In a recent video from Dieter Bohn over at The Verge, he took the Surface Pro X for a spin a second time around, only instead of reviewing it as a Windows laptop hybrid, he used it more like a Chromebook. We talked about that whole process in a recent article and in that piece, I really leaned into why this video from Dieter did a great job at pointing out some of the things that make Chromebooks great.
One thing I didn’t really spend much time on was the processor on board the Surface Pro X, what it is, and why the speedy performance of web-based applications on it could bode very well for upcoming Snapdragon-powered Chromebooks. If you take the time to read my article, watch Dieter’s video, or do both, the thing you’ll find is the ARM processor inside the Surface Pro X excels when driving software compiled and built for it and struggles running software that isn’t.
When using the Chromium-based Edge browser and web apps inside that browser, the Surface Pro X looks lightning fast. Gone are the stutters and dropped animations, replaced by a smooth operation that seems to have no problem chewing through tons of tabs and PWAs at once. When you stop to think about it, that is basically what you do on a Chromebook. Sprinkle in some Android apps (that are all obviously built with ARM processors in mind) and the best parts of Dieter’s re-review of the Surface Pro X are what make up the general Chromebook experience.
Chrome OS has been comfortable and at home on ARM chips for many, many years and some of the earliest Chromebooks ran on ARM architecture. Since Chrome OS and Chrome are both compiled to natively run on ARM, Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 7c, 8c, and 8cx processors won’t really have to be catered to in any special way for a Chromebook. The inner workings are already there and ready to go.
This is why I think the performance of Edge on the Surface Pro X is very good news for the upcoming Snapdragon Chromebooks we expect to see. We were promised Snapdragon 845 devices by the end of 2019, but that plan seems to have been scrapped in favor of the new ‘compute’ chips from Qualcomm. These chips were debuted officially at the Snapdragon Developer Summit in December and, from the looks of it, we already have a Snapdragon 7c Chromebook in the works.
ARM-based Chromebooks have historically been very sluggish and poor at almost everything a Chromebook would be used for. We won’t have any of the new MediaTek devices in-hand until late Spring, but from what we could tell at CES 2020, those ARM-powered Chromebooks (like the Lenovo Chromebook Duet) will be a big step forward compared to older attempts. The Snapdragon 7c will be even more powerful than the MediaTek, however, and though it isn’t quite as powerful as the custom Snapdragon in the Surface Pro X (which is basically the 8cx), I’d wager performance will be closer to the Surface than to the upcoming Lenovo.
From what we can tell, the 7c will be loosely based on the 700-series of Snapdragon chips, and those are not slow by any measure. Sure, they are not the monster chips that the 800-series are, but the 700-series are great performers on mid-to-high-end Android phones, and we’ve not seen anything close to this type of ARM power on a Chromebook to date. With the performance of the Surface Pro X being very impressive on Chromium-based tasks, this all bodes very well for performance on the upcoming Snapdragon Chromebooks. Now, we just need a few more clues as to when we might finally expect them.