Asus is targeting the schools market with a laptop that’s robust and easy to repair.
What happens when a company develops a product that is designed to withstand some harsh treatment and yet still be easy to open up and repair?The Asus Chromebook C202 laptop was unveiled earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show. It is specifically intended for use in schools, bidding for a market where Apple is already looking to make significant inroads with the iPad.
So, the 12in computer boasts a ruggedised exterior with features that include “a tough wraparound rubber bumper with reinforced corners, a spill-?resistant keyboard, a scratch-?resistant finish and shock-proof solid-state storage”.
Kids being kids, the Taiwanese company has also subjected the C202 to “military-grade reliability tests” and claims that the laptop is “best in its class for drop-test survival”.
At the same time, though, Asus acknowledges that typical schools must operate within very tight IT budgets. To that end, the C202 has been made as easy to repair as the company thinks is viable.
Take apart with ease
“For unrivaled serviceability, Chromebook C202 features the industry’s first modular design that allows easy removal or repair of key components such as the keyboard, power socket and battery,” Asus’ promo blurb declares. “Full dismantling of the device is possible in a few easy steps using only simple tools,” it continues.
Those are fighting words, and to prove that it is quite happy to be taken up on them, Asus recently sent a production model to the iFixit teardown team. Its experts have given the C202 a very high nine-out-of-ten mark for repairability.
Before going into how the C202 is assembled, let’s first review what it contains. The objective has not been to push the envelope in terms of performance, but to deliver something that will meet most educational needs at an appropriate price point - estimated in the US at between $220 and $230 (£155-£162) per laptop for the 4GB RAM edition.
The CPU is a dual-core, 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3060 processor with burst speeds up to 2.48GHz. It also has integrated Intel HD Graphics 400. There’s just 16GB of on-board storage, with versions available offering both 2GB and 4GB of RAM. There are then HDMI, SD storage card and USB3.0 ports.
The implementation of the open-source Chrome OS (the C202 is also part of a partnership project between Google and Asus) is very much belt-and-braces. The display is a mid-range unit with 1366×768px resolution.
Battery life is one of the more highly specified features at a very healthy 10 hours thanks to a 38Wh lithium-ion unit. This again recognises that the C202 may need to be moved from one classroom to another throughout the school day (and how many schools have power connections at every desk, anyway?).
Opening up the C202, it becomes obvious that Asus has, true to its word, applied the same pragmatism to the design as it has to the components. Getting inside is easy: remove some rubber screw covers and all the screws themselves are either Philips #1 or #00. The plastic clips are also easily popped apart and, by iFixit’s measure, are sufficiently robust to withstand multiple repairs.
Looking at the main part of the laptop below the keyboard, you can quickly see that the design comprises a series of standard modules. These have been layered in a linear fashion and have to be removed in order. IFixit says this could make repair of some of the deeper-lying elements slightly more complicated. However, the order of the layers gives priority to those parts most prone to failure, such as the battery and various ports, by placing them at or close to the top.
The biggest ‘issue’ is arguably replacement of the LCD. This does require that the repairer takes out modules as far down as both the motherboard and the I/O board before the display can be detached. However, once that is done, replacement of the display, camera, microphone, antenna and other modules in the C202’s top half is, iFixit says, relatively straightforward.
Asus has also gone to the trouble of labelling some of the cables within the laptop to further simplify replacement and/or reassembly - for example, the main interconnect cable has self-explanatory ‘IO’ and ‘MB’ markings at either end.
The one significant element iFixit thought was missing from its C202 was sufficiently detailed service documentation. However, even here Asus says it will now work with the repair specialists to develop a more comprehensive guide to the laptop.
In short, the C202’s design delivers on its promises.
One final point, though. That we have got this far without any nasty surprises may not make for the most exciting teardown ever. But it does make for a rather significant one. To the extent that Asus has made design decisions based on the demands of an extremely cost-sensitive market does nevertheless raise one very obvious question: since even top of the range laptops more or less share the same basic contents as this one, why can’t they also be made as easy to repair?