Acer Ditches the Hard Disk with Its New $200 Chromebook

The cheapest Chromebook gets thinner, lighter and faster, with longer battery life.

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With its new $200 Chromebook, Acer finally gets what these browser-based laptops are all about.

Chromebooks are meant to get onto the web as quickly as possible, so it was puzzling that last year’s $200 Acer Chromebook shipped with a 320 GB hard disk drive. Solid-state storage is faster and more reliable, and as I wrote earlier this week, the fact that Chrome OS can fit on a 16 GB solid-state drive is one of its main advantages over cheap Windows laptops. Although a smaller solid-state drive won’t hold nearly as many photos or videos, that’s not much of a concern if you’re using a Chromebook as a secondary computer.

Acer’s new $200 Chromebook drops the hard disk drive for a 16 GB solid-state drive. It’s also much thinner and ligher than last year’s model, weighing 2.76 pounds and measuring 0.75 inches thick.

In fact, this new model is nearly identical to the $250 Chromebook that Acer launched last month, with an estimated 8.5 hours of battery life, an Intel Celeron processor, two USB ports, HDMI out and a full-sized SD card slot. Confusingly, they even share the same “C720” model number.

The only difference between Acer’s $200 and $250 Chromebooks is RAM. The cheaper model has 2 GB, while the more expensive one has 4 GB, but you probably won’t notice unless you keep dozens of browser tabs open at a time. My experience with HP’s Chromebook 11 (which also has 2 GB of RAM) suggests that memory management in ChromeOS has gotten pretty good, even on weaker machines.

I still have a review unit of the Acer’s $250 Chromebook, and while I appreciate its speed and battery life, I was more impressed┬áby the HP Chromebook 11’s lightness, solid keyboard and display quality. The Acer Chromebook feels like a much cheaper machine, with its whirring fans and washed out display.

But the $200 model is a different story. At an $80 advantage over HP’s Chromebook, Acer’s making a much more compelling argument for a “good enough” secondary computer. And that’s really what Chromebooks are best-suited for, as they rely solely on web-based applications and can’t install desktop programs like iTunes, Photoshop or Office.

If you actually liked the idea of a Chromebook with a roomy hard disk drive, odds are Acer won’t help you anytime soon. A spokeswoman told me the company has no plans to launch a C720 Chromebook with a hard disk inside. Your only option for now would be last year’s Acer C710, but keep in mind that it’s a thicker and heavier machine with inferior battery life, and it’s more expensive to boot.

Toshiba is also working on a Chromebook, but we don’t know what it’ll look like or when it’s coming. Asus also said this week that it will launch two Chromebooks early next year–an 11-inch model for $199, and a 13-incher for $249–but the specifics are still unclear.