Chromebooks May Be Receiving Some Mid-Range Options Soon

January 8, 2014 - Written By Lucian Armasu

So far we’ve only really seen low-end sub-$300 Chromebooks (if you don’t count the first-gen Atom-based Chromebooks that had terrible performance and cost $400 or more, that is) and the one and only Chromebook Pixel that costs something like $1,300 or more. There hasn’t really been a mid-range option that offers not just a good processors, but also a much higher quality IPS display with a high resolution (1080p at a minimum), more RAM, better build quality, Wi-Fi 802.11ac and so on.

It seems this year we’re going to see more mid-range options, although it seems the focus seems to be mainly on performance, and not necessarily on the other specs, although if there are multiple manufacturers offering Chromebooks we may see that, too.

It seems Google wants to offer Chromebooks with chips that have a good GPU for WebGL games, which the latest Celeron-based Chromebooks do not, and old Mali T604-based Samsung Chromebook from 2012 is just too old at this point. Google wants to see chips like Core i3 or Core i5 (the lower-performance U version, at least) in these Chromebooks. But I’m not so sure that’s the best way to go here.

You don’t usually see Core i5 or even Core i3 chips in sub-$500 machines because they are too expensive (something like $150, or more, per chip), and Intel has every intention of keeping it that way, because otherwise they fear nobody will want to buy the more expensive chips anymore. So putting a Core i3 or Core i5 in a Chromebook, which is supposed to not cost very much, is a very inefficient way to go, especially if the objective is to get a powerful GPU.

The GPU’s that come with the U version of Core i3 usually have about half the performance of the non-U “regular” Core i3 GPU, so it should have about 100-150 Gflops performance, depending which version they use. That should put somewhere around 50-100 percent more powerful than last year’s ARM GPU’s. The thing is, Tegra K1 and other chips being launched this year (around the same time, too) are going to have performance that should be about twice as fast as Intel’s Core i3-i5 GPU (U version), all while being at least 5 times less expensive. 

Why is this a big deal? Because instead of getting a $500 Core i5 Chromebook with a 1366×768 display that isn’t even IPS, and probably has only 2GB of RAM, we could get something like a Tegra K1 or Samsung’s next-gen “Octa” chip, and a “retina” 1440p IPS screen, 4GB of RAM, and a better designed and built machine, and the performance would be more than adequate CPU-wise, too. Even last year we were getting sub-1 second page loading with Nvidia’s Tegra 4, and it should only get faster this year.

This is why I usually prefer ARM chips in Chromebooks, because they offer more than good enough performance (especially going forward, as they’re turning into “PC-class” chips, in every way), and for the same high price you could pay for an Intel Core i3 or i5-powered machine, you could get so much more and higher quality components. Samsung is definitely going to build another ARM Chromebook next year, but I’d rather see even more companies following their lead, and offering a better value per buck to their customers.