Is the Windows-based HP Stream 14 a Chromebook killer?

Microsoft may have the answer to the Chromebook surge: An under-$200 laptop from HP with full-on Windows 8.1, a 14-inch screen, and 100 GB of free cloud-base storage. Will this be the machine that kills off Chromebooks?

HP hasn't formally announced the Stream 14 yet, but the company had several Web pages devoted to its specs and to technical support for it, until they were pulled. I managed to download the device's maintenance and service guide before it was pulled, though, which has a great deal of information about it, including its specs.

The $199 machine will be powered by a quad-core AMD A4 Micro-6400T chip running at 1.6 GB. It will have 2GB of RAM and a AMD Radeon R3 graphics chip. The screen will be a 14-incher with 1366 by 768 resolution. The specs list it as being able to have either a 32 GB or 64 GB drive. It has an SDXC slot for additional storage with a variety of cards. As for ports, it's got an HDMI, one USB 3.0 port, and two USB 2.0 ports. It also comes with two years of free 100 GB OneDrive storage. Reports say it will be available in time for the holidays.

This is clearly a machine built to compete against Chromebooks, and it does a very nice job of it. The lowest-cost Chromebooks typically start at $229, and increasingly they cost $300 and up. The Stream 14 generally has better specs than higher-priced Chromebooks. Compare it, for example, to the popular Acer C720 Chromebook, which as I write this is the best-selling Chromebook on Amazon. The Acer C720 sells for $229 on Amazon, and comes with a 11.6-inch screen rather than the Stream's a 14-incher. Both machines come with 2 GB of RAM and a 32GB hard drive. As for the chips that power them, it's not clear yet how the AMD one powering the Stream 14 stacks up compared to the 1.4 Ghz Intel Haswell chip powering the Acer machine, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Haswell was a better performer. But we'll have to wait and see.

Chromebooks have been surging in popularity. A recent Gartner report says that 5.2 million Chromebooks will be sold in 2014, up from 2.9 million in 2013, a 79% leap. By 2017, says Gartner, Chromebook sales will nearly triple to 14.4 million. Computerworld's Gregg Keizer says that means nearly 5% of all personal computers sold in that year will be Chromebooks, approximately the Mac's current market share.

Microsoft has already hit hard against Chromebooks in ad campaigns, notably with an ad featuring the heroes of the reality show Pawn Stars trashing the devices, and saying that a Chromebook is "not a real laptop."

But words are one thing, and products another. Devices like the HP Stream 14 will determine whether Microsoft can compete on the low end against Chromebooks. All indications are that they can. Just take a look at Amazon's list of best-selling laptops. Typically at least four or five Chromebooks are in the top ten. But as I write this only two are in the top ten, at the nine and 10 spots. Seven of the other top sellers are all low-cost Windows laptops -- in fact, low-cost Windows laptops are the top six best-sellers. They're from Dell, HP, Toshiba, and Asus.

So is the Stream 14 a Chromebook killer? It may well be. It's cheaper than typical Chromebooks, has a larger screen, and comes with full-blown Windows 8.1, so you face no compromises when you're offline. If you stack up its specs and prices against Chromebooks, the Stream 14 is clearly a winner.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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