By Martin Jansen, Owner of Jansen-PCINFO
In my last article I wrote briefly about using Chrome OS and how much it has improved over the years. My first Chromebook was a Dell 11 3180. It had 2GB RAM and 16GB of storage, like most Chromebooks back then. Chromebooks of that age had a simpler operating system – just enough OS to support the Chrome browser. Eventually, I gave my daughter the Dell Chromebook so she could work from home.
The whole idea of Chromebooks by Google was a tool to browse and create on the internet. Google also created internet tools like Docs, Sheets, Slides and Forms to compete with Microsoft Office. Chromebooks fully embrace computing life in the cloud.
Most Chromebooks are not upgradeable in any way because the RAM and eMMC storage are soldered onto the motherboard. My next Chromebook, an Acer C740 with 4GB of RAM, has the memory soldered, but the SSD is upgradeable. It was used, but still had about a year before it would reach End of Life or EOL. Google introduced EOL on Chromebooks that no longer met its standards for updates. That date was usually about 5 years from the date of manufacture. I bought the C740 because the storage could be upgraded and I could possibly convert the Chromebook to a regular laptop running Linux Mint. I wrote about my experiences here.
Today’s Chromebooks usually come with at least 4GB RAM and 32GB of storage. High end Chromebooks like Google’s own Pixelbook Go can have as much as 16GB RAM and 256GB storage with a i7 processor. With specs like that it costs over $1300, but is lightning fast. The reason Chromebooks have more RAM and storage today is the same reason for all Operating System growth – more features equals more code which adds to system requirements.
Other Operating Systems and Hardware
Some OSes like Microsoft Windows 11, require at least 8 GB of RAM to run decently while Linux Mint and Chrome OS require only 4GB RAM. I do not recommend low end Windows laptops that only have 4GB RAM. Odds are those laptops will run OK when first used, but will get slower and slower over time as software and OS upgrades are added. Storage is also restricted on low end Windows laptops making upgrades riskier. There is nothing worse than getting out of space warnings during an upgrade.
There is no greater example of potential size and footprint on a computer than downloading the ISO for each operating system. Windows 11 multiversion is a whopping 5.3GB, Linux Mint Cinnamon 21.1 is less than half the size at 2.5GB and chromeOS, the Cloud Ready (now Chrome OS Flex) version, is about 1.5GB.
Google Play, Linux and Offline
Some of the useful features on today’s Chromebooks is the ability to run Google Play apps. A virtualized version of Debian Buster Linux is also possible to be installed. The penguin terminal can be used to add common Linux apps using “sudo apt install” commands. Unfortunately, there is no support for graphics acceleration for linux apps, making gaming practically impossible.
Files and and some apps can now be designated for offline use as well, making a chromebook less dependent on the internet.
Printing from a Chromebook used to be problematic, but that is also much improved. I see my shared printers from my Linux Mint desktop and can print easily without adding drivers. Network drives are also easily accessible and can be shared with virtual Linux. Chrome OS has also added support to link Android phones like my Motorola Power G. Bluetooth connections work well for mice, external keyboards, earbuds, speakers and the like.
My latest Chromebook is a Lenovo Thinkpad C13 Yoga. It has a HD touchscreen, nice keyboard with thinkpad pointer and plenty of ports: full sized HDMI, 2 USB-A 3.0, 1 power USB-C and another USB-C, both of which can support expansion hubs. I wrote about this new Chromebook here.
In conclusion, Chrome OS has come a long way since I first used the OS several years ago. The feature set has also grown along with footprint on hardware. With the ability to run android and linux apps there’s no shortage of options for the average user.