Hardware

Pricey Chromebook Pixel: Built well but impractical to upgrade

Bill Detwiler cracks open the Google Chromebook Pixel and shows you why it's easy to open and service, but nearly impossible to upgrade.

Unlike Chromebooks from Samsung, Acer, and HP, the Google-designed Pixel has both high-end hardware and a high-end price tag. On this week's episode of Cracking Open, I go inside the Pixel and show you why it's easy to service, but nearly impossible to upgrade.

With pricing that starts at $1,299 (US), the Pixel costs five times more than the top-selling $249 Samsung Chromebook. Why the huge difference? Hardware.

The base-model Pixel has a third-generation 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, Intel Graphics HD 4000, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, a 32GB SSD, and a touch-sensitive 12.85" display with a 3:2 aspect ratio (2,560 x 1,700 pixel resolution at 239 ppi). An LTE-equipped Pixel with 64GB of local storage is available for $1,449.

For more information on the Pixel, including real-world tests check out Seth Rosenblatt's full CNET review.

Not only is the Pixel the best-equipped Chromebook on the market, it's thin profile and sleek design make it the best looking. But, that's all on the outside. I'm more interested on how the machine is put together.

Full teardown gallery: Cracking Open the Google Chromebook Pixel. Cracking Open Observations
  • Easy-open case: Those comfortable working on laptops should have no trouble cracking open the Pixel. The case's bottom cover is held to the body with four screws (hidden beneath the unit's rubber feet) and two metal clips (one on each side of the cover). Once the screws are removed, you can pop the clips loose with a thin metal or plastic tool.
  • Clean internal hardware layout: The Pixel's internal hardware layout isn't quite as clean as the Apple Macbook Air's design, but it's not bad. The 59Wh Li-ion battery is located at the front of the case, with speakers on either side. The motherboard and cooling assembly run along the back.
  • Built solid but impractical to upgrade: Overall, the Chromebook Pixel is built as well as other high-end, ultra-thin machines. And cracking it open wasn't difficult. But, like many laptops these days, there isn't much you can do once you get inside the case. Nearly everything is soldered to the motherboard and there really isn't anything to upgrade.

$1,300 for a Chromebook?

As for whether the Pixel is right for you, that's a tough question. It certainly has the hardware of a high-end laptop. But other than the touchscreen, I'm not sure how much that hardware really improves the user experience. If the point of Google's Chrome OS is to have the cloud be your hard drive and handle the heavy lifting for most tasks, do you really need $1,300 worth of hardware? I think the jury is still out on that.

Internal hardware

Our Chromebook Pixel test unit had the following hardware:

  • 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor (with Intel Graphics HD 4000)
  • Mobile Intel HM75 Express Chipset (Intel BD82HM75 PCH)
  • 4GB Elpida DDR3 RAM (J4216EbbG-GN-F)
  • 32GB SanDisk iSSD (SDIS5BK 032G)
  • 12.85" touch-sensitive display with a 3:2 aspect ratio (2,560 x 1,700 pixel resolution at 239 ppi)
  • 7.4v, 59.2Wh, 8000mAh Li-ion Battery (Model: Arrow)
  • Qualcomm Atheros AR5BMD22 802.11 a/b/g/n + Bluetooth module
  • Atmel mXT224SL maXTouch touchscreen controller
  • Creative CA0132 Audio CODEC (CA0132-4AN HF)
  • Winbond 25Q64FVIG
  • Infineon SLB9655TT12 likely a Trusted Platform Module (TPM)
  • Texas Instruments TPS61188A white LED driver
  • International Rectifier IR3899 9A Highly Integrated SupIRBuck
  • International Rectifier IR3550 60A Integrated PowIRstag
  • Texas Instruments Stellaris LM4FS1GH microcontroller
  • Fairchild Semiconductor DC36AA & DC36AF power management chips
  • Texas Instruments BQ24725A 1-4 Cell Li+ Battery SMBus Charge Controller with N-Channel Power MOSFET Selector (BQ25A TI 261 C7K9)
  • International Rectifier IR3838 10A Highly Integrated SupIRBuck

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

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