Chrome OS is officially 10 years old and my how far we have come. Just a few short years ago, the only major decisions a user had to make when purchasing a Chromebook were form-factor, display quality, and internals. Nowadays, there’s a lot more to consider as Chromebooks have come into their own. Users can cherry-pick from a plethora of options and get a device that is curated to their exact needs. You can get a Chromebook with a fingerprint sensor or one that has a detachable keyboard. You can buy a device with a garaged, rechargeable stylus or buy the pen of your choice thanks to the emerging USI platform. Shoppers can choose from ARM-powered devices, AMD Ryzen, or the latest Core CPUs from Intel. No doubt about it, Chrome OS options have expanded exponentially over the past few years.
Of all the new and upcoming options available to Chrome OS, few have me as excited as the next generation of Chromebooks powered by Intel’s Tiger Lake CPUs. The CPU itself should be an improvement over the current and capable Comet Lake processors that have proven themselves plenty powerful in devices such as the Acer Spin 713, Samsung Galaxy Chromebook, and HP Chromebook C1030. Where the 11th Gen Tiger Lake chips are set to shine is in the GPU department. Early benchmarks of Intel’s new integrated Xe graphics show a GPU that could very well go toe-to-toe with some mid-range dedicated graphics processing units. That’s big news for Chrome OS. For the longest time, Chromebooks relied solely on the standard UHD graphics housed in Intel’s CPUs and those integrated graphics are, well, meh. Now that Chrome OS has integrated Linux applications and Crostini can access the computer’s GPU, Intel’s Xe graphics become a very important player in the Chrome OS ecosystem. One of our Patrons recently shared a YouTube video of a Core i7 Tiger Lake CPU being put to the test on a Windows laptop and I was excited to see just how well this integrated GPU actually performed. Check it out.
So, as you can see, the new Xe iGPU is no slouch. No, it isn’t a beast GPU and it is going to choke up on some of your heavier games but that’s not the point I’m trying to get at. Power users that want to fully leverage Linux on Chrome OS are looking for more power and these XeiGPUs could very well offer up said power and possibly open up the doors to using powerful applications like the Davinci Resolve video editor or power-hungry code compiling software. What’s more, the Borealis project should be launching at some point in 2021. This will bring the full Steam gaming platform to Chrome OS and many of these games will need more GPU power than what is offered in the current Intel UHD graphics.
I say all this because I noticed something intriguing when I was perusing the ASUS website this morning. Currently, ASUS is the only OEM that has officially announced a Tiger Lake Chromebook. The ASUS Chromebook CX9 should be one of the first Tiger Lake flagships to hit the market with an expected launch sometime in Q2. You can bet that other PC makers won’t be far behind. Anyway, as I looked at this new Chromebook, I noticed something on the specs sheet. The CX9 will offer an 11th Gen Core i3 or Core i5 CPU.
- Intel® Core™ i3-1115G4 Processor 3.0 GHz (6M Cache, up to 4.1 GHz, 2 cores)
- Intel® Core™ i5-1135G7 Processor 2.4 GHz (8M Cache, up to 4.2 GHz, 4 cores)
I presumed that the integrated graphics on these two chips would be the same or similar. I was wrong. Under the graphics sections, ASUS lists the Irix Xe graphics but they also list UHD graphics. At this point, I began to get very confused. So, I started doing a little research and this is what I found. The Tiger Lake Core i3 chipsets do have Xe graphics but they are labeled Iris Xe G4 while the Core i7 and above are Iris Xe G7. Intel has decided to continue labeling the lesser GPU as UHD graphics and, as I discovered, there is a good reason. The GPU on all of the Core i3 processors boasts significantly less power than the Iris Xe Graphics G7 found on the Core i5 chip. I dug up some benchmarks from laptomedia.com and you can see below that there is a stark difference in the 3DMark benchmarks between the two iGPUs. According to the site, real-world performance gains for the G7 GPU ranges from 10% all the way up to 40%. That’s a serious jump.
Why it matters
For the average Chromebook user, these gains likely won’t make a big difference if you keep using your device as you do now. If the current generation of Comet Lake chips gives you all you need in the horsepower department, the Tiger Lake Core i3 will most definitely do what you need. If you’re like me and you’re looking to harness the power of Intel’s Xe graphics for Linux apps and gaming, you probably need to look at the Core i5 model. Not only will you get the bump in GPU performance, but the Core i5 is also a quad-core chip while the Core i3 only houses two cores. The Core i5 CPU alone, as we’ve seen with Comet Lake, should easily blow the Core i3 out of the water. The addition of the more-powerful GPU will make the beefier model a must-have for those wanting to push Chrome OS to its limits.
To sum up, this really serves as a public service announcement. While I’m sure that there are many that already knew the differences between the two Intel GPUs, I did not and I would be doing our readers a disservice if I didn’t warn them of the differences. It would be very easy to purchase one of these new Core i3 Chromebooks thinking that you’re getting the best onboard graphics Intel has to offer just to discover that is not the case. When these devices finally hit the shelves, we will do an in-depth dive to test the real-world gap between the two GPUs to help you make the best buying decision based on your personal needs. That is all.