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Gadget of the Week

Play your way into the cloud

Acer has taken the Chromebook from education to cloud gaming, write ANGELIQUE MOGOTLANE and ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

What is it?

Until now, laptops running on Google’s Chrome operating system have been geared almost entirely to education. These Chromebooks tend to be low on both price and specs, and high on connectivity options.

The latter is key, as they are designed to be used in the cloud, meaning they don’t need large hard drives for storage or memory for processing. This brings down both the cost and weight, and extends battery life.

But what if you take the next step, and adapt Chromebooks for gaming in the cloud? That is exactly what Google is helping manufacturers like Acer, Asus and Lenovo create. Is it practical?

We tried the new Acer Chromebook 516 GE, specifically designed for cloud gaming.

It runs on a 12th Gen Intel Core i7 processor, with a fast 120Hz display, an RGB keyboard with anti-ghosting technology, advanced DTS audio, and support for leading cloud gaming platforms. It includes the highest performance tier of Nvidia’s GeForce NOW, Xbox, and Amazon Luna.

Streaming from Nvidia’s SuperPOD means one is using a powerful gaming supercomputer in the cloud, which enables games to be streamed at 1600p and 120 frames per second. That makes for powerful gaming visuals on the high-resolution WQXGA (2560×1600) IPS display. A narrow bezel around the screen allowed for a 16-inch display, which enhances the immersiveness of the experience,

DTS audio ensures distortion-free sound via two upward-firing speakers and two downward-firing speakers, with force-cancelling woofers limiting vibration.

A highlight of the device is the RGB gaming keyboard, with the coloured backlights adding to the gameplay experience. One can select one of seven colours or a 4-colour option. The keyboard uses anti-ghosting technology for accurate keyboard inputs and key combinations. 

The 516 GE provides instant access to games via the Chrome browser, which is geared to searching for information and games. It delivers excellent cloud gameplay experience. providing fast response and smooth movement. Its immersive sound enhances the gaming experience, as does the bright and crisp display.

For cloud gaming, connectivity options are key. The 516 GE includes an RJ-45 2.5G Gigabit Ethernet LAN port, Wi-Fi 6E, dual USB Type C, USB Type A, HDMI, and Bluetooth 5.2. That makes it more versatile from a connectivity point of view than almost any recent laptop we have seen right out of the box.

Of course, it is not only for gaming: It is ideal for simple tasks like online browsing, emailing, and document editing, which perform adequately. However, it only has 256GB storage, which will be a hindrance for those who wish to save a large number of files and media on the device rather than in the cloud.

Long battery life – up to 9 hours – adds to the convenience of the machine. Despite being lightweight and portable, the build quality is strong, and the matte black finish gives it a professional appearance.

What does it cost?

It retails for a recommended R19,999, but shop around, as price varies depending on specs.

Why does it matter?

James Lin, general manager for notebooks and IT products business at Acer, puts it this way: “The Acer Chromebook 516 GE sets the stage for a new era of Chromebooks with the focus squarely on gaming; it combines the ideal collection of gaming hardware, game-streaming support for NVIDIA GeForce NOW’s top tier and easy access to popular game titles from the leading cloud gaming platforms. Chromebooks have secured their position as an indispensable tool for education, work, entertainment and personal productivity, so now it’s time to have more fun.”

What are the biggest negatives?

  • It cannot handle too much multitasking, and the limitations become obvious when working with multiple windows open.
  • At 256GB storage, one may need to add an external device for additional backup storage.
  • It is an expensive option, given the features offered by regular Windows or Mac laptops at a similar price.

What are the biggest positives?

  • Using a Chromebook requires minimal software installation: it is ready to use as it is turned on. 
  • Software updates are automatic.
  • Great battery life.
  • Fast, responsive Internet searching and browsing
  • Fast access to games, including free online options.
  • Lightweight and easy to carry around.
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