A pair of new Chrome OS gadget codenames have now cropped up in the Chromium Gerrit, spotted by About Chromebooks and pointing to a reference board that would represent significant competition for Chromebooks. The codenames in question are "Trembyle" and "Zork" — a name being derived from one of the earliest text-based PC games ever devised.
True to the inherent implications of those names, Trembyle appears to be the Chrome OS board underlying Zork and the latter has all the makings of a much more powerful AMD-driven machine.
The competition heats up
According to details noted in the initial commits, Zork seems to reference a Chrome OS device being built around testing for AMD's Ryzen-based Picasso chipsets.
References in the code also seem to point to the use of accelerometers to determine when the device is laid flat, indicating the reference device at least is a standard clamshell design. Since this is a reference board, however, the commits also note that manufacturers can change that while optimizing for consumer devices.
The chip designation in question sets a similarly wide field of possibilities and there aren’t any deeper details about exactly which chips are planned. Each of the AMD offerings under that designation does, however, fall well within the performance range and sometimes above that on offer in some of the most powerful Intel-powered Chromebooks currently available.
At the lower end of the spectrum is a 64-bit dual-core APU in the Athlon family dubbed the 300U. That’s a 12nm chip with a base clock of 2.4GHz that can be boosted up to 3.3GHz and supports up to 32GB of DDR4-2400 RAM. It’s coupled with a Radeon Vega 3 Graphics chip on the visual side clocked at up to 1.2GHz. Its TDP — thermal design point — falls within the present power-efficient, low-temperature standards of Chrome OS at 15W.
Sticking with what’s already known to work with Chromebooks, the most hard-hitting AMD chip available at 15W TDP is the Ryzen 7-based 3700U. That’s packing a much bigger punch with four cores and eight threads clocked at 2.3GHz for the base and up to 4GHz boosted. A Radeon Vega 10 Graphics chip is tied to that with a clock of up to 1.4Ghz.
At least three other chips fall between those extremes with comparable performance and quad-core designs with either four or eight threads. All of that points to Chromebooks that should, at least on paper, equate to a serious challenge for Intel since AMD hardware is generally less expensive.
Good news for AMD fans and customers
The introduction of further powerful Chromebooks running at the same or a similar performance level to the best gadgets available not only represents a step up from the education-specific AMD offerings already becoming available. The laptops or tablets built on the Zork platform will readily provide the incentive needed to drive genuine competition between AMD, Intel, and Qualcomm.
That's good news for consumers who, up until this point, have been forced to choose between either competition on low-cost Chrome OS devices and a range of premium Chromebooks powered exclusively by Intel. Qualcomm's Snapdragon platform should make a debut soon as well but consumers aren't spoiled for choice as the situation currently stands.
Additional powerful Chromebook on the market should result in a pronounced improvement in terms of third-party focus on innovation in software, applications, and web apps for the devices too. Without a deeper examination of specifications and the OEMs that will build on the Zork board, there's no way to gauge exactly how impactful the new gadgets will be. It's also likely months away at this point, with work just recently getting started.
Regardless, AMD pushing forward a more serious bid to take on the top Chrome OS devices will undoubtedly be a net positive for everybody involved.