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Three of the biggest PC makers are redefining gaming -- with Chromebooks

The first wave of gaming-centric Chromebooks includes the Acer Chromebook 516 GE, Asus Chromebook Vibe CX55 Flip, and Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming Chromebook.
Written by Michael Gariffo, Staff Writer on
Google's banner introducing the first gaming Chromebooks
Google

Chromebooks likely aren't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a gaming device. Aside from the occasional browser game, these ultra-portable devices have been primarily relegated to serving as inexpensive, versatile tools for students, workers, or the casual couch browser looking to get some online shopping done. 

One of the main reasons for this is the fact that most Chromebooks, to this point, have been built with relatively modest processors, no discrete GPUs (graphics cards), and few features, if any, that lent themselves to gaming. But, all of that is about to change.

With a combination of some of the most impressive hardware ever to grace a Chromebook and ground-up integration of some of the most popular cloud-based gaming services, this first wave of gaming portables is poised to define an entirely new category or products designed to let you play your favorite games on the road. Let's go over each of these wave-one devices, including entries from Acer, Asus, and Lenovo. 

More: How Microsoft and Samsung may finally take cloud gaming mainstream

Acer Chromebook 516 GE

A man celebrating while using an Acer Chromebook 516 GE

Look at him! He's so pumped up he doesn't even realize his headset isn't plugged into the Chromebook's clearly empty headset port.

Acer

CPU options

Intel Core i5-1240p @ 1.7GHz or Intel Core i7-1260p @ 2.1GHz

RAM

8GB or 16GB DDR4

Storage

128GB or 256GB NVME drive

Display

16-inch 2560x1600 IPS panel with a 120Hz refresh rate

Graphics

Intel Iris Xe

Battery life

65Wh Li-ion battery. Rated at up to 9 hours

Weight and dimensions

3.75lbs | 14.04 (W) x 9.83 (D) x 0.84 (H) inches 

Ports

2 X USB Type-C 3.2 Gen 2, 1 x USB-A 3.2 Gen 1, HDMI, Ethernet, headset/microphone port

Connectivity

2.5G Ethernet, Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2


Acer's a well-known brand among PC gamers for its Predator-branded peripherals, Nitro gaming laptops, and more. It's coming out of the gate into the gaming Chromebook market with hardware that would fit right at home with the rest of the Nitro-branded laptops while including enough ports to put your average MacBook to shame. 

With a display that boasts a speedy 120Hz refresh rate, a choice between Intel's core i5 or i7 CPUs, and Intel's Iris Xe graphics, this portable gaming machine should be more than able to handle the thousands of titles NVIDIA's GeForce NOW, Xbox Cloud Gaming, and Amazon Luna (all supported out of the box) can throw at it. 

Despite all the hardware and diverse cloud gaming support, the base model of the Chromebook 516 GE is available now for $649.99 in the US and will be available for EUR 999 in the EMEA region in December. Pricing and configurations will vary by region, so be sure to keep an eye on your local online and brick-and-mortar retailers when this model comes to your area. 

More: Best gaming laptop deals right now

Asus Chromebook Vibe CX55 Flip 

Asus' Chromebook Flip CX55 being played by a main laying on a couch

While I can't necessarily recommend using touchscreen controls for competitive racing titles, he sure does look relaxed.

Asus

CPU options

Intel Core i3-1115G4 @ 3.0GHz, Intel Core i5-1135G7 @ 2.4GHz, or Intel Core i7-1165G7 @ 2.8GHz

RAM

8GB or 16GB DDR4

Storage

128GB, 256GB, or 512GB NVME drive

Display

15.6-inch 1920x1080 IPS touchscreen panel running at 144Hz

Graphics

Intel Iris Xe

Battery life

57Wh Li-ion battery. Rated at up to 10 hours

Weight and dimensions

4.3lbs | 14.08 (W) x 9.48 (D) x 0.73 (H) inches 

Ports

2 X USB Type-C 3.2 Gen 2, 1 x USB-A 3.2 Gen 2, HDMI, headset/microphone port, microSD card reader

Connectivity

Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0


Asus' first dive into this new world of gaming Chromebooks launches as part of the company's Flip line. This means that it includes that line's trademark touchscreen display that can be rotated around almost 360 degrees for a more tablet-like experience. This should be great for games that rely on touchscreen input, or just for using the device in one of the Flip line's tent-like orientations for media consumption. 

