Chrome OS as an operating system has never really been overly concerned with pushing the latest, greatest, graphics-driven software. With a clear focus on all things web, lower-powered integrated graphics have always been just fine for Chromebooks and all we’ve ever really had to use. With rumors of Steam coming nativity to Chromebooks, the elongated anticipation of Adobe Premiere Rush arriving, the news of Parallels and Windows apps on the horizon, and Android app developers finally starting to take Chrome OS more seriously, it feels like we’re at the point where that mentality needs to change a bit.
We’ve previously reported on the development of Chromebooks happening with discrete GPUs on board for the first time and we expect to see them in the coming months, but that will really only affect a device or two, not an entire line of Chromebooks. While I think there are likely users with use cases where a dGPU makes sense, I don’t think we’re going to be seeing Chromebooks with graphics cards in them becoming a normalized thing for quite some time.
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With the upcoming Tiger Lake devices (there are a lot of them in development), there is a change coming that will push Chromebooks forward in a pretty significant way. As we’ve previously reported, Intel has changed the onboard GPU that ships with their new chips, and it is wildly more powerful than we thought it would be. As a matter of fact, in some early tests by @ryanshrout from Intel, the performance is pretty shocking. You can see in his tweet below how well a highly-detailed game like Battlefield V runs on a laptop with just the Tiger Lake Intel CPU and their new on-chip Xe GPU.
While we knew the graphics upgrade would be noticeable, this is far more power than I would expect from a baseline, integrated GPU. No, it won’t stand up to discrete graphics cards and won’t push massive games at ultra-high settings at 60+ FPS, but what is being accomplished here is impressive nonetheless. While PC gamers may scoff at such things, Chromebooks users will welcome these newfound powers. For video editing (provided we ever get a good piece of software for it), photo editing, Android gaming, Linux applications, Windows apps, and Steam gaming down the road, this new processor/GPU combo from Intel could elevate what is possible on a Chromebook.
Late 2019 and 2020 have already delivered nice upgrades to Chromebooks with better connectivity (Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5), better build quality in devices, and more competitive pricing. The next generation of Chromebooks may deliver in ways that we previously would not have considered. While I once was in a bit of confusion regarding how Google thinks Steam on a Chromebook would be any good or how we’ll ever have a decent video editing option, I’m quite a bit more hopeful now that the hardware will be available soon to do many of these things. I’m just hopeful that software developers are already beginning to craft apps and games that will fully utilize it.