This week, MediaTek announced a whole bunch of stuff at their annual summit, but buried right in the middle of everything they spoke of, there were 2 new chips officially announced that will be added to the current MediaTek SoC (the MT8183 currently on display in the Lenovo Chromebook Duet and a few others) to round out MediaTek’s Chromebook offerings. Gabriel posted about this announcement on Tuesday if you’d like the overall breakdown on those two new chips – the MT8192 and MT8195 – but for today, we want to talk about why these chips are important moving forward.
Up to this point, Chromebooks with ARM processors inside have been slow. Simply put, we get ARM cores that are years behind the current chips you see in current smartphones and it shows. Sure, the battery is solid and performance is good enough for basic tasks, but there’s nothing about these current ARM-powered Chromebooks that will blow you away in the speed department.
So, what’s different with these new chips? Well, it mainly comes down to the Cortex-A76 and Cortex-A78 cores that are being utilized. In a nutshell, Cortex cores are what ARM makes each year to deliver to chip makers to build out their SoC’s (system on chip). While the more advanced companies like Qualcomm and Apple can take these cores and leverage the most possible performance from them, others aren’t as well-equipped and can’t quite compete with what the bigger outfits can build. Companies like MediaTek have been in that position for years, but they have recently been gaining the chops to make similar performance claims to chip makers like Qualcomm and Samsung.
Though there are differences in chips with the same Cortex cores, they aren’t wildly different. In a side-by-side of Cortex-A76 chips from MediaTek and Qualcomm, there’s only a 7% performance gain in Qualcomm’s chip and some of that can be chalked up to the 7nm process in the Snapdragon 855 versus MediaTek’s 12nm in the Helio G90. With these new Chromebook chips from MediaTek being 7nm (MT8192) and 6nm (MT8195) processes, that won’t be nearly as much of a gap.
What can we expect?
Here’s the tough part in all this. Because we’ve never had anything resembling a flagship ARM chip in a Chromebook up to this point, it is hard to know exactly what to expect. With MediaTek’s chops and familiarity with Chrome OS, I’ll go ahead and say my expectations are pretty high. While I don’t think these chips will quite match the latest Intel Core i5 chips, I’d bet we’ll see something close to the current or last-gen Core i3. That’s a bold hope as I still contend that Intel Core i3 performance is enough Chromebook horsepower for 95% of users.
When we look at the difference in performance between Cortex-A73 chips (what we have in the Lenovo Duet) and Cortex A-76 chips, the performance gains are massive. With the Snapdragon 835 from the Pixel 2 representing the A73 and the Snapdragon 855 from the Pixel 4 representing the A76, we see Geekbench results quite literally double when comparing them side-by-side. Does that mean we’ll see double the actual performance? Maybe. With better GPUs on board and a far smaller process (down to 7nm and 6nm from 12nm we see currently), there’s good reason to believe these new chips from MediaTek will fly on Chromebooks.
Why it’s important
As we move into the future of Macbooks seamlessly running iOS apps, getting wildly good battery life, and completely silent designs, consumers will begin to expect this more and more from Chromebooks, too. Here’s the good news: Google is years ahead of Apple in working on Android apps for Chrome OS. These new ARM chips from MediaTek will only make that experience better and better as seen with little updates to games like PUBG Mobile for Chromebooks with MediaTek ARM chips inside. Where we see this game still struggle on far more powerful Intel-powered Chromebooks, it runs quite well on even the under-powered Lenovo Chromebook Duet. There’s no question about it: Android apps work much better on ARM-powered Chromebooks.
Now that we have Qualcomm taking their first dive into the Chromebook waters and MediaTek clearly ready to step fully into the market with their best hardware foot forward, I think the shift to ARM is truly beginning for Chrome OS. Will Google – like Apple – go all in on ARM and leave Intel by the wayside? Not any time soon, if ever. Instead, Chrome OS is an operating system that is flexible enough to handle both ARM and x86 natively without emulators, allowing the user to choose what is more important to them in a device. If absolute power is the goal, you’re likely going to be in the Intel camp for some time. If thin, light, silent, long-lasting Chromebooks that run Android apps like a champ are more your speed, hold on just a bit longer. The ARM revolution is coming for Chromebooks in 2021, starting with MediaTek, and we’re in for a very interesting ride.