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Rumors say Lenovo is gearing up to intro sub-$170 Chromebooks next year

Chromebook sales are up according to numerous sources, but the market’s growth could be stalled by an incoming onslaught of low-cost Windows laptops like the HP Stream. It’s hard enough for Google’s Chrome OS platform to compete with Windows, so one way to fend off the threat of such cheap notebooks is to lower the pricing bar even further.

It seems like this is the strategy Lenovo is adopting. Digitimes claims, quoting “Taiwan-based supply chain” sources, that Lenovo is mulling such a shift of its Chromebook business.

At least one Lenovo Chromebook model coming in early 2015 will target the sub-$170 market, Digitimes says. To our knowledge, that’s uncharted territory for today’s notebooks, whether they’re running Chrome OS or Windows.

The cheapest Chromebooks released in 2014 have gone for around $200 at launch. Some can be bought for less than that these days, like Acer’s $180 Chromebook 11 CB3-111-C670. However, none started out so low, from what we’ve seen.

Digitimes says Lenovo will rely on Rockchip to supply the CPUs in these ultra-cheap Chromebooks. A direct rival of MediaTek in Asia, the China-based CPU maker isn’t quite as prestigious as Intel or Nvidia are in the Western hemisphere.

However, their ARM-based processors will undoubtedly enable Lenovo to charge less for future Chromebooks while saving them from losing a great chunk of its profit margins. Nonetheless, Digitimes estimates that profits will shrink for Lenovo, as well as laptop makers on the whole.

On the bright side, Digitimes says that the Chinese money-making machine should see an increase of over 212 percent in Chromebook shipments next year, which amounts to roughly 1.5 million units. Currently, Lenovo isn’t at the top of the Chromebook-producing mountain, as Acer and Samsung dominate the tiny, but thriving niche.

Consider this – total Chromebook sales are predicted to top six million in 2014, and double to 12 million next year.

Lenovo’s best Chromebook to date is arguably the “multi-mode” IdeaPad N20P. Available on Amazon for over $300, the 11.6 inch unit offers touch  on a low-resolution 1,366 x 768 screen. So, it’s no wonder that Lenovo is still an underdog in this space.

Power isn’t its strongest suit either, as it comes with an Intel Celeron N2830 CPU, and 2GB RAM under the hood. Battery life is rated at a solid 8 hours, and it lasted just over seven hours in our tests.

It will be interesting to see how a Rockchip-powered Lenovo Chromebook will stack up with the company’s previous offerings, and its competition in this area as well.