Tech Innovation

Chrome Computing Catches On, Branches Out

Ken Kaplan Executive Editor, iQ by Intel

New Chrome OS computing devices among the first in the world to be powered by conflict-free mineral processors by Intel.

The world’s top PC makers unveiled new lines of Chromebook laptops, Chromebox desktops and Chromebase all-in-one computers for students, businesses and just about anyone eager for new computing experiences based on Google’s Chrome operating system.

[See the full list of new Intel powered Chrome OS devices revealed on May 6, 2014]

Google describes the Chrome OS as a way to get a fast, simple and more secure computing experience for people who spend most of their time on the web.

Based on the Chrome browser, the Chrome OS was initially designed for Internet-connected experience, however, Google has been working on updates to many of their popular applications so that they will work even without an internet connection.

The range of new Chrome OS devices from Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo, LG Electronics and Toshiba revealed for the first time during an event in San Francisco, Calif., illustrated how Chrome is becoming more widely accessible and useful in people’s lives. Entirely new Chromebox and Chromebase devices show that device makers see new opportunities for Chrome OS experiences, and a new class of Chromebooks powered by Intel Core processors (codenamed Haswell) could be evidence that device makers believe previous Chromebook owners are hungry for more performance.

“Computing is changing,” said Caesar Sangupta, product management director at Google.

“We’re in a flux,” he said. “More users are trying new form factors to find new uses.”

The affordability and cost of ownership – many Chromebooks cost only a few hundred dollars — their ease of use and ability to connect to printers, cameras and other digital devices are all contributing to their success. They also get better over time, according to Sangupta.

“Every six weeks they update (with new software), so they keep getting better over time,” he said. “It’s a differentiator.”

He also said that things like Google Now and voice command are coming to Chromebook devices, and the ability to watch favorite movies online or without an Internet connection.

What started out as a fledgling operating system—the Chrome OS—and an idea to connect users and their data to the cloud, has now resulted in some of the best-selling laptops in the world. Chromebook shipments are projected to grow to 11 million in 2019, up from 2.1 million in 2013, according to a report by ABI Research.

Sangupta said that seven of the top 20 notebooks sold today on Amazon are Chromebooks. He pointed out that the $199 Acer c720 is not only the top seller on Amazon, but reviewers have given it highest rating. And Chromebooks are becoming a more popular tool for schools. Over 10,000 schools have bought Chromebooks, up from 2,000 in September, said Sangupta.

These new devices not only come in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes, they also give people a chance to buy their first computer powered by a processor made with conflict-free minerals, which include gold, tantalum, tungsten and tin.

“Every device is among the first in the world to use conflict-free processors,” said Navin Shenoy, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Mobile Client Platforms Group.

He said these new conflict-free Intel processor-powered Chrome devices – built with Intel Celeron (codenamed Bay Trail-M) or Intel Core processor technology – will be available in 20 countries this summer, and many more by the end of the year.

In 2012, Intel committed to only manufacturing conflict-free microprocessors, something that required a new supply chain system for tracking materials that came from places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. The aim was to obtain essential minerals from mines where workers are not exploited and abused.

Following the release of these new Intel-powered Chrome devices, Business Insider reported “This Might Be The Best Reason Ever To Feel Good About Buying A Chromebook.

“We don’t need to describe the type of abuses that go on in these mines,” wrote the publication. “We’ll just say that they involve capturing people, including children, forcing them to work in the mines and subjecting them to all sorts of horrors.”

In an interview with CNN, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said, “Public awareness will drive this at a much, much faster rate. If people are out making choices based on these kinds of issues, then companies will move quicker (to making their products based on conflict-free minerals).”

Part of the allure of Chromebooks beyond their low cost is a free suite of Google communication and collaboration tools including email, calendar, and documents that allow students and teachers to share and collaborate from anywhere even outside the classroom.

According to Google, the systems can save schools on average $5,200 per device over three years.

“For K-12, the stars and moon have aligned such that a lot of content applications and custom content development platforms for educators have moved to using the web as the delivery vehicle,” said Jeff Orr, senior practice director at ABI Research. “This makes for an ideal setting for Chromebooks to deliver on affordability, manageability and usability without compromising the access to curriculum and tools needed by educators.”

Bedford Public Schools in Michigan is a classic example. They recently started shifting away from Microsoft software and Windows-based hardware to Google Apps and Chromebooks.

“From the day we started, Intel has been a really close and fun—partner,” Sengupta said. “It’s only when you have this kind of close tie-in that you are able to do a lot of the advances that are being made with speed, security and simplicity.”

These close ties between Google and Intel has led to better overall experiences, including multitasking, even while running computationally intensive applications like Google Hangouts, which Shenoy demonstrated.

“We have been working on five generations of Chrome and after Google, Intel is the largest contributor to the Chromium OS and the first and only to support 64-bit Chrome OS,” said Shenoy.

According to Sengupta, as people realize they can do more with Chrome they will expect more.

“Now it’s about understanding what people can do with it,” he said “We want to see what works best for people and based on that we will innovate.”

When new Chromebooks come out this summer, there will be fan-less devices with more battery life. Due to power-saving optimizations in the Intel Celeron (Bay Trail-M) chips, many of the new Chromebooks are energy efficient enough that they don’t need cooling fans. That energy efficiency also translates into long battery life. Intel technology is helping new Chromebooks deliver up to, and even more than, 11 hours of battery life.

For the first time, all the updated Chromebooks will include an Intel wireless chipset delivering 802.11 ac Wi-Fi, which can provide 3X the data transfer speeds of current 802.11n wireless networking.

There is also a new class of Chrome device that provide more performance. Chromebooks and other Chrome devices will get powerful computing performance from Intel Core i3 processor technology. When asked what had changed the most over the years in the Chrome lineup, Shenoy said, “The No. 1 thing that users have asked for is more performance.” This has led many device makers to offer higher end, better performing Chromebooks.


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