How to Choose a Chromebook

By Mark LaFay

Given the nature of Chrome OS, Chromebooks do not require extremely high-powered hardware to provide an excellent user experience. Even so, the great variety of manufacturers and hardware specifications available can make choosing a Chromebook somewhat difficult.

Chromebook screen

These days, the options available for computer screens are almost endless. They include

  • High-definition screens: High-definition screens may be important if you use your computer to stream video. High definition will ensure the videos you stream look fantastic.

  • Touch screens: You may be a tactile person or just used to working on a tablet. For you, the touchscreen will be of great value because you can interface with your Chromebook in much the same way you would a tablet or smartphone.

  • Screen sizes ranging from 10 to 15 inches or greater: A larger screen may be ideal for you if you have a visual impairment or if you prefer having multiple windows open at once and simply need the extra screen real estate.

    On the other hand, maybe you travel quite a bit and dislike carrying a heavy, large-screen computer. In that case, a small-screen Chromebook is for you. This figure shows several popular Chromebook models with different screen sizes.

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Chromebook processor

Your processor is the first key hardware feature that impacts the overall performance of your computer. The overall speed of your processor is determined by a few factors:

  • Processor speed, measured in gigahertz (GHz): This rating indicates how fast your processor can perform calculations. The higher the number, the faster the calculations.

  • Number of cores: Each core can perform one operation at a time. Multiple cores means multiple processes can happen at once. Hence, more cores = a faster processor.

  • Processor cache, measured in kilobytes (K) or megabytes (MB): Cache is ultra-fast memory. Whenever you ask your computer to do something, the instruction gets pulled from your computer memory and loaded into the processor cache. In essence, processor cache is like the on-deck batter in baseball.

Chromebook memory

Another key driver in computer performance is the quantity of memory present. Memory is high-speed, short-term storage. When you open a program, the program is loaded into memory so that it can be run. Naturally, the more memory you have, the more programs can be run simultaneously.

Chromebooks, however, don’t load many programs into memory. The only real program that runs in memory is the Chrome web browser and the websites and applications that run within Chrome.

Therefore, a large amount of memory is not necessary. Memory is measured in gigabytes (GB), and your Chromebook should have anywhere from 2GB to 4GB. Two gigabytes, however, will be adequate for the average user.

Chromebook hard drive

The hard drive is where all your computer’s data is stored. Hard drives are referred to as non-volatile storage — meaning they do not require a constant electrical charge to remember what is stored on them.

Accessing data on a hard drive is much slower than it is with memory. Hard drives, however, are capable of storing vast amounts of data. The speed at which your hard drive can serve up the data is the third key driver in computer performance.

With most computers, a large hard drive is necessary to store all of your files — music, videos, and so on. Because you don’t install software on a Chromebook, a large hard drive isn’t important.

Google offers cloud storage with Google Drive, which means that all of your music, documents, videos, and other files are stored on remote servers accessible via the Internet. This means that when selecting a Chromebook, 32GB to 64GB of hard-drive storage will be more than adequate.

Internet connection

To be fully useful, all Chromebooks require an Internet connection. The connection can come in two forms:

  • All Chromebooks have built-in Wi-Fi to connect to wireless networks.

  • Some Chromebook models have cellular options so that you can activate a wireless Internet data plan with a national provider like Verizon or AT&T.

If you think you will not typically be in a place where there is accessible Wi-Fi, and you don’t have a mobile hotspot or a phone that can produce a mobile hotspot, then you should consider purchasing a Chromebook with the cellular option built in.

Chromebook battery

Battery life, which is usually a major issue with portable devices, is a key feature of the Chromebook. If you compare the specifications of different devices, you’ll find that the more powerful devices typically show a lower battery life.

Choosing a Chromebook with high battery life means you’ll be able to work on your Chromebook longer before you need to plug it in. Battery life that is over seven hours is ideal. Battery life over 8 1/2 or 9 hours is excellent.

Chromebook SD card slot

SD cards are small portable storage devices that are typically found in digital cameras. They are handy for storing and transferring photos, among other file types, between devices. Some Chromebooks come with an SD card slot. Having the ability to quickly add external storage with an SD card is valuable, especially if you have a large collection of photos or other files that you want to access quickly.

Chromebook HDMI support

HDMI is a type of interface primarily used for high-definition video and audio. If you want to use a high-definition external monitor, you should make sure your Chromebook comes with an HDMI port.

HDMI ports make it possible to use your television as an external monitor. Connecting your Chromebook to your TV via HDMI turns your Chromebook into a portable media center!

Chromebook USB ports

USB has become the standard for attaching devices to devices. It has also become the standard for digitally powering electronic devices. The question you need to ask yourself when selecting a Chromebook is not if there is a USB port, but how many USB ports it has.

If you use a USB mouse and you need another port for a keyboard or external storage device, you should ensure that your Chromebook has more than one USB port.