Should I Buy a Chromebook? Buying Guide and Advice

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A Chromebook is a laptop of a different breed. Instead of Windows 10 or Mac OS X, Chromebooks run Google's Chrome OS. These machines are designed to be used primarily while connected to the Internet, with most applications and documents living in the cloud. As a result, these clamshells don't have a ton of onboard storage, but they don't have very large price tags, either.

Low prices, long battery life and Windows 10 confusion have many people considering a Chromebook. In fact, according to the NPD research firm, Chromebook sales topped Windows notebook sales during the early summer of 2015. But is a Chromebook right for you? As PC manufacturers release Windows 10 notebooks priced to compete with Chromebooks, are there any that stack up? And how do you pick the best model for your needs and budget?

Our Chromebook buying guide has the answers to these and other questions.

Should I Buy a Chromebook?

Because Chromebooks run Chrome OS, Google's operating system, they rely heavily on Google's suite of applications and a working Internet connection. Although you can log in to Chrome OS as a guest, to have the best experience, users should log in to the system with Google credentials.


Chromebooks are optimized for Google's apps, such as Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Drive. This deep integration can be either positive or negative, depending on how you use a PC. Getting set up on a Chromebook will be easy if you already use Google's services for your email, calendar and documents. However, if you use other popular services — such as Microsoft Outlook, AIM or Yahoo Mail — it might take some time to get adjusted to Google's OS.

MORE: Best Chromebooks Available Now

Unfortunately, popular software applications, such as Adobe Photoshop and the Microsoft Office suite, aren't available on Chromebooks. However, you can still get work done on these machines: Microsoft Office Online, the free cloud version of Office, is available as a series of apps for Chromebooks, and you can always use the native Google Drive to open and edit documents and spreadsheets.

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With Google Drive, users can create everything from text documents to spreadsheets and presentations. Plus, all of your old Microsoft Word documents and PowerPoint presentations can be imported directly into Drive, allowing you to work on your files.

On the other hand, there are many photo editors available for Chrome OS, including the open-source GIMP image editor. But Photoshop users are out of luck — there is no Chrome OS app that can edit Adobe's .PSD files.

It may be best to stick with Microsoft Office Online if you already have a lot of Office files that you're bringing over to your Chromebook. There are often formatting issues when importing third-party documents into Drive. Fortunately, Google Drive allows you to save documents to Microsoft formats, so you'll still be able to share files with non-Chromebook users.

Offline Use

Chromebooks are designed to rely heavily on the Internet, which means that many apps simply won't work if you're out of Wi-Fi range. There are more than 200 offline Chrome apps that can work without Internet connectivity, including Gmail, Pocket and Google Drive.


You'll still be able to play games on the Chromebook, but you'll be limited to the titles available in the Chrome Web Store. Classic casual games like Bejeweled and Cut the Rope are there, but you won't have the same title selection as you would on a Windows machine or a Mac.

Chromebooks generally have limited graphics processing power, so even if a game such as Metro: Last Light were available, it would not play smoothly on a Chromebook.

Special Features

Chrome OS has voice controls, so you can say, "OK, Google" with the launcher open, or a Chrome tab open, and the voice assistant will pop up, ready to serve you. The launcher is also integrated with Google Now, giving you info cards at the bottom of the window that show info like the current weather and local news stories.

Google redesigned the on-screen keyboard for touch-screen use, making it easier to use on 2-in-1s like the Flip. With a minimalist design, the on-screen keyboard recognizes your scribbles and gives you choices of text to input. When we tested that feature, it was almost always accurate in recognizing our writing. Also, soon, Android smartphone users will be able to get text and call-pop-up notifications on their desktop.

Battery Life

Almost all Chromebooks have exceptional battery life. Of the seven Chromebooks we've reviewed in the past year, we've seen an average of 9 hours and 59 minutes of endurance on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi. On the top end, you'll notice standouts like the Dell Chromebook 13's runtime of 13:25.

battery life
We recommend shooting for at least 9 hours of juice, which six of the seven Chromebooks we've reviewed offer. While some affordable Windows 10 notebooks, like the Lenovo Ideapad 100S (9:48) and the Acer Aspire One Cloudbook 11 (8:04), can stand toe-to-toe with Chromebooks, the average 13-inch Windows notebook lasts only 6 hours and 35 minutes.

