Before You Buy a Chromebook, Check the Expiration Date

Like food and medication, our gadgets are only good for so long. Unfortunately, in the ever-expanding universe of online retail, many devices are sold past their “best by” dates.

Chromebooks—the Google-powered laptops from popular PC brands which gained popularity during the pandemic, when lockdowns created unprecedented demand for computers at home—can lose critical functionality.

Sue Nielsen

of Hurricane, Utah, was perplexed when suddenly, in December, the website she always used to sign up for volunteering stopped loading properly. Her son,

Jim Nielsen,

drove over to inspect the browser on her


Chromebox, the desktop version of a Chromebook. He noticed that the computer’s software didn’t appear to be current. “I hit the update button and found out it couldn’t update,” Mr. Nielsen said. 

The Nielsens weren’t aware that Chrome OS devices have a limited shelf life. Google’s Auto Update policy guarantees software updates and security support for a certain number of years. The Chromebox, which the Nielsens purchased in 2014, was past its August 2019 expiration date.

Once a Chrome OS device expires, the device might continue to function as expected, a Google spokesman said, but over time “there could be incompatibilities with some websites, applications or management policies with no ability to fix them.” 

Earlier devices receive updates from Google for five years. Devices released in 2020 and later will be supported for up to 8 ½ years, depending on the model.

People who swap their smartphones for new ones every two to three years might think even five years is a long-enough lifespan for a reliable and relatively cheap Chromebook. The problem is that many Chromebooks stay on the market for years, so the lifespan can be much shorter when the buyer takes off the plastic wrap. It can be frustrating to turn a device in good condition into e-waste. And unlike old Mac or PC computers, which can be repurposed at the end of their supported lives, there isn’t much you can do with an…