from 2.54lb.

The Cloudbooks add to the portfolio of low-cost Windows machines, such as the HP Stream, aimed at challenging Chromebooks. The Stream is a Windows 8.1 machine that launched last year and whose price has been undercut by the Cloudbooks. When it launched, the Stream was praised for its low cost but criticised for its performance.

There is a market for budget Windows machines, as demonstrated by last year's strong sales of Bing notebooks, low-cost portables made possible by Microsoft giving PC makers a large discount on the OS - a policy it later revised.

Chromebooks have sold in modest numbers since their launch four years ago, with analyst house Gartner forecasting that sales of Chromebooks will hit almost 10 million by the end of 2017, up from 5.7 million last year.

Demand for Chromebooks is being driven by the education sector in the US. But the machines have struggled to shift in any volume outside of North America, according to Annette Jump, research director within the personal technologies team at Gartner.

Jump thinks the Windows brand recognition and the perception the OS is more likely to run familiar laptop apps could boost sales of Cloudbooks over Chromebooks.

"I think they probably have a better chance of being successful in retail than Chromebooks," she said.

However, Cloudbooks' limited specs will also be a deterrent, according to Jump, particularly the machines' limited storage.

"The challenge is when you look at the specs of the device it's quite low. When consumers buy a Windows machine they still expect lots of things to be stored on the device," she said, adding that people were more willing to accept Chromebooks' reliance on cloud services.

The small size of the Cloudbook could also put off buyers looking for a budget Windows machine, with an estimated 80 percent of the Bing notebooks sold being 15-inch machines.

Enterprises will no more be persuaded to buy Cloudbooks and similar low-cost Windows machines that they have been Chromebooks, Jump said, as the hardware doesn't match their expectations for "enterprise-grade" products.

"I expect it's more of a consumer device and maybe small business, really small businesses of less than 10 employees."

The Acer Cloudbook 11 will be available from this month in the US and from September in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). The Cloudbook 14 will be available from September in the US and from October in EMEA.

Specifications

CPU: Intel Celeron N3050 with dual-core Airmont microarchitecture and 1.6 - 2.16GHz operating speed. GPU: Intel HD Graphics Memory: 2GB DDR3L

Storage: Cloudbook 11, 16-32GB eMMC; Cloudbook 14, 32-64GB eMMC

Display: Cloudbook 11, 11.6in 1,366x768; Cloudbook 14, 14.0in 1,366x768

Ports: USB 3.0 x 1, USB 2.0 x 1, HDMI, headphone

Networking: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0

Weight: Cloudbook 11, 2.54lb-1.15kg; Cloudbook 14 3.5lb-1.6kg

Price: Cloudbook 11, $169.99-$189.99; Cloudbook 14, $199.99+

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About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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