What Size Screen Do I Need?

The 11.6-inch Chromebooks, such as the Lenovo 100S Chromebook and the HP Chromebook 11 G4, are on the smaller side. These models are generally less than 3 pounds, making them the most portable — and great options for kids. However, the screen size and keyboards may seem cramped for adults.

screen sizes

Those looking for more real estate for Web surfing, getting work done, watching movies and playing games can pick up a 13.3-inch Chromebook such as the
Dell Chromebook 13 or the Toshiba Chromebook 2 CB35. If you need a large screen, consider the 15-inch Acer Chromebook 15, the biggest Chromebook so far. But you won't find a 17-inch Chromebook yet.

What Specs Do I Need?

Because Chromebooks are meant primarily for online use, the specs aren't as important as they are for Windows laptops, but you'll still want to know how much power and storage you're getting for your money. Here's a quick guide.


When it comes to RAM, 2GB is fairly standard for a Chromebook, but you'll find some models with 4GB on board. Opt for 4GB if you're a heavy multitasker, but expect to pay $250 or more. Both the HP Chromebook 14 and the Lenovo 100S Chromebook have Celeron N2840 processors, but the HP notebook, which had 4GB of RAM, handled more than a dozen open tabs without a problem. The Lenovo, strapped with 2GB of RAM, stuttered with 10 tabs open. Our tests of the Lenovo Ideapad 100S Windows version ($180) show that a Windows machine can handle a large stack of tabs with only 2GB of memory.


The processor and amount of RAM will determine how smoothly your Chromebook performs, especially when you have multiple tabs open and you're streaming video or playing games.

Intel Celeron chips provide a decent amount of pep, but if you want even more speed, opt for a model with a Core i3 CPU. Machines such as the latest Dell Chromebook 11 offer longer battery life and more responsive behavior. The average Windows notebook with a Core i3 processor isn't as compelling, lasting only 7 hours and 50 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test.

The Toshiba Chromebook 2 CB35 ($300) has a 1.7-GHz Intel Celeron 3215U CPU with 4GB of RAM under the hood, as well as a 16GB solid-state drive. All that power placed the Toshiba above its competitors in our benchmark tests, and it even clocked in more than 10 hours of battery life.

You have to spend a little more to get a Windows 10 laptop with similar specs, such as the Lenovo Ideapad 100 ($350). That machine has a Celeron processor, 4GB of memory and similar multitasking performance, but it lasted only 4 hours and 45 minutes on our battery test.

Nvidia has its own chip — the Tegra K1 — which offers excellent graphics performance, though it currently powers only the Acer Chromebook 13.

Storage Size

All Chromebooks come with at least 16GB of onboard storage, and that's likely all you'll need, because these systems aren't designed to download large applications or store tons of media. Some Chromebooks, like the Toshiba Chromebook 2 CB35, come with an SD card reader, meaning you can expand the storage up to 64GB.

With every Chromebook purchase, Google gives you 100GB of free Google Drive storage for two years. Spring for 32GB only if you plan to download and use many offline apps. Acer's Aspire One Cloudbook 11 (32GB, $190) and Aspire One Cloudbook 14 (64GB, $230) — Windows 10 laptops built to compete with Google's Chromebooks — show that you can get similar storage at comparable prices.


The size of the screen isn't the only thing that matters. Lower-end Chromebooks sport 1366 x 768-pixel displays, which are fine for most tasks. But if you want sharper images, video and graphics, spring for a full-HD display (1920 x 1080 pixels). You'll pay anywhere from $50 to $100 more, although you can find some full-HD models for less.

screen reso3
Windows 10 has been built for touch screens, but you can get the same functionality in Chrome OS. You just have to know which one to get — and expect to pay about a $100 premium. The $280
Acer Chromebook R 11 can bend into a tablet, making use of its IPS touch-screen display.

acer chromebook r11 w g03
The $249 Asus Chromebook Flip also has a touch screen. However, there aren't many Chrome OS apps that take full advantage of the touch capabilities.

Who Are You Buying It For?

