Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review of Acer Chromebook 13 CB5-311-T1UU

I just got a new Chromebook. It's the new ARM-based one from Acer:
  • Processor: NVIDIA Tegra K1 Quad Core 2.1 GHz Processor
  • RAM: 4 GB
  • SSD: 32 GB
  • Screen: 13.3" @1920 x 1080 Matte Finish
  • GPU: NVIDIA Kepler GPU with 192 NVIDIA CUDA cores
  • Battery Life: 11 hours
  • Weight: 3.3 lbs (only 0.34 lbs more than a 13" Macbook air)
  • Cost (now): $379.99

It replaces my old (ordered July 14, 2012) Samsung XE550C22:
  • Processor: Celeron 867
  • RAM: 4 GB
  • SSD: 16 GB
  • Screen: 12.1" @ 1280 x 800 Matte Finish
  • GPU: Intel built-in
  • Battery Life: 6 hours
  • Weight: 3.1 lbs
  • Cost (then): $482.97
The new Acer Chromebook seems to be superior in every way to the Samsung 550 which I used very heavily and found quite satisfactory. (I used it so often I've worn out the battery.) I also have a Samsung ARM-based Chromebook (XE303C12), which I use for personal use. It is fine, but I find it a bit slow, especially with a lot of tabs open.

The first issue I'll deal with is the processor. In my old Samsung 550, the Celeron 867 chip Geekbench 3 scores are:

  • Single Processor: 1030
  • Multiple Processors: 1767
As it is a quad-core, the K1 in the Acer wins easily:
  • Single Processor: 1036
  • Multiple Processors: 3236

I didn't run Graphics benchmarks, but the Acer easily wins here... the K1's graphics are competitive with Haswell (Intel 4th gen) chips. The Sandy Bridge (Intel 2nd gen) 867 chips are much, much slower at graphics.

I haven't had a chance to really test the battery, but many other reviewers say the 11 hours is real. I got about 4-5 hours of heavy usage with the Samsung 550. I'll be quite pleased if the Acer gives me 9 hours of heavy usage - so far that seems likely.

The display... you may see other reviewers complain about this. It is a matte display. Apparently these other reviewers are Mac users and just don't know what a matte display is. In case you don't know... a matte display looks a bit "blurry" relative to the glossy displays which are the only ones available on a Mac. In the PC and Chromebook world, you have both kinds of displays. Glossy displays are great for viewing pictures, with crisper colors... BUT they are very bad about glare. Light from behind you will often get reflected into your eyes. A matte display overcomes the glare problem, but at the cost that things are not as crisp. I find it amazing how many of the authors reviewing the Acer Chromebook don't seem to understand what a matte display is. It's one thing to prefer a glossy display, it's another to say that a matte display is "inferior". The truth is the display on the Acer Chromebook is the best matte display I've every seen.

I've seen some reviewers talk about the Acer Chromebook lacking in performance. They were using the model with less memory... perhaps that is an issue... otherwise, I'd have to say they're nuts.
Sure, a Chromebook Pixel, with it's Core i5 processors will outperform the Acer -- ON CPU INTENSIVE TASKS... but, graphics-wise, the Acer is competitive. CPU intensive tasks are simply very rare on Chromebooks.

To give you an idea of how well the Acer works, I tested it as follows:
I started 3 tabs, with Pandora and two YouTube videos running. I then opened 15-20 tabs.
I then did various tasks like reading news via RSS, recording information in MyFitnessPal, and some developer related tasks that used significant CPU. I worked like this for about an hour (rather annoying with 3 audio streams going simultaneously). I encountered 3 very brief hiccups of one of the three audio streams... and I'm pretty sure it was a network bandwidth issue, not a CPU issue. In short, I am extremely pleased with the performance. It's much more capable than the Exynos 5250-based Samsung and HP Chromebooks. I also have the new Asus Chromebox and the LG Chromebase that are Intel Celeron 2955U Haswell based... I find the performance of the Acer Chromebook to be competitive with those systems. The 2955U is supposed to be 20% faster than the K1, but I believe its graphics is slower, and also ARM's chips have coprocessors for things like video decoding. The overall effect is that it feels similar.

In the end I have to say that this is the Chromebook I've been waiting for.
No fan, long battery life and a decent-resolution display. All for $379.
I'd take this any day over even a Chromebook Pixel.

UPDATE 9/24
The battery life seems to exceed 10 hours with my usual heavy usage. I'll update again in a month or so when I have more data points.

The Duolingo Android app works great on this machine. I had a great deal of difficulty on the Samsung 550 with it's ability to do voice recognition... it works great on the Acer... perhaps a better microphone?

Its keyboard and trackpad are very nice.

The lack of fan is wonderful.

Its webcam is quite good.

I keep looking for something negative... but so far I just cannot find anything.

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