The Lenovo IdeaPad 1: A Chromebook alternative that is great for programming by Jonathan Buchholz on May 31, 2022

Over the past number of years, Chromebooks have become quite popular, with 40 million currently used in education. The three main reasons people use Chromebooks are cost, simplicity, and it’s provided by their school. These are all valid reasons for using a Chromebook, but I would like to break each one down and provide an example of a comparable laptop that isn’t a Chromebook and can better serve as a phenomenal device for someone looking to get into programming.


This reason why people purchase Chromebooks makes a lot of sense. They are a lot cheaper than many other laptops available. For the vast majority of people, cost determines is the most important factor when purchasing a computing device. Google did a great job lowering the barrier to entry to computers. A decent Chromebook can now be purchased for ~$100-250. Chrome OS can run on devices that would have a hard time running Windows or cannot even run Windows because they have an ARM processor. While ARM processors are really efficient, adoption has not gotten nearly as close to that of x86_64 processors yet, so there is still a lot of software that works well on on x86_64 processors, but not on ARM. Luckily, there are x86_64 laptops that are in the same price range as Chromebooks (hint: the Lenovo IdeaPad 1).


Chrome OS is essentially a glorified web browser with the ability to save a few files to the hard drive1, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This is all some people —if you just require the ability to check email and visit a few websites in an operating system, you don’t need anything more than Chrome OS; however, programmers need a little more freedom with their operating system that what Chrome OS provides. For users that are not so technically savvy, a Chromebook that comes with Chrome OS pre-installed is really the only option as Linux is still too difficult for the average person to install, but I urge those who would like to get into programming to take the time to learn how to flash a Linux distribution to USB stick and install a Linux themselves2. The Fedora Media Writer makes this super simple, but it’s not much more difficult to download the Linux Mint, Ubuntu, or any other Linux distribution’s .iso and flash the USB stick yourself using a tool like Balena Etcher.


With strong Google Workspace integration, it is no surprise that many schools opt for Chromebooks when providing laptops for students. When you are given a computer from school, there is not much you can do, but be grateful that your school system provided you with a laptop at all. Chromebooks, Chrome OS, and Google Workspace are phenomenal for collaborating with others, turning in assignments, and making presentations, but are not so optimized for programming. If schools want to make it easy for their students to write real code, I urge them to consider laptops and operating systems that are conducive to programming (meaning you don’t have to jump through hoops to get a development environment working). I understand that this isn’t always possible because schools have to keep security top of mind and can’t really have students installing whatever software they please. Unfortunately, this means that students with their own personal computers are able to set up a development environment and start programming, but those who are dependent on the school for computer access are limited by the tools their school provides3. There are no winners in this situation.

The IdeaPad 1

We were fortunate to receive the generous donation of two brand new 14-inch Lenovo IdeaPad 1 laptops, which at time of writing, cost ~$245. These laptops come with Windows installed, so if you are a Windows user, this is a great Chromebook-priced Windows machine. For others, this laptop could be your entry to Linux and programming. Linux works great on the IdeaPad 1–all necessary drivers are in the Linux kernel, so everything including WiFi and the webcam work out-of-the-box and it has a x86_64 processor, so virtually all Linux software works on this machine. The two main downsides of this laptop are that there are no USB-C ports and there is limited storage (64GB), but the storage is comparable to Chromebooks and could be expanded with the MicroSD card slot. The keyboard is one of the best I’ve used on a laptop and running GNOME 42 in Fedora 36 feels extremely snappy. There is very little to complain about.

My reason for writing this isn’t to say that Chromebooks are bad or shouldn’t be purchased, but that there are arguably better options for people looking to program on their new device. The Lenovo IdeaPad 1 is not the only one of its kind either—it’s just an option. Do your own research before purchasing a new laptop. I am really happy with this one and am excited to see what our students think of these new machines!

  1. Technically, most Chromebooks have eMMC, but “hard drive” gets the point across better. ↩︎

  2. Yes, I know you can install Linux on select Chromebooks, if you’re going to install Linux inside of Chrome OS, why not just install Linux on the entire operating system. It’s less of a headache and if you purchase a device with x86_64 architecture, you won’t run into software compatibility with ARM-based systems. ↩︎

  3. At my school, my computer science teacher had to cancel an assignment because not every student could install the pomegranate library in Python. Not every student that used a school computer had the same errors and it was difficult to figure out what happened because the Windows Command Prompt was blocked from opening. ↩︎

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