Chromebooks’ short lifespans are creating “heaps of e-waste”
Chromebooks have always been a popular choice for schools due to their relatively low prices, but their popularity skyrocketed during the Covid pandemic as kids were doing their schoolwork from home. However, they may not be so good after all, according to a new report called Chromebook abandonment of the United States Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). They found that many Chromebooks purchased just three years ago are already breaking, creating e-waste and costing taxpayers money.
Chromebooks in schools often see rough use, and repairability is a key issue, due to missing parts and costly repairs. For example, 14 of 29 keyboard replacements for Acer Chromebooks were found to be out of stock, and 10 of the 29 cost $90 each, nearly half the price of some models. “These high costs may cause schools to reconsider Chromebooks as a cost-savings strategy,” the report states. In another case, HP only stocked power cords and AC adapters for one model, but no other parts.
The devices also have “death dates” built into them, the report says, after which software updates end. “Once laptops are ‘expired’, they don’t receive updates and can’t access secure websites.” Google provides eight years of software updates for Chromebooks, but that’s only from the date of release. Since many schools buy Chromebooks released several years earlier, support can expire in half that time.
Chromebooks aren’t built to last. Professional repair technicians tell me that they are often forced to throw away good Chromebook hardware with years of useful life due to aggressive software expiration dates.
“Chromebooks are not built to last. Professional repair technicians tell me they are often forced to scrap good Chromebook hardware with years of useful life due to aggressive software expiration dates,” the director told PIRG. iFixit Sustainability Officer Elizabeth Chamberlain. Those expiration dates also make it challenging for schools to resell their devices. PCs and Macs may have a higher purchase price, but they can be easily resold after a couple of years and can get upgrades for longer periods of time.
The organization said that doubling the useful life of Chromebooks sold in 2020 (some 31.8 million) “could reduce emissions by 4.6 million tons of CO2e, which is equivalent to taking 900,000 cars off the road for a year. For To do so, they recommend that Google remove expiration dates on updates and that its manufacturing partners overstock 10 percent of replacement parts, and that those parts be more standardized across models. Consumers should be able to install alternative operating systems such as Linux.
In a statement to Ars TechnicaGoogle said: “Regular Chromebook software updates add new features and improve device security every four weeks, allowing us to continually iterate on the software experience and ensure older devices continue to function securely and reliably until they its hardware limitations make it extremely difficult to provide updates.”
He added that it is “always working with our device manufacturing partners to build more and more devices in all segments with post-consumer certified and recycled materials that are more repairable and, over time, use manufacturing processes that reduce emissions.”
However, Google needs to do better, according to the group. “The least we can do for students who rely on their laptops is to ensure that these devices are durable and serviceable, and not part of constant rotation,” said PIRG’s Lucas Rockett Gutterman. “With more technology in our lives and classrooms, if Google wants to be a trusted source for tens of millions of students, it needs to make laptops that families and school districts can count on.”