It has been a full 9 months since Gabriel unearthed the first signs of an AMD-powered Chromebook beginning development with the newer, more powerful Picasso chipset inside. That device was revealed to have the codename ‘Zork’ and all we knew about it at the time was the fact that it looked to be the first Chromebook packing a truly competitive APU from AMD inside.
Last year at CES, quite a few education-focused AMD-powered Chromebooks made their debuts. We had announcements from Acer and devices on-hand from HP, but these Chromebooks were 100% in either the super-affordable category or aimed at EDU. While I’m not saying we don’t need those types of devices in the mix, I was a bit sad about their overall build quality and lack of speed. This was not the entrance I was hoping for from AMD into the Chromebook market.
When ‘Zork’ did surface in early spring of 2019, I was again excited by the prospect of an AMD-powered Chromebook because this time, the processors getting included were newer and much more powerful. As AMD is starting to make a real dent in other markets, I was excited by the prospect of their excellent silicon becoming available in Chromebooks. In general, AMD devices have similar performance to Intel-based devices at a lower cost. With Chrome OS’ low overhead, a decent AMD chip could do wonders for both performance and price.
As the months have worn on, we’ve not seen anything firm on a manufacturer for ‘Zork’ nor have we had any real clues as to where we might finally see this new device come from. Not long ago, however, I did come across another board being developed in tandem with ‘Zork’ that goes by the name of ‘Trembyle’. Then, just today, I came across another board that has been in the works for a couple months at this point and it possesses the same AMD Picasso APU: ‘Mandolin’.
So now we have 3 boards in the works that could spawn countless Chromebooks. Even if we only get three base models out of this, that would be a solid entry into the Chromebook ecosystem at a time when all the focus is on the new ‘Hatch’ devices with Intel inside. That’s to say nothing of the slew of ‘Kukui’ devices we’re expecting with the MediaTek 8183 and whatever comes of Qualcomm’s efforts with the 7c, 8c, and 8x Snapdragon processors. You can check out our post and video about all these devices if you are interested.
Why CES 2020 Could Be The Time
Let me put together a few thougths as to why I believe we may see one or all of these devices at least get a debut at CES this year. First, we have simple timing. The AMD Chromebooks we saw at CES last year began development mid-2018 and were announced at CES and began shipping in the few months after. Of these new AMD device, ‘Zork’ was discovered in April of 2019, ‘Trembyle’ began development shortly after in May of 2019, and ‘Mandolin’ began showing up in April. That alone gives us enough of a hint as to when we could possibly see some of these Chromebooks break cover.
Further, I found a commit speaking to the development needed for the Picasso AMD chips and the underlying frameworks already in place from the current AMD Chromebooks on the market. In this commit, it is clear that there is enough IP shared with Stoney Ridge (the internal name for the A4 and A6 processors in use in AMD-powered Chromebooks available since early 2019) to use the underlying framework with some additional tweaks. This only solidifies the fact that development for Picasso chips in Chromebooks can move along even faster than it did with the older devices already available.
All of this timing together with the existing development for AMD-based Chromebooks tells me that we’re getting very, very close to seeing a few of these new Chromebooks in the wild. It is unclear if they will be completely unique devices or simply variants of new Chromebooks based on the ‘Hatch’ baseboard we’re expecting early in 2020. Only time will be able to tell us whether we’ll get unique Chromebooks from this new chipset, but I’d put money on the appearance of a few of them showing up at CES in just under 2 weeks from now. Added to our highly-anticipated device list for early 2020, these new AMD Chromebooks could get in the game at a time when new Chromebooks are as intriguing as ever. Stay tuned.