Hardware

Samsung and Acer Chromebooks: More netbook than notebook

Find out why the Samsung Series 5 and Acer Chromebooks are thin-client netbooks, not ultra-portable notebook replacements.

In December 2010, Google launched the Cr-48 Chrome notebook as part of a pilot program to test and promote its Chrome OS. I cracked open the Cr-48 and discovered hardware from Intel, Qualcomm, Azurewave, SanDisk, and Samsung. Five months later, Google is taking the project mainstream and has dubbed these new Chrome OS notebooks—"Chromebooks".

At Google I/O 2011, the company unveiled the first two commercially available Chromebooks— the Samsung Series 5 and a machine from Acer. Starting June 15, consumers and businesses can purchase a Chromebook for under $500. Businesses can also rent them for $28/month per user through Google's Chromebooks for Business program.

Google touts its program as a way for businesses to significantly reduce the total cost of ownership for their computers. And, TechRepublic's Jason Hiner believes it may "entice a lot of organizations to consider ditching Windows for Chrome OS".

This is probably true, but consumers and businesses need to understand exactly what they're getting with the Samsung and Acer Chromebooks—netbooks, not notebooks.

Samsung Series 5 Chromebook

The Samsung Series 5 will be available in two flavors—a Wi-Fi + 3G model for $499.99 (US) and a Wi-Fi-only model for $429.99 (US). You'll be able to purchase the Series 5 from Amazon.com and BestBuy.com.

Hardware Specifications:

  • Processor: 1.66 GHz Intel Atom dual-core N570
  • Graphics: Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 3150
  • Storage: 16GB mSATA SSD
  • RAM: 2 GB
  • Communications: Wireless-N Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) and optional 3G (requires Verizon Wireless subscription)
  • Display: 12.1" LED (WXGA, 1280x800 resolution, 16:10 aspect ratio)
  • Video out: VGA (via optional dongle)
  • Battery: 6-cell Li-ion battery (up to 8.5 hours of life)
  • Ports: Two USB 2.0 ports, 4-in-1 memory card reader (SD, SDHC, SDXC, MMC)
  • Camera: 1Mp HD Webcam
  • Audio: Built-in digital microphone and stereo speakers
  • Dimensions: 11.6 x 8.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Weight: 3.3 pounds
  • Keyboard: Full-size Chrome keyboard
  • Input device: Oversized multi-touch trackpad

Acer Chromebook

Like its Samsung counterpart, the Acer Chromebook will be available in Wi-Fi-only and Wi-Fi + 3G models. The Wi-Fi version is expected to cost $349 (US). The W-Fi + 3G model will undoubtedly cost more. You'll be able to purchase the Acer Chromebook from Amazon.com and likely other retailers.

Hardware Specifications:

  • Processor: 1.66 GHz Intel Atom dual-core (likely the N570 used in Samsung's Series 5)
  • Graphics: Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 3150
  • Storage: 16GB SSD
  • RAM: 2GB DDR3
  • Communications: 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and optional world-mode 3G capability
  • Display: 11.6-Inch LED-Backlit LCD (1366 x 768 resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio)
  • Video out: HDMI
  • Battery: 6-cell Li-ion battery (up to 8 hours of life)
  • Ports: Two USB 2.0 ports
  • Camera: 1.3Mp HD Webcam (1280 x 1024)
  • Audio: HD audio support with two built-in speakers
  • Dimensions: 11.6 x 8.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Weight: 2.95 pounds
  • Keyboard: Chrome OS keyboard
  • Input device: Touchpad

Bottom line: More netbook than notebook

Basically, the Samsung Series 5 and Acer Chromebooks are well-equipped netbooks. The N570 Atom processor and integrated graphics accelerator provide enough power to create and edit most business documents and browse the Web. But, I wouldn't try watching HD video or running CPU-intensive applications on them. The tiny 16GB SSDs will also limit the machines' usefulness when not connected to the network or an external storage device.

In all fairness however, Google doesn't intend the Samsung Series 5 and Acer Chromebooks to be stand-alone computers. Chrome OS is getting a file manager and offline access for applications, but Chromebooks aren't low-cost notebooks. They aren't dumb terminals either. Chromebooks are thin-clients with the ability to function, albeit in a limited way, without a network connection.

The success of Chromebooks will depend on how deeply consumers and businesses buy into the resurgent thin-client computing model—where machines are always connected and the cloud handles the heavy lifting and storage.

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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