As the covid epidemic drove classrooms online in early 2020 school districts were forced to purchase large quantities of affordable laptops they could send with their students. Many have turned to Chromebooks.

In a report titled Chromebook Churn, published three years after the initial batch was released, US Public Interest Research Group Education Fund concluded that many of these Chromebooks are beginning to fail. This could cost districts money. PIRG estimates “doubling the lifetime of Chromebooks” would result in $1.8bn in savings to taxpayers. It also produces a lot of e-waste.

Repairability is a major problem. Chromebooks, on average are more difficult to upgrade and fix than Windows laptops. The PIRG discovered that this is partly because replacement parts for screens, keyboards, hinges and other elements are harder to find. These are the ones that are most vulnerable to drops, jolts and jostles that can occur during school.

Researchers found that almost half of the keyboards for Acer Chromebooks listed online were out-of-stock and that more than a third of them cost “$89.99, or even more,” which is about half the price of a $200 Chromebook. Some IT departments have resorted, PIRG reported, to purchasing extra Chromebooks for their parts.

The report states that “these high costs could make schools reconsider Chromebooks” as a way to save money.

The struggles outlined by PIRG may not be universal. Acer spokesperson Kelly Odle said in a TheVerge statement that it obtains most of its spare parts from the Premier Support Team. She also stated that keyboards are typically purchased for under $25. Acer provides spare parts to our customers who are under warranty for at least four years. The statement states that 95% of our spare parts were available within 24 hours after the order was placed.

Odle continued, “Acer has designed its Chromebooks for education with ruggedization of key areas, including hinges that extend the length the LCD assembly to increase rigidity and prevent flexing or cracking of LCD screens. We also use honeycomb designs in our plastics, which make them more durable, keys that are hard to remove and keyboards easy to repair.”

These high costs could make schools reconsider Chromebooks in terms of cost-saving strategies.

Chromebook Churn also discusses the Chromebook auto-updates expiration date, something users have complained about for years.

Google guarantees automatic updates for Chromebooks for eight years. However, this period begins only when Google certifies the Chromebook, not when the school receives it. This can be a lengthy process. The report revealed that by the time a school successfully purchases, receives, sets up and deploys a fleet, the Chromebook’s expiration date is usually “four to five” years away.

The paper warns that “when the software expires only a few years after a device is used, schools end up with boxes of computers and working components which are thrown away as electronic waste. They also need to purchase more Chromebooks.”

These short expiration dates make it harder for schools to resell the devices. Some have to pay more to recycle these devices. The Chrome OS logo on HP Dragonfly Pro Chromebook.

PIRG estimates “doubling the lifetime of the 31.8 millions Chromebooks sold by 2020 could reduce emissions by 4.6million tons CO2e” – equivalent to taking 900,000 cars off the roads for a whole year. The group also recommends that Google’s OEM partners produce a “minimum 10% overstock of replacement parts”, and that components are better standardized between Chromebook models.

The authors also suggest that Google should make Chromebooks easier to de-enroll from remote management, and install remote operating systems like Linux. This would make resale after AUE more attractive. The authors state that “not only is choosing the operating system a right of consumers, but it will extend the resale value and reuse of the laptop for years.”


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