Chromebooks in 2024

Updated 13-Apr-2024

There are low-end and high-end Chromebooks. This is about relatively low-end devices, specifically an ASUS C214MA which is a cheap, somewhat small, ruggedized device meant for the schooling market. It has an 11.6" HD+ screen and a 4gb/32gb RAM/ROM configuration.

In our household we've run up against the limits of this device in a variety of ways:

  • Too laggy for playing Android games such as Roblox
  • Not enough storage to have a number of profiles installed (especially if one or more use the Linux subsystem, as well as Android apps).
  • A bit heavy and clunky (inelegant), compared with our previous chromebook the ASUS C101PA which worked mighty fine until my 6 year old son precipitously dropped it on its edge.

And so we come to the real meat of this missive: what is this (and other low-end Chromebooks) for, exactly?

What low-end Chromebooks cannot do (well)

The main idea is to understand what the Chromebook (low-end, in any case) will not do:

  • Video editing (specifically, rendering)
  • Gaming (specifically, Roblox and similar)

Storage issues

The big problem with Chromebooks is that they are generally underpowered. However, with 4gb of RAM and 32gb of storage, a Chromebook is fine when dealing with standard fare Android applications and many Linux applications. While tasks such as video editing and gaming are possible, this is not the strong suite.

The ASUS C214MA has a microSD card slot which is supposed to support up to 2tb. That said, the more reasonable storage options (price, reliability, availability) is the 256gb Sandisk High Endurance SD cards for ~1,000 THB. This means that a large amount of information can be replicated on the Chromebook and used as a temporary satellite. Perfect for light travel duty, or running to a coffee shop. But also handy as an emergency backup instance. The use of Syncthing, while not a robust backup system, does indeed (along with the FreeFileSync application, perform serviceable replication. Grabbing the chromebook and an external hard drive with the larger files, means one actually has everything with oneself.

Android applications

These seem to work adequately.

  • Alpha+ Player
  • AndrOffice
  • doubleTwist
  • Google Maps
  • Google Translate
  • Keepass2Android
  • Kiwi Browser
  • mpv
  • Obsidian
  • QuickEdit+
  • Syncthing
  • VLC
  • Zoom

Linux applications

Most of these can be installed using apt as the Linux subsystem is Debian 12.

  • Calibre and related (calibre)
  • Inkscape (inkscape)
  • Nano (nano)
  • Neofetch (neofetch)
  • Signal (installation instructions)
  • Xournal++ (xournalpp)

What Chromebooks might do well.

For most other tasks it is acceptable in performance as long as one keeps the app choices based on performance. The advantage of the Chromebook is being able to run Android apps as well as Linux (Debian 12) applications. This allows for complete mix-and-matching and switching back and forth between using the Android and Debian platforms, simultaneously, such as AdrOffice in Android and Inkscape in Linux. Signal works just fine in the Linux subsystem, at least on Chromebooks with intel processors.

The biggest problem is that even without the Linux environment, when using Android apps, the system utilization is simply ridiculous. Nearly all the ram and a good chunk of the processors are used when the system is idle. Trying to use something like Syncthing makes the system so slow as to make using it for anything else, even such as browsing the web, painful.

Yes, the very thing that might make the Chromebook usable (Android and Linux apps) are rendered unusable when there are few system resources such as low-end Chromebooks out of the box.

Reborn Chromebooks

The only thing to do with this kind of hardware is to install and boot Linux, without ChromeOS. That is, create a Debian Chromebook. Comparing processor and memory utilization under a standard Debian Stable installation, with the XFCE environment shows exactly how wrong-headed ChromeOS is.