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Acer's Chromebook 13 runs Nvidia's Tegra K1 processor; prices start at $280

Melissa Riofrio | Aug. 12, 2014
Acer's new Chromebook 13, announced and available for pre-sale Monday, brings advanced processing power to a category that's better known for pushing cheaply made, basic browsing machines.

Acer's new Chromebook 13, announced and available for pre-sale Monday, brings advanced processing power to a category that's better known for pushing cheaply made, basic browsing machines.

Its 13.3-inch display alone would garner attention (most Chromebooks have squinty 11-inch screens), but it's what's inside that really counts — and it ain't Intel. The Chromebook 13 runs Nvidia's Tegra K1 chip, a mobile processor announced at CES early this year.

The Tegra K1 is a 32-bit, quad-core ARM Cortex-A15 CPU, with an industry-first 192 graphics cores. You can count em yourself, right on the die shot shown here.

It sounds like something that would run fast, but hot. Quite the contrary, says Nvidia. In a briefing with PCWorld, the company showed a prototype Chromebook 13 that didn't even have cooling fans.

The company explained that in addition to the four main CPUs, which can be independently enabled and disabled to adjust power consumption, the chip runs basic online activities, such as web browsing and email, on yet one more core that's tuned to be battery-efficient. According to Nvidia this architecture lets the Acer Chromebook 13's HD version last up to 13 hours on a single charge, while the Full HD versions will last up to 11.5 hours (more on their configurations below). Either time is long for any laptop, let alone a Chromebook.

As for performance, Nvidia showed benchmarks running the Tegra K1 against other processors common in Chromebooks up to now; namely, Samsung's Exynos 5250 and 5800 chips, and Intel's Celeron N2830. Not surprisingly, the Tegra K1 smoked the competition on WebGL 3D graphics, but it also finished ahead of the pack in a multitasking test, running Google Docs along with the Songza streaming service and a handful of other websites.

Some might wonder why all this power is necessary for web browsing. That was a good question two years ago, but Chromebooks — and really, Chrome OS — has grown a lot since then. The new generation of Chrome apps can run offline and store locally, making them much easier for businesses and schools to use.

And use them, they will: Nvidia showed us apps that take advantage of the WebGL JavaScript API to build gorgeous 3D graphics — whether it's for an astronomy lesson, a game, or a vivid presentation. The Tegra K1 is even geared to run Google Hangouts smoothly, allowing up to 10-way conversation in HD resolution.

All this power comes in a package that weighs just 3.31 pounds and measures 0.71 inches thin, distinctively designed and built to stay busy. Let's start with the 13.3-inch display. I've suffered through more 11-inch, 1366x768 displays than I care to recall. The base-model (CB5-311-T7NN), $279 Acer Chromebook 13's display is the same resolution, but at least you get more screen real estate.

 

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