77 Chromebooks you shouldn't buy: Why Google's expiration dates matter

Don't get stuck with a short-lived lemon

Credit: Michael Homnick / IDG

If you’re the kind of person who looks at the milk carton expiration date or squeezes the bread before you buy it, then you probably don’t want to buy these 77 Chromebooks.

That’s because after examining every single Chrome OS device listed in Google’s database, we’ve found a healthy amount of them that are about as fresh as a three-day old donut.

Google publishes expiration dates for Chromebooks on its support site here. But rather than drill down into each Chrome OS device maker’s to find out if just one particular Chomebook was expiring, we compiled a list of every single device and then sorted it by expiration date.

We found 51 expired devices, another 35 with just one year left of support. Another 29 had two years of “life” left and another 13 with less than three years. Frankly, that’s a lot of Chromebooks you could potentially purchase that will no longer get updates very soon after you buy it. All told, not counting the already expired Chromebooks, there’s 77 we think you may want to avoid right now. We’ll list those laptops bellow.

spoiled milk IDG

As of Aug. 2020, here’s how many ChromeOS devices are about to expire and when.

My Chromebook expires?!

The concept of an expired computer itself isn’t new, but Chrome OS has taken heat for years over it. Since Chromebooks are essentially low-cost hardware running a very lightweight Linux operating system as a vessel for the Chrome browser, few expected them to expire.

What’s a bit different with Chromebooks is that the hardware itself expires. With an “expired Windows 7 laptop,” for example, you can simply buy Windows 10 and keep using the laptop rather than buying a new one. With a Chromebook there is no option to buy an updated version of ChromeOS—the only answer to continue getting updates from Google is to buy a new one. 

Google’s End of Life Policy (as it was called before the less terminal-sounding “Auto Update Policy”) first offered 5 years of OS and security updates. Google later changed it to 6.5 years, and now it’s 8 years.

Kind of. 

screenshot 2020 08 19 at 5.38.53 pm IDG

With a Chromebook, the OS doesn’t expire—the actual Chromebook does and you no longer get updates at all.

It’s not really “8 years” on new Chromebooks

Even the “8 years” the newest Chromebook is supposed to last isn’t necessarily 8 years in your actual hands. The lifeclock of every Chromebook is tied to an introduction window and, like milk on a shelf, it’s running even if no one has bought it.

For example, a Lenovo Chromebook Duet announced in May and released in June has an expiration date of June 2028. If you bought it today, you’d get about 8 years. If you bought that same Chromebook Duet in June of 2021, you’d get 7 years of updates. Buy a brand-new, never-touched Duet in 2025 and you’d get only 3 years.

We suspect the June 2028 deadline will hold for the majority of Chromebooks announced over the next 12 months. Looking at Google’s list of Chrome OS devices, they tend to also expire in June or August.

screenshot 2020 08 21 at 3.40.05 pm IDG

Nvidia’s GeForce Now streaming game service has come to Chromebooks but it requires version 77 and up of ChromeOS, which abandoned Chromebooks may not have.

What happens to an expired Chromebook

Once a Chromebook expires, you no longer get updates. Period. Ever. That’s different from Microsoft, which updated Windows 7 on its last day. Intel even recently issued a security update for PCs running Windows 7, 8 and 10, so you do get some support.

The most important reason to keep your PC, Mac or Chromebook updated today is security. All computers are under constant attack and updating it is the first line of defense. With an expired Chromebook, you lose that defense.

For people used to Windows and MacOS, that could be enough to make you think an expired Chromebook should be crossed off the list. But to be fair, Chromebooks are still one of the most secure consumer laptops around, and you could argue that an expired Chromebook might even be more secure than updated Windows or MacOS laptops. In 10 years, only 55 security exploits have been documented for ChromeOS. Apple’s OSX has 2,212 listed vulnerabilities from 1999 until today and Microsoft Windows has 6,814 since 1999.

It’s not only about security risks though. An unsupported browser means you get left behind by websites too. For example, on the original $1,300 Google Pixel Chromebook (which expired in 2018), the version of Chrome it runs will no longer let you watch Netflix. For a typical consumer who isn’t going to open the laptop up, unlock the OS write protect, and install CloudReady, the only way to watch a Netflix movie is to buy a new Chromebook. Disney+ also rejected the 2013 Pixel.

The heart breaker in all this is we can guarantee you that you can watch Netflix or Disney+ on a 2013-era Windows PC or MacBook. And yes, Nvidia’s nifty GeForce Now game streaming service requires ChromeOS 77 and up, which was released late last year. If you’re on an older version, you can’t use GeForce Now, full stop. As time goes on, you can bet more Chromebooks on the list will also be abandoned.

screenshot 2020 08 19 at 5.32.02 pm Netflix

The original Google Pixel Chromebook is still a very capable laptop, but because it’s last OS update was in 2018, it can’t even watch movies on Netflix anymore.

Nearly expired Chromebooks are still being sold

The unstated mess in all this is that you can still buy many Chromebooks that are nearing the end of their lives. Yes, you can find aging models sitting on store shelves. The good news is we did spot checks of older models and found that generally it’s pretty hard to buy a very old Chromebook without looking for it. For the most part, expired Chromebooks are at least five years old, so your odds of buying a new one that’s cut off out of the box are very slim. It’s not impossible, but it isn’t common.

What you will find, however, are a lot of used Chromebooks we’d consider to be on the “close to spoiling” list being sold. Many Chromebooks can be found in online stores with expiration dates of June 2022.

For example, we found the Acer Chromebook 14 CB3-431-C99D selling for $300 or more. The high price is likely due to parents and even school districts rushing out to buy any Chromebook to prepare for remote learning. We know it’s hard times for Chromebook buyers, but $300 would mean just 18 months of updates before being pushed overboard by Google.

expiring 1 Amazon

We found many used Chromebooks for sale with less than two years of OS support left.

How to buy a fresh Chromebook

To get a Chromebook that you know will get longer term support, you should first look at our list on the second page of this article and determine just how “fresh” you want it. If, for example, $300 for a Chromebook with three years of updates left is fine with you, you can pick out one like the Asus Chromebook Flip C101PA and buy that specific Chromebook with the confidence that you have August 2023 before the OS gets visited by Valkyries. We wouldn’t advise buying a Chromebook with less than three years of updates left on the clock if you can help it.

Alternatively, you could find a Chromebook and then check Google’s official support page to see how long it will last. Since our list on the next page was compiled in late August of 2020 and more Chromebooks will be added to it, it’s a good idea to visit the official list once once you have an idea of what Chromebook you want.

Next page: Our list of expired and expiring Chromebooks by date

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Gordon Mah Ung

Gordon Mah Ung

PC World (US online)
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