Will a Chromebook be your next PC?

Summary:You could buy a Windows 8 PC, good luck with that, a pricey Mac, or you could get the Google Chrome OS powered Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook.

samsung-series-5-550-chromebook
The latest Chromebook may be just what you need for your next PC.

Sure, you could keep using Windows, although Windows 8 looks worse every time you look at it; or you could buy a Mac for big bucks; or you could buy a  Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook starting at $449 and have a great Linux-based desktop that you already know how to use.

What’s that? It’s Linux and that’s so complicated. Oh please. Get into the 21st century, Linux is easy enough for grandpa and grandma to use . And, besides if you know how to use the Chrome Web browser--you do know how to use a Web browser right?--then you already know how to use Chrome OS and a Chromebook. If you really want to have the full Linux shell command experience, you can have that too, but it’s purely optional.

The Chromebook 2012 Gallery

The new model Chromebook has been out for several months now. When it first came out I decided rather than review it immediately, I’d see if I could actually use it for my day to day work. I’m here to report to you today that yes, yes, you can use the Chromebook for a Windows or a Mac desktop replacement.

True, the Chromebook’s hardware numbers are nothing to write home about. It uses an Intel Celeron_867 Processor running at a mere 1.3GHz for a processor, 4GBs of RAM, and a 16GB SSD (Solid State Drive). For a display it has a matte 12.1-inch display with a resolution of 1280 x 800. It also has a 1 megapixel webcam and dual speakers on the bottom.

When it comes to ports, the 550 has a Gigabit Ethernet port, DisplayPort, USB, and a combo headphone/mic jack on the left. On the right side there’s a 4-in-1 card slot and a Kensington lock slot. And, on the rear of the PC you'll find a SIM card slot. For Wi-Fi, it supports the usual 802.11b, g, and n protocols. If you want you can also get a model that supports 3G for a $100 more. The whole systems weights in at slightly more than 3 pounds.

Put it all together and all you get is a lightweight, slow netbook right? Wrong.

This is the fastest booting computer I’ve ever seen. From dead cold to displaying the desktop takes 7 seconds. The next best is my late 2011 model MacBook Air, which takes 16 seconds. Windows? Please. It’s not even in the same ballpark.

I also put the Chromebook through its paces on FutureMark’s PeaceKeeper Web browser test suite. Here it scored only 1,888. This placed it second to Chrome 22 with a score of 2,131, but ahead of Firefox 15 with 1,675 and IE 9 with 1,347-- which were running on a Gateway DX4710 with Windows 7 SP1. This PC is powered by a 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor and has 6GBs of RAM and an Intel GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) 3100. Even on far slower hardware, Chrome OS kicks rump and takes names.

The Chromebook’s special sauce is Chrome OS. This operating system uses a thin layer of an Ubuntu Linux as a foundation for the Chrome Web browser. That’s all there is to it. Yes, you need an Internet connection to get it to work at its best.  But tell me, just how much work or play do you do on a computer these days without the Internet?

Yep, that’s right: In 2012, everything we do is locked into network connectivity one way or the other. As John Gage, a former Sun executive, once said, “The network is the computer.” Today, it really is.

Besides, what’s this? It turns out you can use a Chromebook without the Internet. Gmail and Google Documents will both work without a network connection now. It’s not perfect. You still can’t edit spreadsheets or view or edit presentations; but still, for a cloud-driven desktop, it’s really quite impressive what you can do when the nearest net connection is 50 miles down a dirt road.

Another really nice feature is that you can use a Chromebook for more than six hours on a single battery charge. I recently made it from Dulles airport, near Washington DC, to San Diego and my battery was still over 20% when I had to turn it off. I’ve never had any other laptop come close to that record.

So, can you use a Chromebook as a “fat-client” PC replacement? Yes, yes, you can. I’ve been using it that way for several months now on an almost daily basis.

I write my stories in Google Docs; check my e-mail with Gmail;  IM, talk and video-conference to my friends and co-workers with Google Talk;  track my personal bills with Quicken Online; manage my business expenses with QuickBooks Online; play music from Google Play; and tinker with my photos in Picasa. I can also, unlike any other version of Linux, watch Netflix movies as well as Google Play videos.

Apple fans have a phrase they used to use all the time before iOS Wi-Fi became troublesome and Apple decided to replace Google Maps with Apple Maps . The phrase was: It just works. Guess what? The Chromebook just works.

The Chromebook also works without you needing to patch the software, add an anti-virus program, or clean out the fossilized remains of programs you’ve uninstalled. As an associate of mine put it recently, “It requires no maintenance." Exactly so.

Yes, you can update it, and I recommend that you do, but it’s your choice. There’s very few bad bad zero day exploits out there for Chrome, unlike say Windows, where they show up like clockwork every month.

Does this sound too good to be true? Try it for yourself. You can install Chrome OS on a virtual machine to play with it, or you can also rent a Chromebook for $30 a month. I think you’re going to find that you may just decide that instead of a Windows PC or a Mac, a Chromebook might be your next computer.

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Topics: Linux, Browser, Google, Hardware, Laptops, Networking, Operating Systems, PCs, Samsung

About

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, aka sjvn, has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was the cutting edge, PC operating system; 300bps was a fast Internet connection; WordStar was the state of the art word processor; and we liked it.His work has been published in everything from highly technical publications... Full Bio

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