If you're buying this Chromebook for someone else, you should take a few moments to consider that person's pre-existing relationship with technology. Children who are still learning how to use computers may be more receptive to learning how a new operating system works, but there's no official Minecraft title for Chrome OS, so some kids may not like these notebooks.

Some elder relatives may have never truly understood Windows enough to use their PC frequently, but others who have learned just enough to make do may become frustrated that they need to relearn where downloads go, or that their favorite app is not available for Chrome.

Overall, the best way to tell if someone will enjoy owning a Chromebook is if you know they already spend most of their time in the Chrome browser. Those users will take to the notebook naturally.

How Much Should I Spend?

There's a pretty narrow price range for Chromebooks. At the low end, you can pick up the affordable and light $199 Lenovo 100S Chromebook, which has an 11.6-inch HD display and 2GB of RAM.

On the other end of the spectrum is the well-designed, long-lasting $429 Dell Chromebook 13, which sports a larger, 13-inch, full-HD display with 4GB of RAM. Both earned 4-star reviews from the Laptop Mag staff, as well as Editors' Choice awards.

You'll probably wind up paying more for a Windows 10 notebook, as the average selling price for a PC is $448, according to NPD. There are more affordable options, as we've detailed here, but the PC laptop market has a much higher cap than the Chromebook market.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that Chromebooks are incredibly affordable and capable, and there's more variety now in screen sizes and specs. Microsoft is fighting back with low-cost Windows 10 laptops, but if you're looking for a simple way to get online and you prefer Google's services, you'll be happy with a Chromebook.    

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Author Bio
Henry T. Casey
Henry T. Casey,
After graduating from Bard College a B.A. in Literature, Henry T. Casey worked in publishing and product development at Rizzoli and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, respectively. Henry joined Tom's Guide and LAPTOP having written for The Content Strategist, Tech Radar and Patek Philippe International Magazine. He divides his free time between going to live concerts, listening to too many podcasts, and mastering his cold brew coffee process. Content rules everything around him.
Henry T. Casey, on
Add a comment
  • ChromeShine Says:

    Lots of strange comments. Not sure if they are paid or not. Comments such as I could not save, will not work with router, and such are simply not true.

    The article states that you must use Google docs, which is not true, the email, Excel, Word and all the rest of the online apps are there.

    As for the gent that said you can't scale, and was considering Apple, all I can say is good luck changing the fonts on the bookmarks and tabs on Chrome or Safari, as you can not do so on OSX. Only on Windows and Linux.

  • David Olivari Says:

    I have bought a Chromebook 2 , toshiba cb30-104-b precisely.
    I can only say good hardware, substandard OS. No SCaling, only change of resolution will enlarge OS font. -very very poor.
    I feel so conned by Google. Just so jealous of people with Apple Gear

  • Phillip Says:

    Nice and thorough review. One thing though. You stated that "There are a growing number of "offline" Chrome apps that can work without Internet connectivity, including Gmail and Google Drive."..... How is that even remotely possible. The computer could cache your recent documents and emails, but it is odd that the "offline" apps include two apps you need internet connection to actually use.... Does it turn your email into rainbow sprinkles that travel the magical winds of Narnia until they find an unsecured WiFi connection? It sounds pretty magical to me.

  • Joan Soo Says:

    Does Chromebook support the Dvorak keyboard arrangement?

  • Bill Williams Says:

    Have you heard if the Chromebook is going to support a Bluetooth-enabled printer connection ?

  • Allen Says:

    I purchased an HP Chromebook because I only use my laptop and iPad for writing on Googledocs. Surprisingly google docs works perfectly on my iPad and mac pro but google docs is always a problem on the Chromebook: Whole chapters disappeared. Does not keep docs updated like my old Mac Pro at home, and pages are often unresponsive. Yes the Chromebook is cheaper and lighter than my old mac pro but now, after
    all the hours of writing I lost, I wish I had never purchased one.

  • curious Says:

    can i create a pdf file on an acer chromebook?

  • Ashley Says:

    The Google Chromebook was the worst purchase I have ever made. It sounded appealing initially...built in browser, high speed internet. But this thing is not functional. I was told I would not be able to download, save, etc. because of limited hardware but I would be able to save to a hard drive. No. The apps are quick to download but they are a joke. All that I have come across thus far have been the least bit of helpful. Actually, trying to become accustomed to the app is more of a waste of time than it is when actually using it. You literally can not do anything functional on this "computer" besides access the internet. If you are looking to invest in a laptop DO NOT do so with this thing. It is not user friendly and has given me nothing but a headache while using it. I will be purchasing a Macbook tomorrow.

