Oh, Geekbench. In the past year or so, this benchmark software (and more importantly, its published results) has been the revelator of many new Chromebooks and hidden specs, unveiling new information we simply would never have gleaned from the Chromium Repositories alone.
With the Pixel Slate, for instance, Geekbench results ended up giving us all the processor and RAM configurations that ended up being announced only a week later at Google’s annual hardware event. We’ve seen some oddities here as well, though, so not everything we find on Geekbench is set in stone. These published scores are simply from users testing devices, so a bit of board name manipulation isn’t out of the question.
So, what exactly are we looking at today? It’s a tad strange, honestly. After reports emerged of a Pixelbook being tested with 8th-gen Intel chips, I thought it would be prudent to swing back by and do a quick search for Pixelbook and ‘Eve’ (the Pixelbook’s internal codename) and see what turned up. Searching ‘Pixelbook’ didn’t turn up much, but when I’m there, I check for most of the baseboards we’re tracking. After trying most of them and finding nothing of note, I gave old ‘Eve’ a quick search.
And what I found did not disappoint!
Take a look at those results. Anything look odd? If you aren’t following, look closely first at the entry names and then the board listing underneath. They are all reporting as Google eve-arcnext with a board name Intel placeholder 3300 MHz (4 cores).
What? What does that even mean? I asked the same questions and, upon clicking into any of these entries, a bit more info arises. Check out the actual listing info:
A couple things jump out. First, this device is running Android 9 (Pie) and the model and motherboard have eve-arcnext in the title. We’re not quite sure what arcnext is exactly, but we’ll look at that in a moment. The specs also show 8GB of RAM and an ‘Intel Placeholder’ chip with 4 cores and ‘ARM implementer’ running at 3.30 GHz. What this actually is still feels a bit mysterious, but it seems clear that this device is the ‘Eve’ (Pixelbook) board running an ARM chip at 3.3 GHz.
At first, I was tempted to think the ‘Intel Placeholder’ was just some sort of strangely-modified Intel chip of some sort, but I’m leaning towards a proper ARM chip in place here as the top-left part of that image up there says Geekbench 4.2.3 for Android ARMv7. When you take a look at a Pixelbook result from the current board and configuration (7th-gen Intel chips), that spot reads Geekbench 4.3.2 for Android x86 (64-bit) as you’d expect. These devices being tested are clearly being pushed by ARM chips inside.
So, it would seem we are definitely looking at a Pixelbook board with an ARM chip somehow in place of the standard Intel silicon. How is this possible or how could this even work? We have no idea to be honest. From what I can understand, you can’t just bolt on an ARM chip where there was once an Intel one, so perhaps this is simply some sort of emulation for testing purpose. Either way, it is pretty exciting because this means Google may be internally working on a Pixelbook-esque device with Qualcomm’s latest, greatest chips in the Snapdragon 855.
Why It Could Be The Snapdragon 855
One of the bigger clues in these Geekbench results is the processor clock speed. If these chips being tested are ARM (which we feel confident they are) then the 3.3GHz clock speed gives away something very telling. Only one ARM core is clocked at 3.3GHz, and that is the Cortex-A76. The Cortex-A76 is the lastest ARM core being utilized in the insanely-fast Snapdragon 855 that powers 2019 flagship phones.
Now, you may be looking at those crazy-low scores and thinking “There’s no way that is the Snapdragon 855!” Fear not. While the benchmark scores themselves are insanely low, I’d wager we’re still firmly in the testing phase. We have to remember that chips in Chromebooks need optimization just like in phones. This isn’t a simple plug-n-play situation, so I wouldn’t worry too much over the poor benchmark scores at this point.
More importantly, here, let’s all remember that up to this point, we’ve only really been able to track ‘Cheza’ as the baseboard for the promised Snapdragon Chromebooks we are awaiting in the second half of 2019. ‘Cheza’ – though very exciting – is based on the Snapdragon 845 that powered 2018 flagship phones. The newer Snapdragon 855 in much more capable in every way versus the 845, so the idea that we may see Chromebooks with this ARM chipset is extremely exciting.
A grain of salt is needed, here, however, as the Core i5 in the Pixelbook also runs at a 3.3GHz clock speed. That could just be a coincidence, but it could also mean that all of this is some sort of crazy emulated testing bed for Google, which means it is possible that there is no ARM hardware here at all; only some sort of modification to the existing Pixelbook. Either way, it is clear that Google is internally working on ARM implementation in the Pixelbook.
So, What is arcnext?
This is the part of the puzzle that I’ve yet to unravel. After seeing arcnext in the board and device name, I went straight to the Chromium Repositories and started digging around. Then I got Gabriel digging around. And we found things like this:
So, now we have kevin-arcnext, caroline-arcnext, and eve-arcnext. What is going on? As a quick recap, ‘Kevin’ and ‘Caroline’ are the codenames of the original Samsung Chromebook Plus and Pro, so adding them to the arcnext group still feels a tad confusing. Sure, the Plus was an ARM-based Chromebook, but the Pro never was. What is Google up to?
Right now, it is hard to say. There are entries in Geekbench from June of last year with arcnext as the Pixelbook device name and motherboard, but they begin with the actual 7th-gen Intel chips before being replaced by the ‘Intel Placeholder’ configuration in late August 2018. Since then, there have been monthly tests of this odd hardware on a consistent basis, so there is definitely some heavy research happening around whatever arcnext is.
This hole could go pretty deep, but we’re going to keep digging to see if we can find an answer to what exactly Google is up to. It seems clear that, if nothing else, they are working on bringing an ARM-powered Chromebook to market and that testing is happening on Pixelbook hardware. Could a Pixelbook successor with a new ARM chip be coming? We’d love to see that, for sure!