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


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...


Since Apple have decided that their laptops don't need upgrading, why do people complain about a Chromebook doing exactly the same? For Chromebooks, they're only useful if you can guarantee an Internet connection 100% of the time, and without it, it's pretty useless - so, if you're in a big city, then you're fine, but as soon as you go rural or on a train journey that includes tunnels, then you're going to lose connection regularly It's an interesting idea, with a decent resolution touch screen, but more of an "experiment" than a usable product, especially considering the price and how many people actually USE Chromebooks at the moment...


Just the thing for any and every company exec who doesn't really know what he wants or needs. Doesn't need to be upgraded because they will want a new one every year anyway. And 32 or 64GB should be more than ample for all your word docs and excel spreadsheets, never mind the OS taking a small chunk of it.... unless of course you really need to store all your "home movies" on the thing too...


It's designed to compete with the Mac Air, pricey, and mostly a 'toy' also. 99% of the people I have with the expensive laptops, is only to show people that they have a pricey laptop.


For most of the computer-using public, this is a very expensive "toy" and not much more. It doesn't have the specs of a gaming laptop with mega-clocked CPU speeds that will render massively impressive motion and graphics, it's also not a business powerhouse either, capable of crunching through MySQL data within seconds. SO where does that leave you? With an expensive toy. It's nice because of it's weight, it's got a really "pretty" display, and the screen has finger-touch capabilities, but other than these few nice touches this is hardly the ground-breaking net book that will become all the rage, and it's not because of any of the other reasons listed ABOVE that this item will not "catch on". it's the little matter of it's PRICE that will prevent this from becoming mainstream, cloud computing aside, this is not worth $1,300.00. the final negative offering is the fact that you have very little storage locally, granted a SSD is impressively fast, but just adding a few full length ".flv" movies to your hard drive might crowd it up. No.....they have to re-think this one, and try to find a middle-of-the-road value type of machine that the masses will eat up like candy.....because this one is NOT it!


While I like the cloud for backup purposes, I still prefer large hard drive capacity on my devices. I do not want to be cut off from all my documents, files, and other various info just because of a lack of Internet access, or due to service outages.


I don't know why their making a cloud computing storage. People have a hard enough time with getting their home PCs invaded, now you're going to trust an unseen stranger with all of your data? No thanks...


Don`t really think the Hardware is anything special really. The touchscreen is nice but apart from that the specs are pretty run of the mill. You can get a FAR better machine without the touchscreen for the money.

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