  • Jacinta Says:

    Can you play Hidden pictures on this chrome book?
    Does it support Adobe flash?

  • Somya Sharma Says:

    It is such a nice buying guide on the Chromebooks. I really like Chormebooks, because they are light weighted and available at a low price as compare to Laptops. Thanks to share this impressive post with us. You shared such a great tips.

  • STAYlow Says:

    A lot of mixed reviews about Chrome OS and the user's experience with it and the hardware. It appears that the students using school purchased Chromebooks hate the hardware, and hate that you can't put games on the device.
    Let's be honest, one of the beautiful things about Chrome OS is that you can't download any sort of third party program on it. This means no viruses and the system won't bog down overtime from a hard drive that has to sift through gigs of files before finding the one that you need. Basically your kid or even elder will have a difficult time messing up a Chrome OS device up.
    I think the other problem we're seeing is bad experiences with the ridiculously cheap hardware that Chrome OS tends to end up on. I highly recommend doing your research and spending the extra $100-150 of your hard earned money to get; a better screen, better build, better trackpad and keyboard, and so on. Doing this will likely ensure that your experience is a pleasant one.
    I'm a full-time college student and was looking for something in the 13 inch form factor that could replace my tablet hybrid I was using last semester. I thought for sure I'd settled on a Core M powered Windows device but came across a review about the Toshiba Chromebook 2. Everyone raved about the screen and most reviewers said you couldn't buy better for less. This would be my first Chromebook, cause sure enough the first time I say that screen in person I was instantly sold at the $300 is was selling for at the time of purchase.
    I'm a bit of a gadget junky so I figured the price was right for an interesting experiment. I wanted to see if Chrome OS could serve all my college needs. Most of what I'll be using it for is research, document creation, and presentations. So far this device and Chrome OS does all that, and it does it well.
    Like other reviewers on here have asked, you should ask yourself, "how often am I using my laptop offline?" The reality for most is, "never or rarely". Chromebooks will do most of the work you need to do offline anyways, like document editing and creation.
    So far my experience after a month of use has been quite positive. I thoroughly enjoy the screen and the keyboard is solid. The trackpad might feel a bit abrasive to some, but it's accurate and never misses any of my gestures. I really like the two finger tap that acts like a right click on a Windows machine.
    The ecosystem has been fluid and responsive with few if any hiccups. Consuming multimedia has been pretty awesome with this HD IPS display, not to mention the speakers are shockingly good.
    I'm convinced the moral of the story here is that you should do your research and spend a few extra bucks for the better hardware. The popularity of cloud based and browser based computing will only continue to grow and consequently improve with time. This type of computing allows manufacturers to create truly ultra portable devices that have excellent battery life and great productivity all in one.
    At this point I'd definitely be willing top pay more for the same experience but on high end hardware. Something thin and light with an HD screen like the Asus Zenbook UX305 or the new MacBook ultra portable. The Chromebook Pixel 2 is looking more and more tempting everyday but I still find the price to swallow considering the maturity of the OS running on it.

  • Greta S Says:

    If you are getting this for school or communication, I wouldn't recommend it. Everything is either an extension that doesn't work all that great or a google app that isn't compatible with Microsoft computers.

  • cooldudegood Says:

    a chromebook is useless I hate the 1 I am using and I wish that chrome os had never been invented because we can't get minecraft and there are other games I want but can't get and even at schools there are chromebooks so if the chromebooks are ment to be for a school then buy them

  • diego Says:

    I am normally a Mac user, but I have been using chromebooks for two years. Althouh my chromebook cannot replace my Mac because of specific statistical software I have to use for work, everything else I do on my chromebook. As a matter of fact, my chromebook is my workhorse. I have the hp 14 inch, and i loooove it. It has a huge screen, it is super fast, and tough. I totally love it.

  • Arobindo Dutt Says:

    I like your evaluation of a system, not messed up with technical terms oreign to a abeginer like I am.

