For years at this point, Chromebooks with Intel silicon inside have fallen on one of two sides of the coin: large core or small core. That’s a simplistic way to put it, but in general, this is how we’ve seen Intel approach Chromebooks over the past 6 or 7 years. As an example, as 4th-gen (Haswell) and 5th-gen (Broadwell) large-core Chromebooks launched, we had the small-core devices as well with Bay Trail and Braswell processors. We moved on to Apollo Lake, Gemini Lake and now Jasper Lake in the affordable Chromebook segment, but it looks like things could change a bit on that front as 2022 comes to to a close.
Making sense of Alder Lake-N
When we first started seeing signs of Alder Lake-N in the Chromium Repositories, we simply thought these chips would offer up a fanless, lower-power version of the very fast 12th-gen Alder Lake processors we have in a handful of Chromebooks at this point like the new Acer Chromebook Vero 514 and HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook. While that is technically true, there’s more to Alder Lake-N than simply being fanless versions of existing processors.
To be realistic, the ‘-N’ in the name should have given us a bit of a clue as to what we should expect with these processors. In the past, small-core Intel processors have come with ‘N’ in the model name. Looking at Jasper Lake processors, for example, we have models like the Celeron N4500, N5100, and Pentium Silver N6000. See anything interesting in those model names?
For years Intel has done this with their small-core chips, and Alder Lake-N is a clear call to this naming structure. Where we’ve had differing names for large and small-core chips from Intel in the past, it looks like things could be changing with Alder Lake, unifying things around a single, generational code name and simply making large and small-core versions of the same over-arching chipset.
According to a leak of Alder Lake-N chips, we are looking at small-core processors that should have big performance gains over the previous Jasper Lake generation of processors. The chips look to still use Gracemont (small) cores, and there are configs with up to 8 of those in total along with an updated Xe-LP GPU from Intel. With these better Gracemont small cores (the same small cores we see on hybrid Alder Lake large-core CPUs) and more of them, Alder Lake-N could combine better processing with the upgraded graphics performance to make affordable Intel chips go toe-to-toe with large-core processors released only a few years ago.
For Chromebooks, that’s a big deal. We’ve said many times around here that the jumps in processing power for ChromeOS are less and less important as time passes. ChromeOS is lightweight and unless you need extra power for Steam games or video editing, going back to something like a 10th-gen Intel Chromebook doesn’t really feel that much different than using a more-modern Alder Lake model. That’s no knock to Intel: it’s just a testament to the speed of Chromebooks and ChromeOS.
With that in mind, having affordable processors that don’t need fans, perform at a high level, have great battery, and keep the overall cost of solid Chromebooks down to a minimum sounds like a real win in my book. And consolidating large and small-core processors under a single generational name makes things feel far simpler to understand for general consumers.
We’re tracking quite a few of these Alder Lake-N Chromebooks and now that we understand where they will position themselves, that makes sense. There have been a ton of Jasper Lake Chromebooks released very quietly over the past year or so, but we knew a follow-up chip had to be on the way. We’ve been waiting to see what that would be, and now it seems that Alder Lake-N is the answer.
It will make it far easier to identify what generation small-core devices are in lock-step with the current large-core ones. If the performance gains materialize like we think they will, Intel could be in a place to stave off the ingress of ARM-powered Chromebooks in the coming months. As we get together a list of all the Alder Lake-N Chromebooks on the way, we’ll get a post out that at least makes a few attempts at identifying who is making a few of them. Stay tuned.