Gaming on Chromebooks is just getting started
As if it weren’t obvious already by its inclusion on the list of best Chromebooks, we’re big fans of the Acer Chromebook Spin 713. There are multiple versions available, so you’ll need to pay close attention to the specs provided that you want to enjoy Steam Alpha on the go. In that case, you’ll need to get the latest version available, which is powered by Intel’s 11th-gen Core i5 chipset.
Unfortunately, if you do opt for the latest Spin 713, you are limited in the available configurations. And by limited, we mean that there is currently only one version that you can pick up today: the Core i5 version paired with 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD. But considering this is one of the only Chromebooks that is compatible with Steam Alpha, it’s just one of those sacrifices that you’ll have to make, for now at least.
Thanks to the 11th-gen Intel chips, Acer was able to include Thunderbolt 4 compatibility, something that isn’t readily available on many Chromebook models. In our Chromebook Spin 713 review, we found that the 13.5-inch 2K display is absolutely gorgeous and is one of the best displays on any Chromebook. Plus, the Gorilla Glass trackpad offers an experience that is much different from Acer’s norm.
Those who are looking for the biggest, baddest, and most impressive Chromebook on the market will want to check out the ASUS Chromebook CX9. There is one major caveat that we’ll get to later, but the Core i7 version includes 16GB of RAM, 512GB of NVMe storage, and is on Google’s shortlist for Steam Alpha compatibility.
There are different display options available, with ASUS offering either a standard 1920×1080 resolution or a UHD option with 3840×2160 resolution. The UHD resolution might be a bit overkill with a 14-inch display, but there’s no denying that it’ll look incredible doing any task. ASUS also packed in some extra features including a built-in fingerprint scanner and the ability to turn your trackpad into a number pad if you need to fill out some spreadsheets.
As we mentioned, there is a catch with the CX9: this is currently one of the most expensive Chromebooks on the market. There are only two configurations available, a Core i3 or Core i7 version, with ASUS leaving out a Core i5 for some reason. And if you want to spring for the UHD display, it’ll cost you a pretty penny compared to the FHD version.
Lenovo took almost all of the best parts of its Flex 5 Chromebook, re-packaged them, upgraded the processor, and brought back one of the best Chromebooks with the Flex 5i. It’s clear that Lenovo knows what it’s doing in this space, as the Flex 5i provides an incredible experience, regardless of whether you want to try out Steam Alpha or just play some of the best Android games.
You won’t have to pay an arm and a leg for an upgraded processor, but it’s not often that the Flex 5i can be found on sale. The keyboard is extremely comfortable to type on, and the display can be flipped over into tent mode if you want to use one of the best Chromebook game controllers. Overall, performance is just solid, and you really couldn’t ask for too much more out of one of Lenovo’s latest Chromebook offerings.
One area where we would have liked to see an improvement is in the battery life. The company claims that this Chromebook would offer up to 10 hours, but in our Flex 5i review, we found that it instead lasted about eight hours before we needed to reach for a charger. Nevertheless, this is simply one of the best and most dependable Chromebooks on the market.
If you want to get a Acer Chromebook 514 for Steam gaming, you’ll need to pay attention. Acer has been dabbling in releases that feature both AMD Ryzen chipsets and Intel processors. So if you want to mess around with the new Steam Alpha, you’ll need to make sure that you opt specifically for the Chromebook 514 CB514-1W. Otherwise, your gaming experience will be limited to cloud gaming options and games from the Play Store.
As for the Chromebook 514 CB514-1W itself, this is just another example of Acer flexing its muscles. The biggest reason why this is further down list compared to the Spin 713 is the display brightness, which maxes out between 200-250 nits. This is fine in most use cases, but if you plan to take this out of your home and game on the go, you likely won’t end up having a great time.
Battery life is another area where we would have liked to see some marked improvement. In our Chromebook 514 review, we found that the battery would tap out around the 8-hour mark, falling short of Acer’s claimed 12 hours. But on the bright side, you’ll be able to enjoy Thunderbolt 4 so you can connect it to your favorite Chromebook monitor and game on a bigger screen.
