Why Torvalds loves the Chromebook Pixel: It's all about the display

Why Torvalds loves the Chromebook Pixel: It's all about the display

Summary: The Google Chromebook Pixel's most well-known fan is Linux's Linus Torvalds. In recent Google+ posts, Torvalds explains exactly what he loves the most about the Pixel: Its remarkable display.


Yes, the Google Chromebook Pixel, at $1,299 for the Wi-Fi-only model, is quite expensive. But, in Linus Torvalds, Linux's creator, it's found a powerful friend. Why? Torvalds explained, "To make a long story short: it's all about the screen."

Torvalds has always loved the Chromebook Pixel's display. He praised it for its "beautiful screen" when he first started using it. It wasn't Chrome OS — Google's lightweight Linux that uses the Chrome Web browser for its interface — or the Pixel's other hardware. For him it really is all about the screen.

As Torvalds explained:

To make a long story short: it's all about the screen. There really isn't anything else special about the machine. Everything else is very much just "adequate," and you know what? It really doesn't matter. The screen was what got me interested, and perhaps more importantly, the screen is what makes it work.

I could write a much longer post talking about the weaknesses, because quite frankly, the rest of the machine really isn't all that special. You can get much better things. But I ended up deleting all my comments about the shortfall of the other individual components, because in the end it just didn't matter to me. The rest was "good enough" to make it work, and the screen sells the machine to me.

Specifically, the Chromebook Pixel comes with a 1.8GHz Intel Core i5 processor. For memory, it has 4 GBs of RAM and a 32-GB SSD for local storage and a terabyte of free Google Drive cloud storage for three years. It also comes with 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-FI, an HD camera, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, a 2-in-1 SD/MMC card reader; and DisplayPort. The display, which is what makes Torvalds happy, has a 12.85-inch diagonal and features 2560 x 1700 resolution with a 239 pixels per inch display, which is better than Apple MacBookPro (MBP) Retina display.

Torvalds has found that a lot of people seem to have trouble grasping why the Pixel's display is so much better than the vast majority of laptop screens, so he decided to show them. He wrote, "Since some people continually seem to be confused about the point of higher-resolution screens, I'm doing a small example of why you want it, especially if you're working with lots of text (i.e. email or source code)."

Here is an approximation of a display "with a 1080p screen (it's just scaled down using cubic interpolation using gimp: actually redrawing the fonts with a smaller font-size would result in slightly different output, but it's fairly representative)."

A "high-quality" 1080 x 720 display: Bad. (Credit: Linus Torvalds)

Torvalds continued, "Remember, this is the good kind of screen some people claim is great. Most laptops actually have a 768p screen, which would just be unreadable."

The Chromebook Pixel's 2560 x 1700 display: Good. (Credit: Linus Torvalds)

And then here's "part of a real screenshot from my Pixel, using a font that I actually use and find readable on that screen. Yes, it's a smallish font, but it really is readable, and it's small enough that I see about 50 emails at the same time (it's a crop of my lkml [Linux Kernel Mailing List] folder in Gmail in the 'compact' view using Chrome, in case people care)."

Torvalds concluded: "And you know what? Yes, you can actually read the 1080p version. But compare the two, and ask yourself which one you think causes less eye strain because it's clearer and easier to read. And if you still think that 1080p is 'good enough,' I can only say that you're either (a) stupid as f*ck or (b) in deep denial."

I see his point. He's not the only one to feel that way. As ZDNet's own mobile guru James Kendrick recently said, "The high resolution, even higher than the famous Retina Display, is simply wonderful to use. Text displays razor sharp and graphics pop." I agree. The Pixel's display is simply stunning.

Is it worth the money? For Torvalds sure. But, as he said, "So don't get me wrong: it's absolutely not a perfect machine, and the price is unquestionably too high for any kind of widespread use. But I'm hoping it's the beginning of a trend, and we'll see more than just the Pixel and the [Retina Display] MBP with good screens."

Torvalds may be right. Once you get used to the Pixel's display, other laptops' display look second-rate. 

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Topics: Laptops, Google, Hardware, Linux

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  • ...

    You're still talking about this? Slow day at ZDnet.
  • Love the display more than the OS

    Goes to show you the quality of the OS, lack thereof.
  • Pixel

    Given that the OS itself isn't missing anything, there's no reason why the Pixel isn't valid in concept. Also, I find it hilarious that tech-journalist reviews mostly bash the Pixel, but *user* reviews are overwhelmingly positive.
    • Valid concept? Yes. But a waste of money.

