While we’re getting decently deep into the age of 11th-gen Intel Tiger Lake Chromebooks (Acer Spin 713, ASUS Flip CX9, CX5400, CX5500, etc.), just like we see every year, the next generation is ready to take the stage. We’ve talked about it many times before, but the 12th-gen Alder Lake series of processors from Intel will bring some big updates, speed boosts, battery gains, and GPU upgrades to the Chrome OS ecosystem. We expect to see a few of these devices at least mentioned at CES in a few weeks, but there’s a new class of Alder Lake Chromebook coming that we’ve just learned of in the past few days: Alder Lake N.
What is Alder Lake N?
As we all know, Intel isn’t the best with its naming schemes. We have all sorts of processors with all sorts of different features, different price points, and different power consumption needs. While the general consumer might see 12th-gen Intel (or something like Intel Evo) and move on, there’s usually more to the story when it comes to Intel SoCs.
For Alder Lake, it looks like there might be quite a few variants, and if you really are concerned with top-notch performance or battery life, you want to know the difference in them. According to Notebook Check, there are a handful of Alder Lake configurations, and they were leaked to be as follows:
- S1 (desktop and specialty mobile): 8 big cores (with HT) + 8 little cores (no HT) = 24 threads
- S2 (desktop): 6 big cores + no little cores = 12 threads
- P1 (mobile): 6 big + 8 little = 20 threads
- P2 (mobile): 2 big + 8 little = 12 threads
- M (ULV mobile): 2 big + 8 little with LPDDR5/4x support and only PCIe 4.0 instead of 5.0
- N (ULV): possibly 2 big + 2 little
Intel hasn’t officially announced Alder Lake N from what I can find, but with this leak and a few finds in the Chromium Repositories, I think it is safe to say Chromebooks with this particular processor are coming and there are actually a couple of them on the way.
As you can see in the first commit, the reference to chipset-adln is specific to Alder Lake N. We’ve not seen this in the repositories up to this point, but shortly after ‘Nissa’ was started in development, ‘Skyrim’ has followed. For now, these are the only two Alder Lake N Chromebooks being worked on, but I would assume many more will follow.
With Tiger Lake already being basically all the processing power you need in a Chromebook, Alder Lake N should provide a similar performance with less power consumption and likely no need for a fan. If Intel wants to combat the growing ARM-powered threat that is on their doorstep in the Chrome OS universe, they need to deliver performance on a power budget.
When you look at the list of Alder Lake chip variants from the above, you see ULV next to the M and N variants, and this stands for Intel’s Ultra-low Voltage spec, meaning they will be a lower TDP to conserve battery. If Intel can simply keep the performance speed of Tiger Lake chips and get vastly better battery life without fans in Chromebooks, I think these devices could be very intriguing for professionals and consumers alike.
Speed on Chromebooks is at a place right now that I don’t see a whole lot of need for increase for most users for the next couple years. Instead, the focus needs to be more directed at thin, light, battery-conscious Chromebooks. With the upcoming Snapdragon 7c+ Gen 3 and MediaTek Kompanio 800/1000 series chips in Chromebooks, Intel needs an answer for higher-end, battery-sipping devices. Alder Lake N could be part of that solution, and we’ll be keeping an eye out for them to arrive at some point in 2022.