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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  • damianrobertjones - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    Maybe admins need to log their family in as a local account.

    Either way, in my opinion, there's only a 5% reasonable point in having a chromebook even if it can do 95% of what a WIndows machine can do (Which I do not believe).
  • HotBBQ - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    You seem to be missing the entire point of a Chromebook. They are low cost alternatives to full fledged laptops or tablets. I bought a refurb one for myself and use it all the time to watch Netflix, Hangouts, emails, remote desktop, browse the web, and other tasks. Sure, I could use a tablet or my phone for these things, but this format works much better for me. I liked it so much I bought one for my parents who would sit in a cramped room with an ancient Vista desktop to do Hangouts with our kids. They LOVE the Chromebook because it is dead simple.
  • Alexvrb - Sunday, January 25, 2015 - link

    But you can get full fledged laptops and tablets for the same price. So I think you're the one missing the point. The point is that they're good for someone to check email on and they're locked down tight so they're hard to screw up. Of course, that pretty much applies to modern Windows devices too now. The downside is that Win8 requires tweaking for more advanced users to be happy. Win10 looks to be pretty decent out of the box though. Unless you're just a diehard "I hate it just because also apps should die except on Android for some reason" kind of guy.
  • talonz - Monday, January 26, 2015 - link

    Have you used a chromebook? You can't get a full fledged laptop with the same speed, battery life, and portability for double the price of a chromebook.
  • Alexvrb - Monday, January 26, 2015 - link

    What does that have to do with cost? He said they're "low cost alternatives to full fledged laptops or tablets". He didn't say "well they have this or that feature!". But let's discuss these things anyway. Have you used a HP Stream 11? Compare that to the HP Chromebook 11. Same manufacturer, and largely similar hardware.

    Performance: Similar CPUs... but the Stream 11's N2840 has a higher turbo (200Mhz) than the N2830 in the Chromebook 11. Similar situation for graphics turbo. Both have 2GB of RAM, although Windows has excellent virtual memory support in case you really load up lots of tabs (ask the Anandtech authors, has been discussed before). ChromeOS uses less space so 16GB might not be the end of the world, but Stream has 32GB - not to mention recent Win 8.1 deployments have crunched down the footprint which means more space available on the Stream. Whoops.

    Battery life? HP rates their Stream 11 at 8 hours 15 minutes on a 37Wh battery, and rates their Chromebook 11 at 8 hours on a 36Wh battery. Portability? The Stream 11 is the same size, only a hair thinner, and a hair lighter. Display? Same display. Whoops.

    So clearly the Chromebook is cheaper? Nope. $199 for the Stream 11, $279 for the Chromebook 11. Whoops!
  • Alexey291 - Sunday, February 1, 2015 - link

    And then we face reality. Have you actually tried using that "lower footprint" win8.1 on a n2840? I have. I'd rather never do that again. Because the footprint is so low that the system just freezes for seconds at a time. Windows performance tax has only increased with the years.

    Win8.1 install takes up 25 - 27 gb of roughly 30gb (post ntfs format) space. Enjoy your 3 - 4 gb of usable space. And yeah that v-mem is going to take the remaining 2/3 of that space. gg

    Oh you will now say "get rid of the bloat". No no mate that's not how a pc for a grandmother works. You get what u paid for and you suffer with it.

    And then u still have to have an AV suite, a firewall and a malware scanner running in the background. Cos you know. Windows.
  • azazel1024 - Monday, February 2, 2015 - link

    Me thinks you are doing it wrong. That or maybe/possibly you have a large restore partition there. Including page file and hibernation file, a 32GB Windows 8.1 install, including all updates and the big update 1 (once cleaned up) should leave approximately 11GiB of free space with 32GB (~29 odd GiB) of storage. That isn't a ton of space, but should be plenty to install a fair number of windows store apps. Then load on an SD card or something for media and desktop applications.

    I'd still say the minimum for a "real" machine should be 60/64GB, if not double, but you can do it with 32GB without being a serious issues (heck, my laptop currently has a 32GB mSATA drive as its boot drive and it has 9.8GiB free with fully up-to-date Windows 8.1 on it and a few programs installed, though most stuff is on the 120GB 2.5" SSD in the drive bay).
  • stefstef - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    i agree. with the new low power, low cost Atom machines with Windows and the pricepoint at around 300 (even cheaper for tablets), the Chrome os hardly makes sense any more.
  • syxbit - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    You're still missing the point. It's not just the price. It's the simplicity. My wife used to constantly get viruses, crash things, have to do data backups etc..
    Now she has a chromebook, and it just works.
  • jabber - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    And that is what a great deal of the computing public out there want. As much as we enthusiasts love out Windows machines, most really don't care and just want to get on with their day without being stopped by Trovi/Ask Toolbars and constant updates getting in the way. Unless Microsoft really knuckle under and make Windows 10 onwards far more idiot and bullet proof they really may as well give up in the domestic/home market.

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