Putting it simply, we would be remiss if we didn’t include Lenovo’s excellent Chromebook Duet 5 on this list. It may not be the most powerful option, and you won’t be able to try out Steam Alpha, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t use it for gaming. The detachable form-factor has almost been perfected by Lenovo, as evidenced by the continued popularity of the original Chromebook Duet and now with the Duet 3 and Duet 5.
The biggest benefit to using something like the Duet 5 is for more casual gaming sessions, like for when you just want to sit back on the couch and waste some hours. However, it also provides a bit of extra portability for those who want to enjoy some of the best game streaming services like GeForce Now, Google Stadia, or Xbox Game Pass.
Unlike some of the other options on this list, you are limited to just 128GB of storage. This may not seem like a big deal, but if you want one of the best gaming Chromebooks, you might find yourself needing to delete games that you don’t regularly play. Another, smaller, problem with the Duet 5 is, in our time with this device, the keyboard hinge wasn’t as sturdy as we expected it to be, so your mileage may vary.
It’s been almost three years since Google launched the Pixelbook Go, and this remains Google’s last self-branded Chromebook. We still hope we’ll see a Tensor-powered Chromebook in the next couple of years, but until then, the Pixelbook Go is the only choice for those who want a Chromebook directly from Google.
The age of this Chromebook is part of the reason why you’ll need to be selective concerning which version you pick. Google equips its Chromebook with several different chipsets, but if you want the best gaming performance, we strongly recommend springing for the Core i5 option. This won’t provide compatibility with Steam Alpha, as the Pixelbook Go’s Core i5 chip is from Intel’s 8th generation of chipsets.
However, it still offers more than enough performance to handle pretty much any of the best Android games. It also provides plenty of juice for those who want to dabble around with the world of emulating games from classic consoles. Ever since our initial review and subsequent re-review, we’ve found that the Pixelbook Go is still one of the best-looking Chromebooks and arguably offers the best typing experience.
What to look for with the best gaming Chromebooks
If you were to set out to try and find the best gaming Chromebooks a year ago, the results would likely look much different than they do today. Throughout this roundup, we’ve made mention of “Steam Alpha,” which is Google and Valve’s attempt to bring true gaming to the Chrome OS platform.
Steam Alpha originated as “Borealis,’ which you can see if you go through the steps to actually enable proper Steam gaming on your Chromebook of choice. With this new alpha program from Google, however, the options are fairly limited as to what Chromebooks are currently compatible with. Thankfully, not only did Google provide a list of which Chromebooks you can use, but it also shared a list of the minimum specs.
- Intel Iris Xe Graphics
- Intel 11th-gen Core i5 or Core i7 processors
- At least 8GB of RAM
This gives us a pretty good indication of what future Chromebooks will need as a baseline to get Steam up and running. And we’ve included all of the available options that Google provided in its list. It’s why you’ll see the Chromebook Spin 713 at the top, while other popular options from the list of best Chromebooks have been omitted.
More options should be on the way soon
With Google getting Steam Alpha into the hands of those who want to try and live on the edge, the truth is we’re closer than ever to seeing proper gaming Chromebooks. Intel’s integrated Xe Graphics provide enough graphical power to play some of the most popular games that you’ll find on Steam. But later in 2022, we’re expecting to see even more Chromebooks added to the compatibility list.
We don’t know specifics, but AMD’s Ryzen 5000-series chipsets are expected to arrive at some point this year, providing just as much, if not more, power than the 11th-gen Intel chips. And some Chromebook manufacturers have already announced options using Intel’s 12th-gen processors. This is important because the 12th-gen lineup is expected to be as big of a leap in performance as Intel saw going from 10th-gen to 11th-gen.
The ASUS Chromebook Flip CX5 (CX5601) was already introduced earlier this year and will sport Intel’s latest architecture. We also expect to see Steam Alpha made available whenever that Chromebook is finally launched. But until then, you won’t be disappointed by the experience already being offered, provided that you are using a compatible model.