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Six Clicks: From least to beast: The best Chromebooks

A Chromebook may be all you need for all your computing needs. Here's the best of the breed so far.

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Topic: Mobility
Chromebooks for the win
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Chromebooks for the win

Who says you need a Windows PC or a Mac? Not me!

For many people all the laptop you might need is a Chromebook. They tend to be cheap, you never need to worry about patching them because that happens automatically, and they're about the most secure personal computers on the planet.

All you need is Wi-Fi, a gaggle of Google apps, and you're ready to go. In particular, if all you, a friend, co-worker, or family member needs, is access to Web computing, a Chromebook is all you need.

While I like recommending Chromebooks in particular to students, or people of a certain age who just need the basics, they're not limited machines. Here at ZDNet, many of us who grew up cutting teeth on advanced computers now use Chromebooks every day.

Here's my pick of the best ranked in approximate price order. I'm using Amazon's prices as of the middle of December for my list. Be sure to shop around because these prices do change and they vary from store to store.

I've picked the least expensive models in each line up. If you elect to pay more money you'll get more RAM, a larger drive, and/or 4G. Even a low-end 2014 Chromebook, however, will do really well for almost all ordinary uses. It's only once you start opening dozens of Chrome tabs at once that you're likely to see any slowdowns.

Acer C720: Cheap but good
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Acer C720: Cheap but good

Oddly enough, the cheapest Chromebook I liked this year is also one of the best. The Acer Chromebook C720. The low-end model is only $199, but as my ZDNet buddy James Kendrick wrote, "It handles everything I do without hesitation." Exactly so.

It may only have an 11.6" screen, 2GBs of RAM, an Intel 1.4GHz and a 16GB Solid-State Drive (SSD), but it works really, really well. And, at this price, anyone can afford one, heck maybe two!

If you already have one but want an upgraded machine, Acer also offers a C720 with Intel Core i3 fourth-generation Haswell processor. This C720 model, however, will run you about $298.

Acer Chromebook 13: Bigger screen, more powerful processor
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Acer Chromebook 13: Bigger screen, more powerful processor

Want a bigger screen? A more powerful processor? Well, if that's you, perhaps the Acer Chromebook 13 is what you're hungry for. It's light, has a great 13.3-inches, 1,920 x 1,080 display, 2GBs of RAM and a 16GB SSD. Oh, and did we mention it comes with a 2.1 GHz Nvidia Tegra K1, quad-core processor?

At $229, the Chromebook 13 gives you the biggest screen and most CPU bang for the Chromebook buck.

Dell Chromebook 11: Dell quality in a Chromebook
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Dell Chromebook 11: Dell quality in a Chromebook

The Dell Chromebook 11 was meant for the education market. But, as my colleague Steve Ranger said in his review, the Dell Chromebook 11 is "too good to be left to the kids."

He's right.

This Chromebook looks good, and has a decent 11.6-inch screen with a native resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels. It uses 1.4GHz dual-core Celeron 2955U processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics, starts with 2GBs of RAM and has a 16GB SSD. Also, as Ranger noticed, it's overall quality is exceptional.

You can see for yourself by buying a Chromebook 11 from either Dell or many retailers. Like the Acer Chromebook C720, it also comes in a version with an Intel Core i3 processor. That model will run you $379.

Chromebook 14 comes with full-sized screen
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HP Chromebook 14 comes with full-sized screen

Let's say that you want a Chromebook with a "full-sized" screen at a reasonable price. If that's you, then you probably want a HP Chromebook 14 with its 14" display.

Like the Acer Chromebook 13, it boasts a 2.1GHz Nvidia Tegra K1 processor, 2GBs of RAM and a 16GB SSD. What I like most about this model is that the screen, besides being a good size, registers colors extremely well. You can see the HP Chromebook 14 screen for yourself for a mere $303.

Toshiba Chromebook 2: Good screen, good speed
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Toshiba Chromebook 2: Good screen, good speed

The Toshiba Chromebook 2 also has an excellent screen, albeit one that's a trifle smaller at 13.2". This Chromebook has 4GBs of RAM and a 16GB SSD.

What moves the Toshiba Chromebook 2 up in both quality and price is, instead of the standard 802.11n Wi-Fi that all the other Chromebooks use, it has an 802.11ac Wi-Fi adapter. If you use 802.11ac for your Wi-Fi, as I do, you'll find that your wireless networking, while it won't hit a gigabit a second, is about twice as fast as 802.11n. That, my friends, is Fast. Its speed is also improved by using a dual-core 2.58GHz Intel Celeron N2840 processor.

Sure, at $389, it's pricey for a Chromebook, but oh that Wi-Fi speed and the processor's no slouch either.

Pixel The Rolls-Royce of Chomebooks
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Pixel The Rolls-Royce of Chomebooks

Of course, if you thought Toshiba's Chromebook 2 was expensive, prepare for sticker shock! The 2013 Chromebook Pixel will cost you $1,499.99.

Why would you do that? Well, I'll tell you why I did it. I went for the Chromebook Pixel with 4G so it ended up costing me $1,799.99.

True, this model is almost two years old, but it has a 1.8GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GBs of RAM and a 32-GB SSD for storage. What really gets me is the 12.85" display with 2560 x 1700 resolution. This is powered by an integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 chipset and it gives 239 pixels per inch. It is simply, even now, the best laptop display I've ever used.

While I'm using this model, I also just bought the high-end 2015 Chromebook Pixel for $1,299. This one comes with the 5th-generation, 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-5500U processor with 16GBs of memory and a 64GB Solid State Drive (SSD). It is, in a word, "sweet."

You can also get a 2015 Pixel with a fifth generation i5 for only $999. Neither may have 4G, but both are faster than their older brothers.

Chrome OS, which runs well on any Chromebook, screams on either Pixel. I know almost none of you are going to join me in owning a Pixel, but I assure you, it is a great laptop experience. If you spend all your time working on a computer the way I do, you just might agree with me that it's the best laptop out there today and yes I've used the top-of-the-line Lenovo ThinkPads and the best Apple MacBook Air machines.

You don't have to be tempted by a Pixel though. Any of these Chromebooks, even the least of them, will deliver a great computing experience.

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