Initial Chrome OS Cr-48 Hardware Impressions

Less than a week ago, Google took the wraps off of its Chrome OS, the search giant's take on the modern, lightweight operating system. Along with it, Google launched a pilot program by sending out specialized hardware loaded with Chrome OS.

We finally got our hands on Google's "reference design" Chrome OS Notebook called the Cr-48. To be clear, the Cr-48 isn't ever going to be a commercial product like the Nexus One (or S) is for Android, but rather the notebook pilot program is for Google to gather feedback data in preparation for when Chrome OS hits stores in 2011 with products from Acer, Samsung, and others.

Even though it isn't a commercial product, the lack of the usual commercial design thought in the Cr-48 is one of its most attractive traits. There's no logo on the back of the lid – or anywhere else on the notebook – making it a stark, bare and arguably quite beautiful. It shares a few of the design qualities of the black MacBook from years ago, minus the glowing Apple logo on the lid.

Going hands-on, the soft touch plastic feels great. It's the sort of rubbery-feeling coating that we've felt on ThinkPads, which are great in this day and age where everything gets either scratched easily or is a fingerprint magnet.

The keyboard is the island-chiclet design, but Google has made several changes. One notable change is the replacement of the Caps Lock key. Instead of TOGGLING LETTER CASE, the Caps Lock by default is mapped to Search. For those who want the old way back, a systems setting will allow the key to be mapped back to Caps Lock, or even changed to control or alt.

Borrowing another Apple design, the trackpad on the Cr-48 is one big clickable surface. Right clicking is accomplished by putting two fingers on the trackpad and then pressing down. There's basic multitouch that is only used for a two-finger scrolling gesture.

As far as inputs and outputs, on the right is the charging plug, headphone jack, a single USB port, and an SD card slot. On the left there's a lone VGA-out and a fan vent. There are speakers on both sides of the notebook, but covering them up with our hands didn't seem to do much to muffle the tinny sounds.

The Cr-48 is a 12-inch notebook that has a footprint of 9.8" by 6.1" and is 0.9" thick. It's fairly portable in its weight too at 3.8 lbs.

Even before powering up the notebook, we knew that there was an Intel processor inside the Cr-48, which was made clear thanks to the "If you cracked this open, you'd find Intel" card inside the box. We appreciate that it was a card, rather than a sticker on the palm rest.

The Intel CPU inside is the Atom N455, which is a single core solution, on Intel's CG82NM10 PCH. It's believed that the market versions from Acer and Samsung will use dual-core Atom N550. For memory and storage there's a 2GB stick of Hynix RAM inside, plus a 16GB SanDisk SSD. Its Verizon 3G chip is the Novatel Gobi2000 PCI Express Mini Card, the Wi-Fi is handled by the AzureWave Atheros 9280 802.11 a/b/g/n part, and there's also Bluetooth thanks to the Atheros AR5BBU12 with V2.1 EDR. [Corrected with new information.]

Stay tuned for more about the software and in-depth experiences with Chrome OS Notebook.