Over the years, we’ve seen Chromebooks tested with discrete GPUs (dGPU) in the Chromium repositories, but they have always been AMD devices and we’ve never really come across any proof that we could expect to see them in production any time soon. The AMD devices we currently see in the market are all affordable, low-end Chromebooks with older processors inside. They are clearly not laptops built with dGPUs in mind.
While I’d still contend that the majority of what you do on a Chromebook doesn’t really require a dGPU, there are things on the horizon that could definitely benefit from this additional hardware acceleration. Though overdue, we know Adobe Premiere Rush is coming, we already have and use Lightroom, and there’s good reason to believe that Valve may bring official Steam support to Chrome OS as well via the Linux container. All of these activities would benefit from a dedicated graphics processor, and it looks like the first one may be on the way in ‘Mushu’.
We talked about ‘Mushu’ earlier this morning and how it looks to be one of 2020’s Project Athena certified Chromebooks. These devices will be powerful, top-tier laptops that skimp on very little, so the idea of adding in a variant with a dedicated GPU only makes sense. Look at the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook if you need reference on what this class of Chromebook will offer. Literally the only thing Samsung’s latest flagship doesn’t posses is a dGPU, and while it may not need it right now, a Chromebook with a dGPU built in could be a difference maker down the road.
In this commit, we see ‘Mushu’ getting tested with a BOMACO (Bus Off Memory Alive Core Off) mode for its dGPU. This isn’t just a nod at the possibility of a dGPU being included. Instead, this is a test of a particular mode of the dGPU that is already part of the ‘Mushu’ board. Because of this, there’s little question this board possesses a dGPU. What we don’t know is who makes it.
Intel just officially announced its own GPU at CES 2020, but we’re not even close to seeing that in a Chromebook that is already in development. Instead, I’d assume we’ll see either a NVidia or AMD GPU being used in ‘Mushu’. The details at this point are very scarce, but the fact that ‘Mushu’ is already solidly in the development pipeline tells me that this could be the first Chromebook we see hit shelves with a dGPU inside later in the year. For what it is worth, Chromebooks can already leverage the basic integrated GPU that is built into Intel, AMD, Qualcomm, and MediaTek chips. The difference is the power behind those integrated solutions versus what a dedicated GPU can offer in the processor pipeline.
We’ll be keeping an eye out for more details as ‘Mushu’ continues being worked on, but it is exciting to think we could finally start seeing Chromebooks with dGPUs hit shelves by the end of 2020. This sort of hardware addition won’t be a necessary upgrade for everyone, but for developers, gamers, and creatives, this addition could go a long way towards making Chromebooks even more competitive alternatives to Macbooks and Windows laptops.