Google’s Possible M1 CPU Rival for Chromebooks

According to a recent news stories, Google may be designing its own Arm-based CPU to run Chromebooks, much as Apple is doing with its proprietary M1 chip. According to three unnamed sources cited by Nikkei Asia, Google is developing a processor for use in ChromeOS laptops and tablets that will be released in 2023.

Because of their low price, simple upkeep, and tight parallelism with Google services, ChromeOS-based laptops have been ripping up the sales charts and dominating in schools. In reality, ChromeOS-powered laptops have been slowly eating into Microsoft’s Windows market share, and they now outsell MacBooks.

There are several versions of Google’s Chrome OS. The Intel-based ones, which make up the vast majority of Chromebooks, are referred to as x86 hardware. AMD has done well in ChromeOS recently as well. There are also lots of MediaTek and Qualcomm-powered Chromeboxes out there.

For a while, Nvidia had even developed Arm-based Tegra for Chromebooks. Intel is still the primary competitor, so Google’s introduction of its own in-house design from Chromebooks could indicate a shift in the industry—especially because Apple has just announced its M1 transition.

What is motivating this surge to manufacture their own chips, anyway? Analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights Strategy thinks they’re just jelly.

“Overall, I think many companies are having some ‘Apple-envy’ given how much money Apple makes from its devices. Apple competitors see Apple doing its own chips, tailor-fit to special experiences, and want to do the same thing,” Moorhead told PCWorld. “I like the idea and notion of special experiences but to be fully successful, it takes a tremendous amount of investment, a tolerance for risk, and the requirement to leverage 10s if not 100s of millions of units.”

The Arm-based desktop, according to Microsoft’s John Moorhead, is “significantly more competitive” than the AMD Epyc server. However, penny slot players won’t have a chance against AMD or Intel competitors; it’ll just be for high-rollers.

“With Arm’s IP structure and the increased ease of integrating special ASICs for special capabilities into chips, it’s not nearly as hard to create an SOC as it was before,” he said. “Only when volumes get to tens, maybe hundreds of millions do any cost advantages appear. To compete with an AMD or Intel, any chipmaker also needs to invest billions in [capital expenditure] into foundries to get the leading-edge production.”