  • Arobindo Dutt Says:

    I like the review. I am going tobuy ACER Chrombook 13CB5-311-T7NN(13.3" HD) NVDIA TEGRA K1, 2GB OR T1UU(13.3', Full HD, NVDIA TEGRA K1, 4GB, 1920x1080 resolution.

    I am a first time user, learning, any suggestion will be welcome.

  • Arobindo Dutt Says:

    Good review, but I need more, to educate my self. I am visiting India, need to be in in touch with my investestment advisors. So I am looking for a simple hardware like Crome bOook. Any suggestion?

  • po chung Says:

    can chrombook convert analog videos to digital? can an AV transfer card be connected to a chrome book?

  • George Says:

    Don't buy a Chromebook. This has been the worst piece of technology I have ever owned. It doesn't save unless you upload it to Russia and even then it might be erased.

  • David H Says:

    Errm... I'm just saying that you can dual-boot a chromebook so that it will run linux on it (and thus getting all of the desired apps like libreoffice).

  • charlie Says:

    ithink it is good help but i didnt read all so i might be roung maby you did but you should of put the regulure prise in it

  • AmyInNH Says:

    Less than forthright about Chromebook.
    - only free online storage for 2 years, after which you'll pay (??/anything) to get your hostage docs.
    - maybe in little Silicone Valley internet is 100% present and reliable, but not elsewhere.

  • Darrell Says:

    Chromebook is so fast so nice so ebay buy and sell. What? True. Sent it back the next day as I have an ebay business. Nice for surfing.

  • Anna Attkisson, Laptop Mag & Tom's Guide Managing Editor Says:

    If you play the web-based version that's on Facebook, yes. It should.

  • Brenda Jones Says:

    Anna, I read your article on Chromebooks vs notebooks. I just bought a Asus 13" Chromebook for my backup. I only intend to play "farmville" on it. My laptop is in the shop so I got this to use when it might go to the shop again. Do you think it will let me play my game? Thank you.

  • bill sliger Says:

    how do I get out of being a guest

  • part fight Says:

    I do not know if it's just me or if perhaps everyone else encountering problems with your blog.

    It seems like some of the written text within your
    posts are running off the screen. Can somebody
    else please comment and let me know if this is happening to them too?
    This could be a problem with my internet browser because I've had this happen before.
    Thank you

  • Daavidn Says:

    I'm hook after getting my first Chromebook, an Acer 13 full HD, very lightweight, great battery life for $250. I've been compiling a list of things I CAN'T do on my chromebook and, so far, I only have 2 items: can't run the Logitech Harmony remote setup since their app won't run in this version of browser and can't run their desktop app, and the other is (most ridiculous yet) Google Earth. All the other "Office Apps" can be overcome with plugins and browser-based options. So far, the benefits far outweigh the limitations.

  • Fellow Chromebook buyer Says:

    Dont buy you no play no games at all

  • Fellow Chromebook buyer Says:

    Don't buy a Chromebook because they fucking suck. Sorry but it's true. You literally can't download any games like World of Warcraft or Wizard101 or Pirate 101 or Minecraft or anything else. It fucking sucks. I only wanted a computer to play those types of games so basically my Chromebook was a wasted computer.Thanks Chromebook.

  • Ivy Smith Says:

    Don't buy a Chromebook because they fucking suck. Sorry but it's true. You literally can't download any games like World of Warcraft or Wizard101 or Pirate 101 or Minecraft or anything else. It fucking sucks. I only wanted a computer to play those types of games so basically my Chromebook was a wasted computer.

  • Dee Says:

    I'm considering buying a chromeBook for my mom that is not a computer user. 2 questions. The purchase comes with 2 free years of Google storage, how much will the storage cost after that?

    The screen is a little small, can they be connected to a digital tv and is that easier to see than using the monitor?

  • Wzrd1 Says:

    Let's call it for what it really is, a smart, thin client.
    It *requires* internet connection to have significant function, though offline functions are growing.
    Currently, as of the end of 2014, 32 gig models are being sold.

