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Hands on: Google's new US$999 Chromebook Pixel makes big changes under the hood

Melissa Riofrio | March 12, 2015
Two years is eons in tech time, and that's how long we've had to wait for a new Chromebook Pixel, which Google announced Wednesday. Yes, this is a new version of the super-premium, high-priced flagship that debuted to oohs, ahhs, and why?s in early 2013, when most Chromebooks were little cheap plastic things, and desktop applications dominated. Not everyone saw the potential of a high-priced browser box.

Two years is eons in tech time, and that's how long we've had to wait for a new Chromebook Pixel, which Google announced Wednesday. Yes, this is a new version of the super-premium, high-priced flagship that debuted to oohs, ahhs, and why?s in early 2013, when most Chromebooks were little cheap plastic things, and desktop applications dominated. Not everyone saw the potential of a high-priced browser box.

Fast-forward two years: Chromebook sales are strong, and we're living more in the cloud than ever. As "Pixel 2" rumors swirled in recent weeks, we honestly wondered how much more this machine could have than it already does.

Now we have our answer. There's no sign of tablet-like functionality as rumored, but this new Pixel is once again touting a vision of greater online things to come. While we work on our full review, here's a closer look at the newest, fanciest Chromebook ever.  

Mostly subtle changes on the outside

If you hefted the new Pixel, as I did, you might notice it's slightly lighter than before (3.3 pounds compared to 3.35 pounds) and even a scant millimeter thinner (15.3 compared to 16.2). Otherwise, it has the same sleek aluminum shell and gorgeous high-resolution display as the original, and its other outward changes are mostly subtle. Perhaps that's why Google chose, confusingly, not to give this new generation of its flagship a serial number '2.'

The important changes are under the hood, and the biggest is the CPU. The first model's Intel Ivy Bridge chip had plenty of power but disappointing battery life — five hours by Google's spec, but barely more than three hours in our review of the original Pixel. Two years later, Intel's new Broadwell processors offer performance and battery life to spare. Here's a peek at the performance we're seeing so far.

As the chart above shows, the new Pixel is about 28 percent faster than its predecessor in Google's own Octane 2 Javascript test, which measures latency when running browser-based applications. We asked Andrew Bowers, Google's Director of Consumer Hardware, what kinds of apps would need all that power. "Gaming," he replied, naming Bastion as an example. "Or having 50 tabs open, or driving multiple displays," added Product Manager Adam Rodriguez.

Does that mean Chrome will be pushing for more game development? Rodriguez and Bowers exchanged looks before Bowers hedged, "not in particular, but it definitely enables new use cases." Uh-huh. We're continuing to run other tests and will include the gory details in our full review, but so far, so fast for this Pixel's new Broadwell CPU.

The new Pixel will have two CPU choices. We have the base unit, whose $999 price — $300 cheaper than the first-gen's base model — includes a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 32GB SSD. For $1299, you can get the Pixel LS. The 'LS' stands, I kid you not, for "Ludicrous Speed." A Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, and a 64GB SSD await the lucky owners of this high-flying machine (Google did not provide LS review units.)

 

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