One day soon we will see serious Arm gaming Chromebooks. With realistic ray-traced graphics. Rendered on a NVIDIA graphics card. Pinch me, I must be dreaming!
A few months ago, our very own Gabriel Brangers reported on an official announcement from NVIDIA about them combining an Arm CPU with an NVIDIA RTX dGPU. This is likely part of NVIDIA’s overall plan of buying Arm (the company) so the synergy here makes a lot of sense. More details have finally been revealed about this work including official development tools being provided for Chromium/Chrome OS, not just Linux. NVIDIA has explicitly stated they have software development kits (SDKs) for Chromium OS.
The TRXDI, NRD and RTXMU SDKs for Arm with Linux and Chromium are available now. RTXGI and DLSS will be coming soon. For more information, contact NVIDIA’s developer relations team or visit developer.nvidia.com.via blogs.nvidia.com
A demo was also shown of a ray-traced game being played on Arch Linux using a MediaTek Kompanio 1200 (MT8195) Arm processor, and an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 dGPU. Wow, does it look good! This is full desktop gaming PC performance on what has historically been considered a mobile and low-powered line of processors. This processor is a big deal because benchmarks show it has double the performance compared to the last generation of high-end MediaTek Arm processors. Oh yeah, it’s also of interest that the processor used during the demo is exclusive to Chromebook and Chromebox devices. We know of at least one Chromebook board in development based on this high-end Arm chip that goes by the code name ‘Cherry’. Adding an NVIDIA dGPU really would be a cherry on top!
Interestingly enough, the new Steam OS 3 that will be shipped with the new Steam Deck is also based on Arch Linux. Take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt, but it truly makes me wonder if we may see an Arm-based Steam Deck 2.0 a few years down the road. Google and Valve have clearly had a strong collaboration on getting work done for Steam support via Borealis over the past few years. I would be interested to know how far that collaboration has gone and what – if any – steps have been taken to enable Arm-based gaming together.
Now, let’s back up a second. How is this AMD/Intel game from the demo running on an Arm CPU? This is no small feat and I think there are a few possibilities. First, it could have been natively built for Arm by the developer. That’s very likely for this short demo. Second, it could have been using QEMU which can emulate other processors. This is unlikely as there is a huge overhead which would lead the game to be sluggish and that didn’t appear to be the case at all. Third, they could be using box86 or box64. This makes the most sense as the long-term solution to me as it would open the door to allowing all games to work. box86 and box64 now have 80% the native performance of running AMD/Intel programs on Arm, and that’s the same performance of Rosetta 2 on the new Apple M1 Macs! Impressive!
My friends at Boiling Steam sat down with me earlier this year and we had a chat on their podcast about the huge gaming support coming to Chromebooks. There were two related topics we talked about: the possibility of Arm gaming and, separately, NVIDIA graphics cards coming. For both, I turned down those ideas. Running traditional AMD/Intel applications on Arm is a hard problem to solve and NVIDIA drivers on Linux have also been historically complicated due to issues related to licensing and installation. Apparently, Google and NVIDIA have a game plan ahead to overcome these limitations. I have never been so happy to be wrong!