Chromebooks have become increasingly popular over the past decade, with Google developing many workarounds for running popular applications and games, such as containers for Android and Linux apps. Google is now going all-in on cloud gaming for Chromebooks.
Chromebooks have already worked well with most cloud game services, since many popular platforms only need the Chrome browser. However, Google is now working with manufacturers to develop Chromebooks specifically for cloud gaming, which is a bit of a strange concept — the entire point of cloud gaming is to play games on low-cost hardware or devices you already own. There will be three gaming Chromebooks to start, with more likely to follow in the coming months.
First is the Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming Chromebook, which has a spacious high refresh rate 120Hz 16-inch screen, Wi-Fi 6E, an RGB keyboard, and up to a 12th-generation Intel Core i5 CPU. It will start at $599, though Lenovo didn’t mention what the exact specifications will be for the entry-level model.
The Acer Chromebook 516E also has a 120Hz 16″ display and 12th-gen Intel processors. The model that will be sold in North America (CBG516-1H-53TY) will have a Core i5-1240P CPU, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB storage, and a price tag of $649.99.
Finally, ASUS has revealed the Chromebook Vibe CX55 Flip (model CX5501). It has an even higher refresh rate screen, running at 144Hz on a 15.6″ panel. There are no RGB lights on the keyboard, but it does have the WASD keys outlined in orange, and it has the same 2-in-1 convertible design as other ASUS Chromebook Flip laptops.
There is one significant difference between these Chromebooks and traditional gaming laptops, besides the operating system — none of the Chromebooks have a discrete graphics card. That’s not a problem for cloud games, and reduces weight and price, but that will be an issue whenever Steam for Chrome OS rolls out widely (or if you install Steam in the existing Linux layer). You’ll still have to rely on cloud gaming for more advanced titles, even if you have a gaming Chromebook.
The new hardware comes with a slightly-tweaked Chrome OS software experience. Gaming Chromebooks will prominently show cloud gaming services during the setup process, and games appear in the search bar in the app launcher. The models will also come with a three-month free trial for Amazon Luna+ and the RTX 3080 tier of NVIDIA GeForce Now.
Google has worked with Amazon, NVIDIA, and Xbox Cloud Gaming to improve performance and responsiveness on Chromebooks, and each service has an installable Progressive Web App (PWA) for easy access in the app menu and launcher. GeForce Now will support up to 1600p and 120Hz streaming, while Xbox and Luna will run at 60 FPS and 1080p.
Google is even working with gaming accessory manufacturers to make keyboards, mice, and other devices more usable on Chrome OS. Lenovo, HyperX, Steelseries, and Corsair are working on devices compatible with Chromebooks, and some of them are building Progressive Web Apps for customization, like remapping buttons or changing lights on a mouse. Some stores will bundle a Steelseries 3 Gaming Mouse with purchases of gaming Chromebooks.
It remains to be seen how compelling Chromebooks for gaming will be to the general public, especially considering most Chromebooks already provide a capable cloud gaming experience, and real gaming laptops are starting to recover from the chip shortage-induced price hikes. Even if you’re not interested in cloud gaming, the new models look like excellent general-purpose Chrome OS machines, especially since some of them have ports rarely found on Chromebooks (like Ethernet).