Reader question: Does the Pixelbook use eMMC or SSD storage? (Answer: It depends)

In the comment thread of last week’s post on the new Acer Chromebook 13 and Chromebook Spin 13 availability, there was a lengthy discussion on types of storage for Chromebooks. The thread is worth the read as we confirmed with Google that the Pixelbook uses two different types of storage types — eMMC or SSD — depending on the model.

After that conversation, I received the following email question about this from George, who wrote:

“I was recently surprised to learn the internal storage in the Core i5 128GB and 256GB versions of the Google Pixelbook is of the eMMC variety and not (as implied in Google’s marketing) of the mSATA/M.2 SSD variety. I suspect a significant percentage of Pixelbook owners and potential buyers are not aware that the base and mid-tier Pixelbooks come with eMMC and not the better performing mSATA/M.2 SSD storage implied in Google’s marketing.”

George is correct: Per an email conversation I had with Google, the Core i5 versions of the Pixelbook use slower eMMC (embedded MultiMediaCard) storage while the Core i7 model uses much faster NVMe SSD.

I’m not surprised by the confirmation for two reasons: Before chatting with Google, I checked the storage information in my own Core i5 Pixelbook by navigating to chrome://system and viewing the storage_info data, which clearly references eMMC a number of times:

I also reviewed the iFixit process for swapping out the compact motherboard on a Pixelbook: I didn’t see an SSD drive attached to the board.

George is also likely right that many Pixelbook Core i5 owners don’t know this: The tech specs for the Pixelbook indicate that the Core i5 models come with an SSD, or Solid State Disk drive.

Is that a bit misleading? Sure, I won’t argue that. From a consumer point of view, I can see why one might think Google should change the SSD listing to show eMMC.

I can also see why Google simply lists the storage as SSD as well as I think many consumers don’t know what eMMC and they’re more likely to be familiar with the term SSD. Many Pixelbook reviews (PC World, Wired, TechRadar and others) did make the distinction in their write-ups, noting that the model they used has eMMC storage.

Even so, George’s point is spot on. But Google isn’t the only hardware vendor to use SSD when actually describing eMMC storage. This inexpensive Acer laptop officially lists the storage as SSD, but it’s not based on reviews and support questions: It’s eMMC as well. That’s one of several such examples I found.

For what it’s worth, I can say that the eMMC in the Pixelbook does at least support the newest eMMC 5.1 standard which can provide read/write speeds up to 400 Mbps, which approaches the performance of some SSD drives. And more importantly, it doesn’t matter to that my Pixelbook may have slower read/write speeds because it uses eMMC storage. I felt the same when using an HP Chromebook X2, which also uses eMMC storage, although HP clearly states that on the product page.

Why? Because it doesn’t negatively impact me. What I mean is: I don’t transfer large files around on the device. And I’m betting most other Pixelbook owners don’t either, or if they do, it’s generally a very small percentage of the time they use the device.

Instead, the biggest potential for a data bottleneck on the Pixelbook — or any other Chromebook, for that matter — is the connection speed. If you’re constantly connected to a very slow Wi-Fi or mobile broadband network, that will have a much larger negative impact on the experience. This is the main reason I have a 1 Gbps fiber line to my home, although I won’t lie: I also got that connection speed for streaming 4K video in the house.

Again, I can’t argue that the Pixelbook storage tech specs are technically wrong. And if you’re upset that you paid for a high-end laptop and think part of that cost as for an SSD drive, I totally get that. At the end of the day though, what’s the actual effect of the difference?

Do I hope that the Pixelbook 2 uses faster storage technology? Sure, we all want more speed, everywhere we can get it. If it doesn’t though, that won’t stop me from seriously considering the purchase.

 

7 thoughts on “Reader question: Does the Pixelbook use eMMC or SSD storage? (Answer: It depends)

  • August 7, 2018 at 12:48 pm
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    Unlike Google, Microsoft elected to be fully transparent when listing the specifications of the internal storage in the new Surface Go’s two configurations:
    “eMMC drive: 64GB”
    “Solid-state drive (SSD): 128GB SSD”

    Reply
  • August 7, 2018 at 1:15 pm
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    Frankly, a Chromebook used in a traditional manner doesn’t rely significantly on local storage. Android apps might benefit from faster local storage, though smartphones use eMMC. SSD speed might begin to make a noticeable difference for apps running under Crosstini and CrossOver.
    Though they are very different technologies, both eMMC and SSD use the key phrases “solid state” and “flash memory.” Even though most users would probably seldom if ever notice the difference in performance, it’s actually brazenly dishonest, in my opinion, for marketing to so willfully mislead their customers. For the record, Wikipedia says:
    “[eMMC] provides a low-cost flash-memory system with a built-in controller that can reside inside an Android or Windows phone or in a low-cost PC and can appear to its host as a bootable device, in lieu of a more expensive form of solid-state storage, such as a traditional solid-state drive….The latest version of the eMMC standard (JESD84-B51) by JEDEC is version 5.1 released February 2015, with speeds rivaling discrete SATA-based SSDs (400 MB/s).”

    Reply
    • August 7, 2018 at 3:51 pm
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      If there are two interpretations of a published specification assume that the product will have the lower performing / less costly solution. If they have invested in the higher option they will use the extra modifiers to make this claim unambiguously.

      Currently this is no most relevant for DRAM (assume a DDR3 variety unless they *state* DDR4) and eMMC storage unless a specific feature (like NVMe) or specific performance rate is specified.

      It doesn’t reallly matter what company they work for, product marketing consistently sells two or more grades of the “finest tomatoes” in their product lines.

      Reply
  • August 7, 2018 at 2:52 pm
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    Almost purchased the Core i5 128GB Pixelbook during the $749 Father’s Day promotion (believing it comes with ‘true’ SSD storage). Now glad I didn’t.

    Reply
    • August 8, 2018 at 12:30 am
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      Yeah same 😅

      Reply
    • August 8, 2018 at 5:41 pm
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      Too bad for you, it’s a great machine and that’s a great price!

      Reply
      • August 12, 2018 at 2:29 pm
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        I agree the Pixelbook is a great 4-1 Laptop. I use it about 60% laptop mode and 40% as a tablet. I also had the i5 and purchased the i7 at Best Buy, though was able to price match Amazon when they had it for $1,399 last month. I got the i7 because I knew when I got the i5 last year it was only eMMC type storage but didn’t want to spend the full price. Also I am using my Pixelbook 90% to 95% as my main computer. I use the Pixelbook for my photo and video editing so the increase to SSD made a big difference for me. Well worth the upgrade. The i5 Pixelbook had a 184MB/s read speed and 80MB/s write speed. The i7 Pixelbook with the SSD has the following, 675MB/S read speed and 618MB/s write speed. This diffentley helped when working with large amount of photos. Also having the ability to have my Android apps is a great plus for me. Even though I still have to use my Galaxy Tab S4 for work, only because it is smaller when taking notes onsite makes it easier is the only reason I still use it.

        Reply

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