Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Samsung’s Chromebook Torn Down, Costs $322 To Make, iSuppli Says

The picture at right is what a Samsung Chromebook looks like once it’s been taken apart. The new Google-powered notebook, formally called the Series 5, along with a similar one from Acer, will go on sale Wednesday with a Wi-Fi only version, costing $430, the other with built-in 3G wireless access for $500.

The Chromebook line is Google’s first big hardware bet on its cloud-centric Chrome operating system, which is essentially a Web browser capable of running applications that are hosted in the cloud. The point of doing that is that it takes the hassle and the cost of maintaining the software out of the hands of the person or business using it. Google thinks that over the long term it has a chance to erode Microsoft’s dominance of enterprise notebooks.

So what goes into building one? The teardown experts at IHS iSuppli took a look at the 3G version, and have shared their findings with AllThingsD. I talked with analyst Wayne Lam, who worked on the teardown. While you might expect it to essentially be a stripped-down build with as little emphasis as possible on the hardware, it’s actually an interesting study in what can happen when there’s no payment to Microsoft built into the cost assumptions, Lam told me. Added up, the components used cost a total of $322.12.

Since the hardware requirements for storage and memory are lighter, Samsung was able to spend more on hardware that improves the user experience like the display, the battery and the outer enclosure. “The lower overhead in hardware allowed Samsung more leeway on things that people will notice, like a bigger screen and a bigger battery,” Lam said.

The most significant batch of component costs is found on the motherboard (pictured top and bottom, click the images to make them bigger), amounting to $86.37 or about 26 percent of the overall hardware cost. The Chromebook’s microprocessor is a dual-core Intel Atom N570. Samsung, which is the world’s largest manufacturer of memory, supplied its own DRAM chips. Also on the motherboard are power-management chips from Texas Instruments and Intersil.

German chipmaker Infineon supplied a Trusted Computing Platform chip, which is interesting because this is something usually seen in enterprise-level servers and not personal notebooks. The chip helps protect the system by running a thorough security check every time the system is booted up, ensuring that the hardware hasn’t been tampered with and that unwanted software hasn’t been added. Given the bet that Google has made on the cloud, and the attacks it has been fending off of late, this is an understandable move.

Samsung also used its own shop to supply the display. It measures 12.1-inches diagonally and features an improved light-emitting diode technology that boosts its overall brightness. Lam says the display cost $58 and is the second most expensive component in the Chromebook.

The third most expensive component is the battery, which Samsung supplied as well. A key part of the Chromebook experience is long battery life. Samsung opted for a six-cell battery pack that is intended to last all day. It added $48.20 to the hardware cost.

Wireless chips combined for the fourth most expensive set of costs. Hon Hai Precision Technology, the Taiwanese contract manufacturer that’s better known to the world as Foxconn, built the 3G wireless module using four chips from the wireless chipmaker Qualcomm. In order to keep costs down, Samsung opted to use an older Gobi 2000 baseband chip. Wireless chips added $42.85 to the hardware cost. Qualcomm’s newly acquired Atheros unit supplied a Wi-Fi chip.

A few other interesting points that Lam found during the teardown. The memory chips are soldered on to the motherboard, meaning that the computer’s memory isn’t upgradeable by the user as it is on most PCs. It ships with 2GB of memory on board; if you’re a business or educational user paying a monthly subscription fee, by the time you start thinking you may need more memory, it will probably be ready for a hardware refresh. Google is taking even that level of routine management — plus the associated cost — out of your hands. Is the world ready for that?


Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google