Chromebook Churn Could Sink School Budgets

Chromebook Churn Could Sink School Budgets

Every week there are too many developments in the world of repair for any mere mortal to keep track of. Fortunately, the folks over at the Fight to Repair newsletter are here to help: recapping the most important repair news for iFixit readers. As a special offer, readers can claim a free, 60-day premium membership to the Fight to Repair newsletter. Visit

The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed school districts across the world into a massive, uncontrolled experiment in distance learning. With in-person gathering discouraged, school districts rushed to purchase computers for their students—hundreds or thousands at a time, depending on the size of the district.

Chromebooks, stacked vertically

By and large, Chromebooks were the platform of choice. The inexpensive, lightweight devices offered districts much of what they needed: a common software platform, and access to Internet-based applications for viewing lessons, email, and chat, and so on. Shipments of Chromebooks set records in 2020, reaching 11.2 million units in Q4 2020, a 287% increase over Q4 2019. In all, more than 30.6 million units were sold that year.

Three years later, however, many of those devices are nearing the end of their support. That may, in short order, force districts to discard perfectly functioning hardware and replace it for no other reason than that the manufacturer has made a business decision not to support it beyond a certain date.

As PIRG notes in a report this week on Chromebook “churn,” that has massive consequences for both cash-strapped local school districts and the planet. The report highlights some jarring statistics:

  • 1.8 billion is the amount of money, measured in US Dollars, that school districts in the country would save if the lifespan of Chromebooks currently in use were doubled.
  • 900 thousand represents the number of cars that would have to come off the road for an entire year to equal the amount of pollution that will be created to replace rather than (repair and) extend the life of the Chromebooks in use.
  • 3.3/20 was the average parts availability rating (using the French repairability index) received based on a review of 11 Chromebooks. That’s much lower than the average non-Chromebook laptop, which averaged out to 9 out of 20.

PIRG said the looming crisis around Chromebook replacement is largely avoidable. Chromebooks fall out of use because of an end of support date set by Google. Once laptops have exceeded their support life, they don’t receive updates and can’t access secure websites. For example, instructors have reported that expired laptops can’t access online state testing websites, PIRG reports.

The other issue is that manufacturers do not build Chromebooks to be repairable, with designs that frustrate repairs and few spare parts produced by manufacturers. As it stands, schools need to purchase parts from third-parties or scavenge them from broken machines to complete repairs. That scarcity can contribute to the high price for parts, making repair uneconomical.

PIRG has called on Google to extend the support of the Chrome OS software from the current average of about 4 years to 10 years or more. It has also called on hardware makers to make their devices more repairable: offering replacement parts and making design decisions that support repairability.

Device Page


Repair guides for many brands of Chromebook computer.

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