On the hardware front, the CPU selection for the Asus model is the oldest of the three debut units, with Asus opting for 11th-gen Core i3/i5/i7 CPUs. That said, all three still support Intel Iris Xe graphics, and should be more than capable of handling the games on any of the trio aforementioned cloud gaming services, which it also supports.  

A few of the specs on this unit are among the lowest of the three. But it's the champ in one area: refresh rate. This is thanks to its 144Hz panel (both other Chromebooks max out at 120Hz). It's also a great option if you're considering trying out Amazon's Luna service or Nvidia GeForce Now offering, as it ships with three free months of both, and a free Steelseries Rival 3 gaming mouse too.

The Asus Chromebook Vibe CX55 Flip is available now for $699

More: Microsoft makes its case for why it's all-in on gaming

Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming Chromebook

Deion Sanders and others huddled around a Lenovo gaming chromebook on a desk

Get your game on AND manage your football empire, all with one device!

Lenovo

CPU options

Intel Core 13-1235U @ 1.2GHz or Intel Core i5 @ 1.3GHz

RAM

8GB DDR4

Storage

256GB or 512GB NVME drive

Display

16-inch 2560x1600 IPS panel running at 120Hz

Graphics

Intel Iris Xe

Battery life

71Wh Li-ion battery. Rated at up to 11 hours

Weight and dimensions

4lbs | 14.03 (W) x 9.96 (D) x 0.79 (H) inches 

Ports

2 X USB Type-C 3.2 Gen 2, 2 x USB-A 3.2 Gen 2, HDMI, headset/microphone port, microSD card reader

Connectivity

Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.0


Lenovo comes to the table with what could probably best be described as the middle contender in terms of hardware. The IdeaPad Gaming Chromebook does include 12-gen Intel Core i3 and i5 options, but it doesn't offer an i7 option like the Acer model above. However, these slightly less powerful CPUs help it achieve the longest rated battery life of the three models at 11 hours. Surprisingly, the 71Wh battery that also makes this possible doesn't result in this being the heaviest unit of the three. 

Like both other companies, Lenovo expects its gaming Chromebook to play extremely well with Nvidia's, Amazon's, and Microsoft's cloud-based gaming services, whether you're playing with a connected gamepad, or using the built-in RGB keyboard and a mouse. That keyboard is clearly a big focus for Lenovo, who touted its "anti-ghosting feature and 1.5 mm key travel for a more responsive and intuitive typing experience" in its press release.

While it might lack the Acer model's slew of ports, and its singular 8GB RAM configuration might feel a bit limiting to some, it's got the right specs to balance everything out for the right gamer. Lenovo's IdeaPad Gaming Chromebook is expected to be available sometime in October, with an MSRP of $599. 

More: The best gaming laptops: Top rigs for on-the-go gaming

Bottom line 

As a completely new product category, gaming Chromebooks remain somewhat of an unknown. We'll know a lot more when we get our hands on the first models at ZDNET and do some testing. However, we can already say the success or failure of this new form factor will depend entirely on how well the attached cloud services perform in actual practice. If manufacturers like this trio can leverage the subscription-based offerings from Amazon, Microsoft, and Nvidia to create compelling gaming experiences that can truly match locally-installed titles played on far more expensive gaming PCs, they should almost certainly have a massive hit on their hands. 

However, if the cloud-based services, the users' connections, or the Chromebooks' hardware fails to live up to the stiff standards PC gamers tend to have for their gaming hardware, the entire product category might struggle until the faults are all corrected. We can only wait and see how it goes. 

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