How to Check Whether a Used Chromebook is Obsolete Before You Buy It

How to Check Whether a Used Chromebook is Obsolete Before You Buy It
Photo: Vantage DS, Shutterstock

For all the discourse and debate surrounding Mac versus PC, Chromebooks remain the no-brainer choice for many, especially students heading back to school. While they range in cost, many are a fraction of the price of a standard laptop, particularly on the used market, and will be more than able to meet the majority of your needs. But before you pick up a Chromebook simply because of the price tag, there’s one important step you need to take to ensure you’re not buying a glorified paperweight.

Chromebooks run on ChromeOS

Chromebooks, like MacBooks and Windows laptops, rely on software to run all the tasks you need them to. And on a Chromebook, email, web browsing, Google docs, and everything else are made possible thanks to ChromeOS, Google’s aptly-named operating system. Like other manufacturers, Google even issues periodic updates to ChromeOS to implement the latest features as well as patch security vulnerabilities as they are discovered.

Of course, nothing lasts forever. Eventually, Apple announces another generation of MacBooks that won’t be getting the latest version of macOS. The same goes for various manufacturers of Windows laptops, like Dell, Acer, Razer, and Microsoft itself. At some point, these companies decide that the latest software is just too much for ageing hardware to handle, but that usually isn’t until years down the road. Chromebooks, however, are a different story.

Why Chromebooks especially don’t last forever

Every Chromebook on the market, past and present, has what’s called an Auto Update Expiration (AUE). It’s basically a device expiration date, much like the expiration date on that gallon of milk in your fridge. You can still drink that milk after that date — it will probably be good for a while longer — but the store can’t sell it beyond that point. The consequence of your Chromebook reaching its AUE? It will no longer receive Google’s automatic ChromeOS updates.

Now, it’s not like that Chromebook says “well, it’s been a great run,” powers itself off, and permanently retires from digital life. It’ll still work, but as Google’s products continue to update and evolve, it might begin to experience compatibility issues, to the point where it won’t be able to run the programs you need it to. It also won’t be eligible to receive technical support, so if something goes wrong with your device, Google won’t be able to help.

Perhaps worst of all, you won’t receive security updates on the device — if new security vulnerabilities are discovered for your version of ChromeOS, you’ll remain unprotected, and could fall victim to a breach.

When does a Chromebook’s AUE usually kick in?

A Chromebook’s AUE is really relative to its release date. The AUEs for a new Chromebook won’t be right around the corner; in fact, it might not be for five, six, or even eight years from now. Some Chromebooks have AUE’s of June 2029, for example.

But it does make buying an older Chromebook a challenge. Without realising it, you may have just picked up a second-hand machine with an AUE that’s just weeks or months away — or, even worse, an AUE that has already come and passed, making your “new” device obsolete before you even log into Zoom University.

How to check your Chromebook’s AUE

The fastest way to check the “expiration date” on your Chromebook is to head to this Google support page. Google lists all approved Chromebooks here, complete with the month and year of each device’s AUE. Just scroll down to find your device manufacturer (Dell, Acer, Asus, etc.), then expand the window and find your particular model.

If you don’t know your Chromebook model, just open Chrome on the device and type chrome://system into the search bar. Here, you should find your particular device’s make and model, as well as other pertinent specs.

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