Just this morning, Robby shared an update on the development of Qualcomm-powered Chromebooks and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that 2020 could finally be the year that Snapdragon devices become a reality. However, while digging through the Chromium repository, I discovered a new development board that could very well give Qualcomm a run for their money. That’s especially true when we take a closer look at who is making the SoC and how quickly it could potentially hit the market.
MediaTek has done quite well in the Chrome OS space. Their first SoC to power a Chrome OS device debuted in the Acer Chromebook R13 and went on to power a line of EDU tablets and an ongoing product family from Lenovo. That processor, the MT8173, was a good place to start for the next generation of ARM-powered Chromebooks but MediaTek’s latest entrant into this space brings some massive improvements. The MT8183 which is actually a Helio P60 SoC that’s been optimized for tablets and PCs features the ARM big.LITTLE architecture with four ARM Cortex-A73 and four ARM Cortex-A53 “cores.” The first implementation of this SoC in a Chromebook is the highly-anticipated Lenovo Duet Tablet that we got our hands on at CES back in January. (Here’s a look at it in case you missed it. It’s really a beautiful piece of hardware.)
Needless to say, this processor is leaps and bounds beyond its predecessor. We don’t have official benchmarks but you can expect this thing to perform much more like a flagship Chromebook than a mediocre Android tablet and that’s big news for Chrome OS on ARM processors. As exciting as that is, my discovery this morning points to an entirely new era of ARM-powered Chromebooks that are not only powerful but always connected.
While trying to round up all of the new devices that have been added to the repository over the past couple of months, I stumbled upon a baseboard named ‘Asurada’. Not surprised at yet-another device to add to the list, I found my way to Asurada’s parent file to see which processor would power this new Chromebook. Expecting to see another ‘Hatch’ device or perhaps a Gemini Lake-R baseboard, I quickly took a double-take when I saw this:
Seeing the “mt” at the beginning of the processor model, I knew I was looking at a MediaTek SoC but not one that I had ever heard of before. I quickly started searching the web for anything that might give me some insight on this chip but came up empty-handed. So back to the repository I went. The MT8192 SoC was added to the repository just two weeks ago but there has already been a lot of work done with the platform. Developers have already cloned a baseboard from the previous MT8183 devices and created an overlay for an actual Chromebook. That led me into a .dtsi file that contained a reference to another MediaTek SoC that I do know a little bit about. The MT6873 was announced in late 2019 and it looks to be aimed squarely at Qualcomm’s upper mid-range phone 700 series processors.
Why it matters
You may be reading this and thinking “so, what,” and I hear you. New devices and even processors are added all of the time. The reason this is such a big deal is the fact that we have been waiting for more than two years to see a Qualcomm-powered Chromebook and at this point, who knows when that will actually happen. Yet, you have MediaTek bringing an even newer SoC to the Chrome OS party and this isn’t just some slumpy old leftover processor that budget phone makers have stopped buying.
If my deductions are correct and the MT8192 is based on the MT6873, it will come bearing the newer ARM Cortex A76 and A55 cores. ARM boasts that the A76 could output twice the performance as its A73 predecessor and on par with Kaby Lake CPUs from Intel. Considering the jump we saw from the MT8173 to the MR8183, this unannounced processor has the potential to be an absolute beast. In addition to the improved performance, the newer MT6873 is stated to be more cost-effective and 25% smaller than previous SoCs but that’s not the only trick this new MediaTek has up its sleeve.
When announced, the MT6873 was rumored to be aimed at the upper mid-range and lower flagship phone market and the hottest thing in mobile right now is 5G. This MediaTek SoC will be the second generation chip from the manufacturer to feature an integrated 5G modem. If the MT8192 we’ve discovered brings those features to Chrome OS, we could be looking at the first-ever always-connected Chromebook. That’s not to say Qualcomm couldn’t beat MediaTek out of the gate but it’s not looking good for the Snapdragon camp. Personally, as much as I want to see a Qualcomm Chromebook, I’m not partial either way. I love to see the advancement of the platform and if MediaTek is the herald for that movement, bring it on. I’ll be tracking Asurada very closely in the hopes that we can get a clue about which OEM may be taking a swing at this newly discovered SoC from MediaTek.