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Pricey Chromebook Pixel: Built well but impractical to upgrade

Bill Detwiler cracks open the Google Chromebook Pixel and shows you why it's easy to open and service, but nearly impossible to upgrade.

Now playing: Watch this: Cracking Open the Google Chromebook Pixel

Unlike Chromebooks from Samsung, Acer, and HP, the Google-designed Pixel has both high-end hardware and a high-end price tag. On this week's episode of Cracking Open, I go inside the Pixel and show you why it's easy to service, but nearly impossible to upgrade.

Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

Full TechRepublic teardown gallery: Cracking Open the Google Chromebook Pixel

With pricing that starts at $1,299, the Pixel costs five times more than the top-selling $249 Samsung Chromebook. Why the huge difference? Hardware. The base-model Pixel ($1,299) has a third-generation 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, Intel Graphics HD 4000, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, a 32GB solid-state drive (SSD), and a touch-sensitive 12.85-inch display with a 3:2 aspect ratio (2,560x1,700-pixel resolution at 239 ppi). An LTE-equipped Pixel with 64GB of local storage is available for $1,449.

For more information on the Pixel, including real-world tests, check out Seth Rosenblatt's full CNET review.

Not only is the Pixel the best-equipped Chromebook on the market, its thin profile and sleek design make it the best-looking. But that's all on the outside. I'm more interested in how the machine is put together.

Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

Cracking Open observations

  • Easy-open case: Those comfortable working on laptops should have no trouble cracking open the Pixel. The case's bottom cover is held to the body with four screws (hidden beneath the unit's rubber feet) and two metal clips (one on each side of the cover). Once the screws are removed, you can pop the clips loose with a thin metal or plastic tool.
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

  • Clean internal hardware layout: The Pixel's internal hardware layout isn't quite as clean as the Apple MacBook Air's design, but it's not bad. The 59Wh Li-ion battery is located at the front of the case, with speakers on either side. The motherboard and cooling assembly run along the back.

  • Built solidly but impractical to upgrade: Overall, the Chromebook Pixel is built as well as other high-end, ultrathin machines. And cracking it open wasn't difficult. But, as with many laptops these days, there isn't much you can do once you get inside the case. Nearly everything is soldered to the motherboard and there really isn't anything to upgrade.
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

$1,300 for a Chromebook?
As for whether the Pixel is right for you, that's a tough question. It certainly has the hardware of a high-end laptop. But other than the touch screen, I'm not sure how much that hardware really improves the user experience. If the point of Google's Chrome OS is to have the cloud be your hard drive and handle the heavy lifting for most tasks, do you really need $1,300 in hardware? I think the jury is still out on that.

(A more detailed version of this story was first published on TechRepublic's Cracking Open.)