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What's Inside the Samsung Chromebook?

IHS iSuppli teardown reveals a design that's big on usability

2 min read
What's Inside the Samsung Chromebook?

The Samsung Series 5 Chromebook has arrived.

And, as always, the only reasonable thing to do is gut it and see what it's got. Wayne Lam of IHS iSuppli, did just that and posted what he found on iSuppli's website on 13 June, including a breakdown of hardware costs. The total cost of the physical device, including assembly but not licensing fees, is US $334.32 according to Lam's analysis. It will retail for $499, with 3G capability.

I called Lam up and asked him a few questions about the teardown. He thinks the Chromebook looks more or less like what you would expect a cloud-based machine to look like—"a thin computing client with little-to-nil storage and a 3G module." But it does hold a couple pleasant surprises.

Take apart most notebooks or netbooks and you'll find that the processor assembly easily trumps all the other components when it comes to cost, Lam told me. But for the Chromebook, CPU cost comes in third (at around $45, according to Lam), behind the display ($58), and the battery ($48.20). You can find Lam's complete itemized cost breakdown at the bottom of this page.

It makes sense that CPU cost would go down: since it relies on the cloud, the Chromebook shouldn't need as much native horsepower. What surprised Lam is that the display and battery costs came to the fore. He thinks Samsung is taking cues from Apple, for whom "the user experience dominates the design as well as the cost of the design.

Take the display: it's a 12.1-inch LCD, so it's larger, and thus more readable, than a typical netbook. But the high relative cost isn't only a result of the size. The LED backlighting is 50 percent brighter than Samsung's other 12-inch screens.

They are also pushing boundaries with the battery. The Chromebook has a 6-cell battery pack with a 7.4-volt lithium ion polymer battery that lasts 8.5 hours. It takes up roughly two-thirds the volume of the entire machine, according to Lam. In a typical notebook batteries comprise less than half of the total volume, he says. Because of its long life, Samsung decided to make the battery irremovable (just like the one in an iPad) allowing for a simpler, and cheaper, exterior design.

So, what is this thing? Is it a notebook or is it a netbook? It's the size of a notebook with an even better display, but it feels like a netbook with its minimal computing power and small price tag. Processor cache size doesn't clarify things either—at 2GB, the Chromebook's dual-core Intel Atom N570 falls right in between what's typical for each category. Lam didn't use either label, and actually sees the device as more akin to the iPad than PC notebooks or netbooks.

"Post-PC computing is taking shape," he says. "Apple's iPad was the pioneer—this is another design, and it addresses a different usage model."

I guess for the time being, it will simply be a "chromebook." And who knows, if and when cloud-based laptops take-off, "chromebook" just might become the next proprietary eponym—like Xerox or Band-Aid or…Google.

(click table to enlarge)

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