As the COVID pandemic forced classrooms online in the early 2020s, school districts found themselves in need of bulk purchases of inexpensive laptops that they could send home with their pupils. Many people switched to Chromebooks.

In a brand-new analysis titled Chromebook Churn that was released three years after the fact, the US Public Interest Research Group Education Fund states that many of these batches had already started to break. Districts might be forced to pay more as a result; according to PIRG, “doubling the lifespan of Chromebooks could result in $1.8 billion in savings for taxpayers.” E-waste is also produced in large quantities.

Repairability is one of the major issues. On average, Chromebooks are more difficult to upgrade and fix than Windows computers. The PIRG discovered that this is partially due to the difficulty in obtaining replacement parts, particularly for components like screens, hinges, and keyboards that are particularly susceptible to spills, bumps, and jostles that occur with classroom use.

For instance, researchers discovered that almost half of the replacement keyboards for Acer Chromebooks posted online were out of stock and that over a third cost “$89.99 or more, which is nearly half the cost of a typical $200 Chromebook.” According to PIRG, several IT departments have resorted to purchasing extra batches of Chromebooks solely for their parts.

According to the research, “These high costs may cause schools to reevaluate Chromebooks as a cost-saving strategy.”

Chromebook Churn also addresses the Chromebook’s auto-update expiration date, a problem with which users have long been unhappy.

While Google now promises Chromebooks will receive eight years of automatic upgrades, the official start of that time is when Google certifies a Chromebook, not when a school actually receives that Chromebook, which can take considerably longer. Expiration is frequently “four to five years away” by the time a school has successfully ordered, acquired, installed, and deployed a fleet of student Chromebooks, the survey found.

The document issues a warning that “schools are left with boxes of computers with working components that end up as electronic waste, and the need to buy even more Chromebooks” when the software expires just a few years into a device’s operation.

Due to the short expiration dates, it is more challenging for schools to resale their equipment, which increases the cost of recycling for some of them.

According to PIRG, “tripling the lifespan of the 31.8 million Chromebooks sold in 2020 could cut emissions by 4.6 million tons CO2e, equivalent to removing 900,000 cars for a year” from the road. The group urges Google to do away with the Automatic Update Expiration mechanism, to have its OEM partners build “a minimum 10% overstock” of spare parts, and to improve component standardization among Chromebook models.

In order to increase the appeal of post-AUE resale, it is also recommended that Google make it simpler to unenroll Chromebooks from remote management and install remote operating systems (specifically Linux). The choice of operating system is not only a consumer right, but it would also increase the laptop’s value when it comes time to resell or reuse it.


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