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Acer Chromebook 13 review: Acer Chromebook 13 brings Nvidia to the Chrome OS party

In other app tests, the usual suspects, from Netflix to Amazon Instant Video to Hulu all worked fine, and in particular Google Drive and its office applications felt especially zippy, which is not something one can always say about $500 low-power Windows 8 hybrids.

Google's office apps also benefit from the move to a 13-inch screen, which in turn leads to a larger, more usable keyboard when compared to more common 11-inch Chromebooks. Acer pairs a full-size island-style keyboard with a large buttonless touchpad. Important keys, such as Enter, Shift, and Ctrl are generously sized, and the solid body allows for virtually zero flex, even under heavy typing.

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Sarah Tew/CNET Note that the Chrome OS keyboard layout -- as dictated by Google -- has some subtle differences you'll need to adjust to if you're new to Chrome. The caps lock key is replaced by a search key, and the top row of function keys has a Chrome OS slate of commands, including page forward and back, and fullscreen mode. Another Chrome OS oddity, while Windows and Mac keyboards almost always have uppercase letters stamped on them, Chrome OS keyboards use lowercase letters.

The 13.3-inch 1,920x1,080 display is excellent for a $300 computer. It's not a touch screen, but that's rare in Chromebooks (you can find that feature in Acer's own C720p and the new Lenovo Yoga 11e Chromebook). Off-axis viewing was very good, but less so when tilting the screen vertically. A 1,366x768 version is also available, but the $20 price difference is so small, you might as well get the full-HD screen.

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Acer Chromebook 13

Video HDMI out
Audio Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack
Data 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

Connections, performance, and battery

As a Chromebook on the larger end of the scale, you might expect a few more ports and connections than an 11-inch model. The included HDMI output is welcome, but other than that, it's just a pair of USB 3.0 ports and an SD card reader. Including 802.11ac Wi-Fi is also a plus, especially considering the online nature of Chrome OS.

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Sarah Tew/CNET In a series of online benchmark tests, different from the traditional installed apps we use to test Windows and OS X systems, the Nvidia Tegra K1 processor matched up well against Intel-based Chromebooks, specifically one older model from HP and one newer one from Lenovo. In a more graphically challenging Web GL test, the Acer Chromebook 13 far outperformed the competition, showing the advantage you get in graphics performance from having a major graphics card company build your hardware platform.

This Nvidia-powered Chromebook felt a bit more robust than other models we've tried, but not outrageously so in most tasks. For the handful of graphically intense experiences available now for Chrome OS, it's an obvious advantage, and there's a wide-open future now for game development, although that requires developers to create game content for Chrome OS and Chromebooks, which largely has not happened yet.

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Sarah Tew/CNET Battery life gets a nice boost over other Chromebooks, running for an excellent 8:03 on an online streaming video test. That test differs from our Windows, Mac, and Android battery tests in that it requires a live internet connection and cloud-based HD video stream, which makes it more challenging in some ways.

Conclusion

The Acer Chromebook 13 is the first Nvidia-powered Chrome OS device we've seen, but it won't be the last. HP and others have similar designs coming soon, and with the growth of popularity in Chromebooks overall, there's a chance this won't always be an Intel-dominated category.

This particular configuration makes a compelling case, with a decent design, high-resolution screen, acceptable performance, and long battery life, all for $300. A handful of software incompatibility issues are annoying, and shows how early in the game this model is. Chromebooks with Nvidia processors perhaps need a little more time to work out all the kinks, but this is an excellent first step.

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Futuremark Peacekeeper test

1293

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

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Sunspider test

574

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance

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