Most Chromebooks either have an Intel or ARM-based processor running things. The ARM-based models are from Samsung for the most part, and that means its Exynos version of the ARM chip.
The Nvidia Tegra K1 processor pairs ARM technology with Nvidia’s graphics prowess, in a low-volt form that promises long battery life. Based on hands-on testing of the first Chromebook with the Nvidia chip, I can say that this is a new option that will shake things up.
The Acer Chromebook 13 is a thin (0.71 inches) laptop that has a high-resolution display (1,920 x 1,080) option that is as good as anything on a Chromebook (Google's Chromebook Pixel excepted). Even with this HD display, the Nvidia Tegra K1 processor still delivers over 11 hours on a single charge of the battery.
Display and Nvidia processor aside, the hardware is typical for the Chromebook. Note there is a standard resolution option available (1,366x768) for the Chromebook 13.
Acer Chromebook 13 hardware specs as reviewed:
|Processor||Nvidia Tegra K1, quad-core, 2.1 GHz|
|Display||13.3-inches, 1,920 x 1,080|
|Communications||Wi-fi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Ports||2- USB 3.0, HDMI, Audio|
|Webcam||1,280 x 720|
|Battery||2,220 mAh, 48 Whr, 11 hours|
|Dimensions||12.87 x 8.96 x 0.71 inches; 327 x 227 x 17.95 mm|
|Weight||3.31 pounds; 1.5 kg|
I have been using the Acer Chromebook 13 for a few weeks, and at first the quad-core Nvidia Tegra K1 failed to impress. Performance was so-so and the system was prone to exhibiting lags in the browser. It was enough to elicit my concerns during the testing, but that didn’t last long.
Google pushed out an update to Chrome OS a few days after I started using the Chromebook 13, and it’s obvious it optimized the OS for the new Nvidia platform. Performance on the Acer device improved remarkably immediately after the update.
Having used a properly performing Acer Chromebook 13 for a while, it’s clear it is faster and has smoother performance than Chromebooks with Intel processors. This includes Acer’s own 720 model with the Core i3 processor recently reviewed. The Nvidia Tegra K1 is definitely a better performer than either the Atom with Bay Trail or the Celeron with Haswell on all of the Chromebooks I have used.
This is also true when comparing the Chromebook 13 with non-Nvidia ARM processors. There are no lags anywhere on the Nvidia-based Chromebook and everything runs as smooth as butter.
Given Nvidia’s experience with graphic systems, it is no surprise to find this is an area in which the Acer Chromebook 13 excels. Playing full-screen HD video on the 1,920 x 1,080 display is as smooth as can be.
The only issue I've had using the high-resolution screen has nothing to do with the hardware. Some Chrome OS UI elements are very small on the high-res screen. The only way to make them bigger (without going into the experimental section) is to lower the resolution of the display in the settings.
Fortunately, in the latest version of Chrome OS, Google added an easily accessible way to do this. There's a drop-down box for changing screen resolution on the fly. The setting just lower than the native screen resolution (1,536 x 864) works well on the 13.3-inch screen. No reboot is required, so the resolution can be changed as desired. It would be great if Chrome OS would allow changing just the UI elements, leaving the screen at the proper high resolution.
The Acer Chromebook 13 has a full size HDMI port for connecting to peripherals. It also has two USB 3.0 ports. Rounding out the hardware is the inclusion of 802.11 ac Wi-Fi.
The Chromebook 13 delivers over 11 hours on a charge in the real world, which makes this device one of the longest lasting currently available. This battery life is with the full HD screen. The standard resolution model should get 13 hours on a charge, an amazing run-time.
The new Acer Chromebook is very thin, and is constructed out of plastic. It feels durable, but is not as sturdy as it would be with a metal case. The Chromebook 13 can be carried in small bags given its 0.71 inch thickness and weight of 3.3 pounds. It can be up and running seconds after taking it out and opening the lid.
The keyboard is quite good and supports rapid touch typing. The large trackpad may feel like plastic (it is), but it works well as Chrome OS in general handles trackpad control well.
Reviewer’s rating: 9.5 out of 10
The Acer Chromebook 13 is available from Amazon and Best Buy. The high-resolution model as reviewed is $299.99 and the standard resolution configuration starts at $279.99.
After using this device for a while, I am impressed with the Acer Chromebook 13. If I was buying a Chromebook today, this would be my choice without hesitation.
The performance of the Acer Chromebook 13 is so good that it will change the laptop landscape. Having good performance with outstanding battery life makes this the Chromebook to beat at the time of this writing. Models with Intel had a lock on good performance until the Nvidia Tegra K1 arrived. Intel should be concerned about the ramifications.
Additional Chromebook coverage:
You can see how thin (0.71 inch) the laptop is from this side view.
The keyboard offers a nice typing experience. The entire trackpad is one big button and works very well.
The white plastic construction looks very nice.
As is common with current laptops, the battery is sealed and not user replaceable.
The ports on the left side of the laptop, from left to right:
The ports on the right side of the laptop, from left to right:
The ports on the back of the laptop, from left to right:
Close-up of the SD slot.
There are two indicators on the hinge, one for power and one as a battery indicator.
Google has pushed two Chrome OS updates for the Nvidia platform in the few weeks I've been using this laptop. Performance is outstanding as a result.
This dialog lets you change screen resolution on the fly, no reboot required.
Overview of the configuration as reviewed.