Hands on: Google's new $999 Chromebook Pixel makes big changes under the hood

google chromebook pixel 2015 3qtr front

Google's new Chromebook Pixel for 2015 doesn't look very different on the outside, but inside it sports a new CPU and other major enhancements. 

Credit: Image: Rob Schultz

Two years is eons in tech time, and that’s how long we’ve had to wait for a new Chromebook Pixel, which Google announced Wednesday. Yes, this is a new version of the super-premium, high-priced flagship that debuted to oohs, ahhs, and why?s in early 2013, when most Chromebooks were little cheap plastic things, and desktop applications dominated. Not everyone saw the potential of a high-priced browser box.

Fast-forward two years: Chromebook sales are strong, and we’re living more in the cloud than ever. As “Pixel 2” rumors swirled in recent weeks, we honestly wondered how much more this machine could have than it already does.

Now we have our answer. There's no sign of tablet-like functionality as rumored, but this new Pixel is once again touting a vision of greater online things to come. While we work on our full review, here’s a closer look at the newest, fanciest Chromebook ever.  

Mostly subtle changes on the outside

google chromebook pixel 2015 left vs pixel 2013 right Image: Rob Schultz

Compared side by side, the 2015 (left) and 2013 (right) Chromebook pixels look almost identical. The 2015 model is slightly lighter and thinner. 

If you hefted the new Pixel, as I did, you might notice it’s slightly lighter than before (3.3 pounds compared to 3.35 pounds) and even a scant millimeter thinner (15.3 compared to 16.2). Otherwise, it has the same sleek aluminum shell and gorgeous high-resolution display as the original, and its other outward changes are mostly subtle. Perhaps that’s why Google chose, confusingly, not to give this new generation of its flagship a serial number ‘2.’

The important changes are under the hood, and the biggest is the CPU. The first model’s Intel Ivy Bridge chip had plenty of power but disappointing battery life—five hours by Google’s spec, but barely more than three hours in our review of the original Pixel. Two years later, Intel’s new Broadwell processors offer performance and battery life to spare. Here’s a peek at the performance we’re seeing so far.

google new chromebook pixel octane2 Image: Google

As the chart above shows, the new Pixel is about 28 percent faster than its predecessor in Google’s own Octane 2 Javascript test, which measures latency when running browser-based applications. We asked Andrew Bowers, Google’s Director of Consumer Hardware, what kinds of apps would need all that power. “Gaming,” he replied, naming Bastion as an example. “Or having 50 tabs open, or driving multiple displays,” added Product Manager Adam Rodriguez.

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