Buying a laptop for under $400 likely means you’ll be in a world of pain once you witness the compromises you’ll get for that low price. However, if we’re talking about Chromebooks, you could get some mileage if Google’s lightweight operating system fits your specific use cases. Even a basic machine like the Acer Chromebook 314 laptop can get things done as long as you don’t push it too hard. Knowing this Chromebook’s boundaries requires a closer look at the operating system powering this machine – Chrome OS.
What is Chrome OS?
Chrome OS is a full operating system built around Google’s Chrome browser. If you can imagine loading up Windows on your laptop and the only “desktop application” you can run is Google Chrome, you can get a good sense of the Chrome OS life. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that Chrome OS is severely limited because its usefulness outside of Web browsing rides on two major areas – the Chrome extensions and the Web apps.
The Chrome Web Store is more than 12 years old and third-party developers continue to make useful apps that can enhance your Web browsing experience. Average Windows users might not need to explore the Chrome Web Store so much because of the vast third-party app ecosystem, but Chrome OS will force you to dig deeper, and you’ll eventually find some neat little productivity-enhancing gems.
Web apps are booming more than ever before as developers try to make their apps and services accessible to as many devices as possible from smartphones to desktops. By keeping all the code on the server side, updating apps and services become much easier and users don’t have to download large installers. This is why Chromebooks exist with storage capacities as low as 64 GB. One good and reliable Web app counts as one extra thing a Chromebook can do.
The Chrome browser experience doesn’t exactly define the boundaries of Chrome OS as the operating system has a few extra features. Like Windows, Chrome OS has a customizable taskbar where you can pin shortcuts to your favorite Web apps as well as a launcher where you can access more apps including some of the lightweight built-in system apps. You can also personalize the OS such as changing your wallpaper or adding extra users with Google accounts.
Chrome OS also has access to the Play Store allowing you to install Android apps just in case you might have a favorite mobile app you wish to use on your laptop. Don’t get too excited with this one especially if you’re looking to buy a budget Chromebook because Android apps are a bit more demanding in system resources and compatibility varies since most apps are designed for touch. Not all devices running Chrome OS including the Acer Chromebook 314 have a touchscreen.
Why Choose a Chromebook Over a Windows Laptop?
Windows laptops can hit a pretty attractive sub-$300 price point as well and obviously have the benefit of being able to run all sorts of apps and games even without an Internet connection. However, Windows is a juggernaut of an operating system filled with both legacy and modern code which some feel just isn’t efficient enough for basic hardware to run smoothly.
On paper, the Acer Chromebook 314 should meet the Windows 11 minimum requirements with its Intel Celeron N4020 processor and 4 GB of LPDDR4 RAM but even out of the box, Windows 11 will consume at least 3 GB of RAM and try to put stress on the SSD if it needs extra virtual memory. Windows Update and Defender can be pretty taxing for the Intel N4020 too with its slow dual cores.
I believe nobody should be using a dual-core 4 GB Windows laptop in 2023 as apps and operating systems continue to evolve and become more demanding. Chromebooks, on the other hand, run far more efficiently due to the basic nature of Chrome OS. More of that 4 GB RAM can be allocated for additional browser tabs and fewer background tasks mean prolonged battery life compared to a Windows system with the same specs. Chrome OS also requires less tinkering to get the performance and battery life you need although the Acer Chromebook 314 is a minor exception.
Acer Chromebook 314 – Bare minimum?
The Acer Chromebook 314 laptop is positioned at the very bottom of Acer’s Chromebook lineup as the company also offers other Chromebooks that cost more than double the amount but also boast twice as much RAM and CPU cores. Is having bare minimum performance worth the savings? Knowing your use case is key to appreciating the Acer Chromebook 314’s value.
For starters, you want to avoid using the Play Store feature altogether by disabling the Play Store option in the Chrome OS settings. Even if you don’t plan on installing Android apps, leaving the Google Play Store enabled will run some background tasks necessary for Android apps to function and it will bog down the performance of a dual-core 4 GB Chromebook like the Acer Chromebook 314. Android apps will run if you really insist on installing them, but expect the performance to drop a bit and try to avoid keeping too many browser tabs open especially if they run heavy background tasks.
If you use fewer than ten tabs at a time, you might have some available memory to install some extensions. Feel free to experiment with your favorite extensions and then launch the Task Manager by right-clicking on the title bar and clicking “Task Manager” to see how much memory those extensions are using. Typical extensions use less then 50,000 KB or 50 MB worth of memory but the Acer Chromebook 314 could still suffer from slowdowns if you try to visit heavy websites filled with ads, scripts, and other media.
The Acer Chromebook 314 is also equipped with 64 GB of flash memory. That isn’t a whole lot but I don’t find any issue with it since the laptop also has a pair of USB-C ports and USB-A ports for external drives. One of the USB-C ports also supports Power Delivery for charging as well as DisplayPort in case you wish to add an extra monitor. But even on its own, the Full HD 1080p display is adequate for watching Web videos and the built-in Wi-Fi 5 chip is more than capable of streaming high-quality HD footage.
Overall review: Acer Chromebook 314
I would describe the laptop Acer Chromebook 314 as a decent budget machine that will later serve as a “one task at a time” type of machine years later. We are entering the AI phase of the Web and AI is going to put a lot more strain on our systems as we try to come up with some clever prompts for whatever type of media response we want. Even if AI isn’t for you, websites will continue to evolve and feel more app-like, and push basic hardware to their limits. But if you don’t mind keeping your tabs and background activity to a bare minimum, the Acer Chromebook 314 will always be a superior performer compared to any Windows laptop with similar specs. The double-digit battery life and simplistic Chrome OS experience makes this Chromebook a good choice for students.
Acer Chromebook 314 ranges in price from $230-589CAD and $245+USD.
Of course if you want to see the future of Chromebooks, check out our review of the ASUS Chromebook Plus CX34, which doubles pretty much all of the key specs of this machine and add a boatload of artificial intelligence features to boot. Since it’s also very close to this one in price, it might be a more worthy option to upgrade.
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