Not the Core i7 laptop you were looking for

I used the $979 Asus Chromebook Flip CX3 as my daily driver for several weeks. And during that time, I was baffled by the device. Not build quality, design or other physical aspects. They’re mostly good, except for at least two design choices that are missing. I am confused by the performance. After all, it’s a nearly $1,000 Chromebook with an 11th Gen Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of memory, and a 512GB SSD. So why doesn’t the performance reflect that? ? I explain in my Asus Chromebook Flip CX3 review.

Let’s tackle that first by looking at the specs and following the benchmarks, comparisons, and performance experience.

Asus Chromebook Flip CX3 specs and hardware

As you can guess by the price and the fact that I mentioned the key hardware components above, you’re getting a premium model here. And while the specs don’t tell the whole story, here they are:

CPU Quad-core (eight-threaded) Intel Core i7-1160G7 processor (1.2 GHz / 4.4 GHz)
GPUs Integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics card
Display 14-inch IPS 1920 x 1080 touchscreen with USI pen support, glossy finish,
16:9 aspect ratio, 250 nits brightness, NTSC gamut: 45%
Memory 16GB DDR4x MHz memory
Storage 512GB M.2 PCIe 3.0×4 NVMe SSD,
MicroSD card slot for expansion
Connectivity 802.11ax (2×2) WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5.2
Grab Backlit keyboard with 1.5 mm travel, multi-touch trackpad,
720p webcam with physical privacy shutter, 5 MP world view camera,
discounted USI stylus
Ports 2 USB Type-A 3.2 (Gen 1), 2 USB Type-C 3.2 (Gen 1)
supporting power, data and DisplayPort,
headphone/microphone combo jack
Drums 50 Wh, expected runtime up to 11 hours
Weight 3.64 pounds
Software Chrome OS automatic updates until June 2029

Frankly, it looks like a developer’s dream Chromebook or convertible that any experienced Chrome OS user would love to have. And overall, I agree.

However, there is one key concession you are making and it has to do with the processor as not all Core i7 chips are created equal.

The one inside the Asus Chromebook Flip CX3 is the Intel Core i7-1160G7, which I discovered last June. It’s part of the low-power UP4 architecture that Intel uses to deliver faster processors with more cores in a fanless chipset. And that’s the concession: because there’s no fan, you get a quiet experience. So yay! However, this processor is limited in terms of running time at higher clock speed, due to heat.

For reference, here is the Intel UP4 processor chart I shared in June:

Tiger Lake 4UP

You can see the second Core i7 is what’s inside the CX3. And in regular use, the system maintains clocks around 1.2 GHz, which is the speed at which chrome://system the data shows me on this device. Yes, all cores can boost up to 2.1 GHz when needed, while any of the four cores can jump to 4.4 GHz. However, it still depends on how hot the CPU is at that time.

For example, I ran the native CPU stress test in the Chrome OS diagnostic app. At least 90% of the time the CPU speed was below 2.0 GHz and mostly around the 1-1.2 GHz mark. A few times towards the end of the test, the CPU clock speed hit 2.75 GHz, but only for a second or two. And I’ve never seen a higher clock speed than that.

Asus Chromebook Flip CX3 processor review
Not even 1 GHz and the temperature seems close to the maximum

So before we even get to the benchmarks and performance, it looks like the Asus Chromebook Flip CX3 is “tuned” to keep temperatures low at the cost of clock speed. Indeed, the CPU temperature reached a maximum of 50 degrees Celsius during the test.

So what does this mean when it comes to performance? Let’s look at the artificial benchmarks and then follow my usage experience.

Benchmarks Asus Chromebook Flip CX3: OK but below expectations

Test Return CX3
11th Gen Core i7
Flex 5i
11th Gen Core i3
IdeaPad 5i
11th Generation Pentium
Flex5
10th Gen Core i3
Acer Chromebook Spin 13
8th Generation Core i5
Speedometer 1.0 251 311 249.8 207 179.9
Speedometer 2.0 145 176 144.0 118 99.6
JetStream 2 141.03 151.88 130.35 113.87 94.436
Core Brand 3.0 1,161.99 1,179.9 1,032.8 528.1 594.18
Octane 2.0 38,880 55,360 47,152 42,429 35 116
Higher numbers are better

The numbers here tell the story of the chipset limitation. Essentially, I saw higher test results on the Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5i and its 11th Gen Intel Core i3. Even the very latest Lenovo IdeaPad 5i Pentium Gold delivered quite comparable numbers. And remember, these devices cost between $400 and $500 or so.

That’s not to say that the Asus Chromebook Flip CX3 is always slower or about the same as these devices. There were times when it was more responsive and generally faster than those cheaper Chromebooks during regular use.

But most of the time? Not really. Again, this will depend on what you’re doing and the CPU temperature. I think the CX3 is helped in this regard by having a lot more memory to work with and a fast solid-state drive. But that’s not enough to increase performance over a laptop with a traditional Core i7.

Do not mistake yourself. I can and have used this Chromebook for everything I normally do.

This includes tons of browsing with many open tabs, the occasional Android app, and a few hours of coding in a Linux environment. Here’s the thing though: I can get the most of the same experience and performance by spending $400-$500 less. Or I can save $300 and get my 2021 Chromebook of the Year: the Acer Chromebook Spin 713.

The only “gains” here are a fanless device that’s completely silent and a bit more battery life than you might expect from a Core i7 Chromebook. Asus claims up to 11 hours of battery life and I regularly get between 9 and 9 and a half. Good to have. Again, with one of the cheaper Chromebooks mentioned above, I can usually get at least 8 hours.

What about the rest?

Honestly everything else is fine. Not a $979 fine, but what you’d expect from at least a midrange Chromebook.

The 14-inch 1080p touchscreen offers decent color reproduction, but nothing out of the ordinary. Viewing angles are excellent. Brightness at 250 nits is average. The webcam and speakers are average and above average, respectively. And there is a lot of plastic; again not what you would want to see for the price. The trackpad is a bit harder to press than I’m used to, however, that could just be me. The typing experience is really good with a long key travel. It’s not the best Chromebook keyboard I’ve used, but it’s up there.

About these two design missteps. One is big and the other is less.

The keys on the light silver keyboard are very difficult to read in any lighted area. Backlighting them doesn’t help; it almost makes it worse. There just isn’t enough contrast between the key color and the letter designation. This is not the first time that Asus has made this choice. It didn’t work well last time and it still doesn’t work.

Keyboard on the CX3
In low light, you can read the keyboard.

The second issue is the inclusion of a “world view” camera on the right palm rest. Surely it would be more beneficial to have a fingerprint reader instead of a camera that not many people will ever use. If you use these types of cameras: More power for you. But I bet you type in a password to log into your Chromebook far more often than you take photos from a keyboard.

One very positive aspect is the port selection and placement and another is the inclusion of the garaged USI stylus. You have a USB Type-A and a Type-C on each side of the CX3 chassis. This is convenient for both peripherals and charging.

Asus Chromebook Flip CX3 Stylus

The USB stylus is small and thin but does the job. I don’t find it any different from other USI pens I’ve recently tested. Depending on the app you use, the experience may be good or average.

Should you buy the Asus Chromebook Flip CX3?

Unless you fully understand the performance shortcomings of this particular Core i7 and really want a fanless Chromebook experience, I’d say you get it. At least at this price.

Personally, I would have to see a sale that brings the cost down to between $600 and $700 to make the concession. And even then, I’d hesitate because I’m going to take performance on a moderate amount of fan noise every day. There just isn’t enough here to justify the $979 price tag for most people, or for me.

About Jon Moses

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