During a private demo session with Nvidia, I was shown just what the Tegra K1 can do. Sure, I felt a bit of flex from the keyboard under the pressure of my fingers, but what were you expecting for a sub-$400 laptop? The trackpad was also a delight to use in a light puzzle game demo, but wasn't anything stand-out about the device.
Tapping into Tegra
But more importantly, during that same demo were several displays of how well the Tegra K1 handles not only 3D model rendering and video playback, but multitasking. With past Chromebooks, like the Toshiba Chromebook, I've lamented a bit at their lack of multitasking capability. At least based on this early demonstration, Nvidia's SoC seems poised at nipping that problem in the bud.
The demo involved an Acer Chromebook 13 stood up next to a competing Asus Chromebook, both with four websites open in separate windows. Two were Flash-heavy news pages, one was streaming audio over Wi-Fi and the final was a Google Docs spreadsheet with a simple but extensive exponent macro loaded.
Naturally, when the two units executed the macro simultaneously, the Acer finished the task in almost half the time it took the Asus, equipped with an Intel Bay Trail-M, dual-core N2830 chip clocked at 2.42GHz. I only say "naturally" because, of course Nvidia would set up a competitive test in which its product came out on top, but it's nevertheless an example of the Tegra K1's quad-core prowess.
Just hangin' out
Through this very chip, Nvidia tells me that the Acer Chromebook 13 is also one of the few Chrome OS devices that is optimized for Google Hangouts. This means that, thanks in part to its 192 GPU cores, the Tegra K1 can handle more simultaneous streams in a Hangout chat than competing chips.
Plus, thanks to a special battery-saver core – whatever that means – the Chromebook 13 is said to last up to 13 hours (but just 11 hours for the FHD model). That would be an unprecedented lasting time, longer even than the reigning champion of battery life, the 13-inch MacBook Air.
That said, we'll be the judge of both that and its multitasking capabilities, among other claims from both Acer and Nvidia, when we give the Chromebook 13 the full review treatment later this year.
For Nvidia to enter the Chromebook race was initially surprising, but made more sense when I considered where its flagship SoC already is. And after getting some brief time with the Acer Chromebook 13, this seems like the next logical step for the category.
This breed of laptops already has the simplicity and value down pat – now it's time to pump up the productivity power and panache. While I only had about an hour with the device, Acer's latest Chromebook appears to have both in spades.
The following Acer Chromebook 13 models are available now for pre-order: one with the standard 1,366 x 768 display, 2GB of memory and 16GB solid-state drive for the usual $279 (about £165, AU$300) at Amazon; and one with a sharper 1,920 x 1,080 display, 2GB of RAM and a 16GB SSD for $299 (around £177, AU$322) at BestBuy.
Finally, you can score a souped-up version of that FHD version, with 4GB of RAM and a 32GB SSD, at Amazon for $379 (about £225, AU$408). Plus, every model comes packing 802.11ac Wi-Fi to boot. Stay tuned for our full review coming later this year.
Additional reporting provided by Kane Fulton