A staple of Chromebooks over the past few years has been the inclusion of cheaper, soldered-on storage called eMMC. eMMC stands for Embedded Multimedia Card and, in most cases, is a more affordable alternative to PCIe storage like SSD and NVMe. Along with those savings come some pretty clear drawbacks, however, and slower read/write speeds are at the top of that list. For low-end and mid-range Chromebooks, slower speeds on internal storage aren’t a massive issue since so much of the computing being done is cloud-based. However, with the inclusion of more and more local application support, the need is growing for internal drives to pick up speed.
One way for Chromebooks to do this is to include SSD or NVMe storage, but those upgrades come at a cost. They look good on a spec sheet, sure, but they truly affect the bottom line. We’ve talked before about the importance of Chromebooks staying on the lower end of the price spectrum, and I believe one of the biggest draws of Chrome OS and the Chromebooks that run it is the cost for end users. Providing fast, succinct experiences for those users is important, but it has to come alongside what still feels like a good deal.
eMMC, in many ways, helps this continue to happen. This storage type is slower than the SSD and NVMe varieties of the world, but with more recent updates to the the Chrome OS code base meant to leverage the latest versions, we might be coming to a happy medium of expanded performance and low cost.
eMMC HS400ES is on the way for Chromebooks – specifically the upcoming AMD-powered Chromebooks built off the ‘Zork’ baseboard – and with it comes a massive increase in speed and efficiency. There’s not a ton out there on the internet about the latest eMMC HS400ES hardware, but what I’ve found lines up with what the Chrome OS team is seeing in testing for the ‘Zork’ board when enabling it.
board/zork: enable HS400ES on zork
Add AMD-specific tuning code to enable HS400ES on zork
This makes reading kernel from eMMC disk much faster
Kernel loading speed : 90MB/s -> 326MB/s
Kernel loading time : 114ms -> 32ms
From what we can find on the web, the new HS400ES eMMC drives are capable of 400MB/s read speeds and up to 200MB/s write speeds. The language in the commit above looks to be right in line with that and, as you can clearly see, gives almost a 4x boost to current eMMC speeds that we’d currently find in Chromebooks. For reference, SSD speeds are usually anywhere from 400MB/s to 600MB/s, so this would put eMMC much closer to that mark. Neither are even close to the ridiculous speed NVMe gets, but again, for an OS that leverages so much in the cloud, that isn’t a huge concern for the majority of users.
Instead, we’d love to see this sort of faster eMMC included in many upcoming devices and in higher quantities. Instead of inflating the price of a nice Chromebook with NVMe storage, manufacturers could decide to keep the price a bit lower and include double or triple the amount of that storage. At 400MB/s, I’d trade 64GB of NVMe storage for 128GB or 256GB of HS400SE eMMC storage in a heartbeat. Sure, there are use cases here and there than call for that ultra-fast storage, but most of us will be perfectly satisfied with HS400SE eMMC if there is more of it to go around. We’ll be looking for this to expand to other baseboards and hopefully come to market later this year as the first high-end AMD-powered Chromebooks finally emerge.