Image: IDG / Ashley Biancuzzo
You probably know that Chromebooks ship with a planned lifespan set by Google. A new report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group claims that Google’s practice, however, hurts both schools and the environment by essentially forcing customers to junk them after a given period of time.
The U.S. PIRG argues that this “Chromebook churn” is an artificial limit that essentially forces consumers and schools to toss out Chromebooks after a set period rather than let them expire though hardware faults or other causes. This contributes to e-waste, the group argues, as well as forcing additional costs through what it characterizes as planned obsolescence.
What the U.S. PIRG wants Google to extend the lifespan of Chromebooks to ten years, after which the devices could be recycled. One of the problems is, incidentally, that Chromebooks aren’t recycled. Just a third of these ChromeOS devices are actually broken down and recycled while the rest apparently end up in landfills as e-waste. The U.S. PIRG also wants Google to work with Chromebook makers to design better and more compatible interchangeable hardware, so they’ll simply last longer and be repaired if they don’t.
“We have a massive stuff problem,” the PIRG’s report says. “We don’t need most of it and too much of it is built to be disposable. We shouldn’t allow planned obsolescence that keeps us buying more all the time. The least we can do, if we’re giving every student in the U.S. a laptop, is ensure these devices are durable and repairable—not part of a constant churn.”
To be fair, the lifespan of Chromebooks has gotten longer. As our lengthy explainer on laptops versus Chromebooks details, Google now has extended the support lifespan of a Chromebook for about eight years and included ways of telling what how long the support clock will last before it runs out. Windows used to have an unlimited lifespan—although that ended with Windows 11, which now includes hardware requirements that Microsoft seems to be lukewarm in enforcing. (You can use Windows 10 instead). Google, like Microsoft, has enforced these limits for security’s sake.
Still, setting limits on how long you can use a Chromebook for is, by definition, arbitrary. We’ve already seen Chromebooks like the Framework Laptop Chromebook come along and try to provide what the U.S. PIRG is asking for: a modular, repairable device where users can swap out a failing part. We’ll have to see if Google agrees to take action.