      What's the point of having a retina-style display when you can't even run professional video or image editing applications on it? The basic el-cheapo Chromebooks make way more sense, but why pay $1299 for a Pixel which is basically just a web browser? Furthermore, you can buy just about ANY other laptop running ANY other OS (OSX, Windows or Linux) and still have the functionality of a Chromebook via the free Chrome browser. I honestly believe that Google put this thing out simply to stop Apple from being able to tout their machines as having the highest resolution and/or for those who "Anything-But-Apple" folks who still want to feel posh whilst sitting in the corner of Starbucks checking their Facebooks.
      Mark Lechman
  • Today is SJVN day...

    Chrome books is useless, there is nothing else in it except a display which is probably manufactured by Samsung or LG.

    One can buy a beautiful Dell 2560 x 1440 WQHD 27' monitor for less than $600 for a desktop or laptop running Windows 8 and everything will be crisp, big and clear. Why would one spend $1300 for a device that has less that 5 hours of battery life and runs only a browser...
    • Still an idiot

      I think that Dell 2560 x 1440 WQHD 27' monitor would be difficult to carry around with you. And what is the relevance of who produces the screen in the context of your post?

      Also, I think Linus does a LOT more useful work than you do, including on his Pixel.

      Why would you post such utter and incoherent garbage? I know, you can't help it. That is all your brain is capable of producing.

      Good grief.
      • Re: Still an idiot

        You made me laugh for 15 minutes straight... Yeah, I agree - I also think that it would be difficult to carry around a 27" monitor... Priceless!
    • The silliness today is thick.

      Chrome isn't just a browser *chuckles*.
      • Actually if is.

        With some minimal offline support. ChromeOS is an OS designed as a browser that has 0.06% web share in its strongest market. Given first hardware shipped in Dec 2010, this is not impressive.
        • Bruizer:

          @Bruizer: Well, Macs haven't cracked and maintained more than around 6% total market share in several decades, so...
          • Right...

            ...but Macs can run Photoshop, ProTools, MS Office AND Chrome...and for less money than a Pixel. It's a big Google fail, sorry.
            Mark Lechman
          • Macs are now supposed to be 14% of PC marketshare in numbers....

            ....and 28% in terms of revenue.
        • Chromebooks are 0.7% of total web marketshare......

          ....and growing 700% per year. That is up from 0.2% six months ago. This is despite limited availability (available in US/UK only, and in a limited number of locations where they are displayed or can be tried out) and no advertising.


          "The original Chromebooks were offered as cheaper, safer and faster alternatives to traditional notebooks with installed operating systems (such as Windows or Mac OSX), and after two years on the market, according to Chitika Insights, the Chrome OS now accounts for 0.7% of North American web traffic. That's still a tiny amount but considering it accounted for less than 0.2% as recently as October 2012 it is clearly starting to take hold."
    • Owllll1net, did you read the article?

      "... you're either (a) stupid as f*ck or (b) in deep denial"
      Rabid Howler Monkey
    • What battery life of the Dell 27" monitor?

      Pixel density and total pixels are different things - a point you may wish to learn about.

      5 hour battery life? Simple: get a MacBook Pro and get 7 hours.

      Or carry that 27" screen around if the saving in money makes you feel that the extra size is more useable at a lower price somehow?
    • Go back to school

      And learn basic English grammar. You keep demonstrating that your are an illiterate idiot.
  • why all the bashing guys?

    Do you hate the fact that someone else has a different preference of device than you? SJVN isn't telling you to buy it, and neither was Linus Torvalus. Everyone has a different opinions and preferences, Linus is merely stating why he appreciates the Pixel. If the Android, iOS, Tizen, BlackBerry, Firefox, Ubuntu, Chrome Windows, Mac or Linux OS, or whatever you nay happen to use an like, work for you, congratulations for finding a solution that fits your needs. Everyone uses their devices differently, and everyone has a different preference of device. GET OVER IT.
    • For that price, it's not worth it

      Yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion. By the same token, everyone is entitled to disagree with Mr.Torval's opinion. Logical reasoning would dictate that for $1300.00, one can get a comparable, or less expensive PC that can be customized to run Windows of various flavors, Linux of many flavors, FreeBSD,and even OSX ( we're reminded of Pystar that was sued by Apple). Can we do that with a dumb terminal wearing the cloak of the Google Pixel that needs to "cloud" to be functional? I know there are many out there like Mr. Torval who thinks because it is Linux-based it more secure. Nonsense. The vast computers out their that are used in enterprise are Linux/ UNIX are haven for hackers. Ask the people who use Apache servers. As a matter of fact, the very first computer to be hacked was running UNIX!!!!
      • heh.

        Logic dictates that you, are Vulcan.
      • Linus is not using Chrome

        He has installed Fedora (I believe) on it. He is using because one cannot buy a better screen on that form factor. Simple. As. That.