    For those griping about Facebook crash-o-matic, that is due to Chrome and its version of Adobe Flash, the patch-o-matic example for the universe to observe as a standard of frequent patches.
    Also known as crapware. Don't have to like it, it is what it is. As an information security professional, Adobe Flash has been the bane of my existence, save or other Adobe products... With Adobe, it feels like the old Windows 95 days in quality of software, though Adobe updates as frequently as Microsoft does now.
    So, Google feature freezes Chrome at a specific version of Adobe Flash, to judge by complaints. If it's buggy enough to be crash-o-matic, you're SOL until the next Chrome is released.
    Rather like Apple with their version of Java.
    I'll not even go into Microsoft's stolen version of Java, where Microsoft tried to tell Sun that Microsoft did it right and the people who *wrote* Java disagreed...

    Well, I'm out of here. Just got off from a shift and a half at our security operations center, caught up with e-mail and was researching a new, minor annoyance and stumbled up this article and gripes.

  • Jake Says:

    Do not get one. They hold no value at all. Save yourself

  • Lisbeth Bradley Says:

    I bought this idiotic "help" book, no way to get HELP, HELP!!!!! LB

  • i bevel i can fly Says:

    if i can fly

  • i hate th samsung croombook Says:


  • i hate th samsung croombook Says:

    i hate the Samsung Chromebook

    hint GO BUY A APPLE MAC BOOK PRO OR AIR :):):):):):):):):(:(:(:(:):):):):):):):):):):):)

  • Craig Says:

    If you want to take chrome os out for a test drive, you can download the os onto a flash drive for free, and boot from the flash drive. For macs, there is an extra step to get the flash drive made, but still easy.

    So if you have an existing computer, you can try it out to see how you like it before you buy it.


    my laptop is chromebook so called acer that look good but disappointed over camera is not much some not good why i have been trouble with this over i feel bit not buy a chromebook laptop again because of bit different control so i feel difficult for deaf ?
    hope next will be more future success

  • Steve Jobs Says:

    I bought one and installed Kali Linux... 6 hours of pure hacking in a cheap and small footprint. 16GB is more than enough and still leaves 2.5GB free for anything else.

  • Rose Says:

    i love chromebook computers!!!! I'm just concerned about the noise it is making. Every time I click on something it makes a weird noise. Is that suppose to happen??????????

  • Terry Says:

    I just got an Acer C720 chromebook, I like down loading photos from on line, and also posting them on Houzz and....., but I am unable to do so.
    This Chrome book is really hard to operate for someone who has had many laptops, and been happy with them. Otherwise,I like this little Chrome.

  • Bob McKinney Says:

    Lack of compatibility with your Router could be another reason to avoid Chromebook.

  • Bob McKinney Says:

    Compatibility with your Router could be another reason to avoid Chromebook.

  • Bob McKinney Says:

    Compatibility with your Router could be another reason to avoid Chromebook. We recently ran into this problem.

  • John Says:

    Being a owner of a Samsung Chromebook I can definitely say its got a lot of limitations. You basically buying the hardware with a browser installed. Don't let the Google fanboy's tell you different. You could install Chrome browser on a PC or Mac and get the same Chromebook experience. Probably better because you would have better hardware. The Chromebook is basically for places like schools who have a limited budget and the Chromebooks are cheap. They are also worthless on trade in because they have weak hardware to begin with and only really run Chrome OS. I think schools will have a big wake up call when their Chromebooks become outdated and weak very quickly and they won't have any value left for trade. I've seen very few places who will offer any money for them. I would highly recommend people looking for a inexpensive laptop buy a Windows PC running the Bing version of Windows 8 which many start at around $250 for basically Chromebook like hardware but have a full Windows OS. You will find it much more flexible and you can always install Chrome browser if you want Google services and apps.

  • Contessa Says:

    I bought a Chromebook in January 2014 the sound is out I wasted money buying a flash drive to do a recovery mode with Google then was sent to Samsung CS who states I have to mail this in with my money and they will have it for up to 14 days even though I am an online student. If I take it locally it will void my warranty. The sound was always very low and you need ear buds but it is gone now!

  • Chromebook Owner Says:

    The Chrome book is a Smart Phone as a laptop but im not sure you can do as much.

  • BBDS Says:

    You cannot video chat on ChromeBook except through G+. No Skype, No FB video chat. And if video chatting is important to you, then forger about the ChromeBook.

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