There’s no doubt that as Chromebooks have boomed in popularity over the last year, a certain price point has shown itself to be the most attractive to buyers. Surprisingly, it isn’t always the lowest possible price that attracts consumers. While it clearly isn’t’ the $800+ devices, either, there’s a middle ground in between the two that hits the sweet spot for a Chromebook. As a utility device, this makes sense on some levels. Sure, a guy like me who can contain their entire workflow within the bounds of Chrome OS is fine to look at nicer, more-expensive hardware to elevate my daily computing experience. For many users, though, a Chromebook is there to simply get the basics done and high prices don’t make a ton of sense for them.
An example. Say you have a fixed budget to buy a laptop and need a list of 5-10 things you’ll need from that device. No matter how nice it feels, looks or performs, if it can’t complete the tasks you purchased it for, the perceived value declines sharply. This is still how many view Chromebook value. They aren’t wanting to buy multiple computing devices. They want to buy just one, so the perception of value in a Chromebook goes down if that one particular app they really need isn’t possible to use with Chrome OS. Thus, for many, the lower-priced Chromebook has become very, very attractive. In that sort of price range, the perceived value is in line with more users and they may be just fine looking for workarounds with a machine that saved them quite a bit of cash at the register. And this is where Intel’s small-core Chromebooks shine.
Not always the case
This hasn’t always been true, though. For many years, small-core Intel Chromebooks have been affordable, but slow. Part of the low-price Chromebook is low-priced build materials, but for many years it also meant low-performing processors, too. For the right price, I can look past a crummy screen, plastic chassis, and mediocre keyboard. What I used to always loathe in low-cost Chromebooks was performance. I can eventually add enhancements a poorly-built Chromebook with things like a USB keyboard, mouse and external display. I can’t swap the processor, though, and for years Intel’s small-core chips were simply too slow and laggy for me to recommend.
Last year’s Gemini Lake processors changed that, though. Instead of frustratingly slow performance, these chips (like the Celeron N4000 in the Samsung Chromebook 4) actually made getting stuff done a decent experience. They weren’t blazing fast, but they didn’t get in your way, either. That’s all we should ask of cost-cutting processors after all, and Intel really delivered on that. Prices stayed down, performance was up, and for the first time I felt I could easily recommend these cheaper Chromebooks to general consumers.
Jasper Lake comes in and simply improves on what Gemini Lake already did well. We can expect low prices, faster performance, and Chromebooks that have slightly-better build quality at the same price points we saw with Gemini Lake devices. According to what Intel shared at CES 2021, we’re talking some pretty big performance enhancements like up to 144% improvement in overall Chromebook performance, 162% faster web application performance, Wi-Fi 6, and better camera performance. Take a look:
But all this extra speed at the same low costs wouldn’t be that interesting if we didn’t have Chromebooks on the way with these chips inside, would it? Well, for starters, we already have a few confirmed announcements of devices on the way from both HP and Acer with 5 total Chromebooks touting the new Jasper Lake processors. But that is quite literally the tip of the iceberg as we know that prior to today we were tracking at least 11 of these Chromebooks and today, we’re adding a bunch more to the list. Here are the new additions:
With these 9 new boards, this gets us up to 20 total, unique Jasper Lake boards in development. Keep in mind, any one of these boards could end up being responsible for for more than one production Chromebook, so we’re looking at an absolute slew of devices on the way. As we get closer to the standard education buying cycle (generally the middle of the year for most), I’d expect the number of announced Jasper Lake-powered Chromebooks to increase soon, but I’m also expecting quite a few of these to be non-EDU oriented.
Chromebooks with Jasper Lake internals will likely be solid performers and hopefully will allow manufacturers to squeeze in things like better screens and keyboard into their builds with this generation of low-end Chromebooks. In the consumer space, it is quite clear what people are looking for, and I think Jasper Lake could deliver great performance on a tighter budget than its larger-core siblings. It could be very interesting to see companies choose to include much better build materials with this generation of low-cost Chromebooks since the internals won’t be a hindrance to purchase. The time is right for this sort of evolution of the “cheap Chromebook” and I’m ready for it.