A Chromebook needs more than just an RGB keyboard to be a gaming laptop. It also needs a high-refresh-rate screen and a solid port selection. Now we’re talking. I’ve been testing the $649.99 Acer Chromebook 516 GE, one of a trio of newly announced gaming Chromebooks that my colleague Monica wrote about this week, and I have good news: it does a convincing impression of a gaming laptop, as long as you have fast internet.
I’ve been testing a preproduction unit of the 516 GE, and it’s very different from your typical gaming laptop on the inside. There isn’t a high-end processor or graphics card to run the latest games. Instead, it has the fittings of an ultrabook with the necessary connectivity — cutting-edge Wi-Fi 6E connectivity and a 2.5Gbps Ethernet port — to make cloud game streaming services like Nvidia GeForce Now sing as well as it would on a pricier Windows machine.
The real star of the hardware is the 16-inch, 16:10 aspect ratio display. It supports QHD (2,560 x 1,600) resolution, and it defaults to a 120Hz refresh rate (Chrome OS settings don’t appear to let you change refresh rate, by the way). It looks as good as screens in Windows gaming laptops that cost two to three times the amount. I also want to give a shoutout to the keyboard. It’s not mechanical, but each key delivers a tactile bounce, and the WASD keys have handy white borders around them.
These perks make gaming on a Chromebook feel more normal. I played Half-Life 2, Portal 2, Cyberpunk 2077, and more without thinking too much about the fact that I was gaming on a Chromebook, let alone streaming the games from a server farm somewhere. You can forget that the games aren’t being run natively. And this laptop’s screen specs aid in that illusion.
Streaming games at this laptop’s native display specs uses approximately 20GB per hour
You’ll need a very good internet connection to maintain this illusion. If you want to take full advantage of the 516 GE’s 120Hz, 1600p panel, you’ll need a download speed of at least 35Mbps, and you’ll need to pay $19.99 per month (or $99.99 for six months) for the highest tier of GeForce Now. The $9.99 tier caps you at 1080p with 60 frames per second.
Those requirements may not be outlandish for city or suburb dwellers but will likely spell trouble for anyone who doesn’t have access to high-speed terrestrial internet. While some LTE / 5G home internet may meet the speed requirements, the latency likely won’t meet Nvidia’s recommendation of 40ms or less. Plus, if you have a data cap, streaming games at this laptop’s native display resolution and refresh rate uses approximately 20GB per hour.
If you meet those internet requirements (which I do at home: 226Mbps download, 23Mbps upload), you’ll likely have a great gaming experience. Cyberpunk 2077, running over Wi-Fi at the laptop’s native resolution and refresh rate (with max bit rate set to auto), looked almost as sharp as it would on an actual gaming rig. But on The Verge’s office Wi-Fi, I had to drop down to the “Balanced” quality mode — 1400 x 900 and 60 frames per second, at about 6GB of data per hour. Your gaming experience will wholly depend on your internet speed and networking hardware, and those are tough variables to control everywhere you’ll go with this laptop.
The appeal of cloud gaming is that it lets you experience high-end gaming without having to pay for high-end gaming hardware. Google tried to get into cloud gaming with its soon-to-be-defunct Stadia cloud gaming service, but it couldn’t compete with Nvidia GeForce Now and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, in part because those services let you play games you already own on other platforms rather than having to buy them again.
And while offloading the heavy lifting means you can game on hardware you already have, companies are starting to sell devices that are optimized for cloud gaming. If you’ve been following recent tech news, that’s the idea behind Logitech’s G Cloud Gaming Handheld, except with a portable Android tablet-turned-handheld console.
A cloud-gaming Chromebook makes a lot more sense than Stadia (or an Android tablet, spoiler alert) ever could because even when you aren’t gaming, a laptop is a very useful thing to have. And the 516 GE has respectable specs for the $649.99 price. This model has Intel’s Core i5-1240P processor, Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB NVMe SSD.
We’ll be diving more deeply into performance with gaming Chromebooks like this for a full review as soon as we can.