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Chromebooks on a tear? Fear not: More horsepower coming

Chromebooks are finding a home in the education market. But as makers expand their lineups, the devices are expected to gain more processing power.

The lineup of HP, Dell, Toshiba, and Acer Chromebooks at Intel's CES booth.
The lineup of HP, Dell, Toshiba, and Acer Chromebooks at Intel's CES booth. Brooke Crothers

LAS VEGAS -- As Chromebooks become more mainstream, they'll gain more processing power to take on games.

Most Intel-based Chromebooks today come with Celeron processors -- that's a step below the low-end Core i3 processor.

New Dell and Toshiba Chromebooks -- shown off at the Consumer Electronics Show this week for the first time -- are both powered by Haswell, aka fourth-generation Core, Celeron chips.

While those processors, so far, have proved adequate for the low-cost laptops, that's going to change later this year as the appeal of Chromebooks broadens and device makers expand their lines, according to a source at CES familiar with Intel's Chromebook strategy.

Some Chromebooks will move up to Intel's mainstream U series of Haswell processors, for example, the chip of choice for most Windows 8.1 ultrabooks.

That need will be driven, in part, by HTML5 gaming, which will require more horsepower than a Celeron can deliver, the source said.

The problem is, Celeron-based Chromebooks don't use Intel's higher-end Iris graphics silicon.

(An exception is the pricey Chromebook Pixel, which uses a mainstream Core i5 processor.)

So far, the Google Chrome OS-based laptops have been popular in the education market, but are expected gain traction in other segments where customers spend the majority of their time inside the Chrome browser, the source said.

A report from the NPD Group last month showed the Google Chrome-based laptops grabbed about one-fifth of sales in commercial laptop channels -- which the report said was largely shipments to educational institutions -- in a 12-month period, up from virtually nothing the year before.

One reason for their popularity is price. They're typically priced between $200 and $300. In addition, some organizations, such as those in education, only need Google services such as Google Docs and Google Drive, according to NPD.

The Dell Chromebook 11 will be available in January.
The Dell Chromebook 11 will be available in January. Dell