Google Eyes Custom In-House CPUs For Chromebooks Following Pixel 6 Debut
Taking some apparent inspiration from Apple, Google is reportedly planning to design its own custom central processing units (CPUs) for future Chromebook models, and also for use in tablets. The chips will be based on Arm, but designed in-house to Google's own specifications, which could allow greater integration between hardware and software.
Apple is in the midst of doing the same thing, having embarked on a two-year transition plan to move entirely way from Intel's x86 processors and become wholly reliant on its own Arm-based designs. This has manifested with the first Apple Silicon design dubbed M1 currently found in a handful of devices, including the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini, iMac, and a couple of iPad Pro tablets.
It is said "Google was particularly inspired in Apple's success" in employing its own custom hardware on a wider scale. Apple had already been doing this in its iPhone and iPad devices with its Bionic silicon, but adding laptops and other hardware into the fold represents a bigger effort. And Google has taken notice.
Multiple sources with supposed knowledge of the matter told Nikkei Asia that Google will begin rolling out custom CPUs for laptops and tablets running on Chrome OS sometime in 2023. It is an expensive venture, but one that Google can afford.
It's said that designing an advanced 5-nanometer semiconductor is around $500 million, versus in the neighborhood of $50 million to design a chip around more mature nodes, such as 28nm. Google's parent company Alphabet reported revenues of $55.3 billion in the first quarter of this year alone, with net income of more than $17.9 billion.
That doesn't mean it's an entirely low-risk venture for Google, but it certainly has the means and motivation to do go this road. It's also already testing the waters, to a certain a extent. Google began using its own Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) designs in cloud applications back in 2016, which are custom-developed application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) for machine learning workloads.
More recently, Google announced it would be injecting its upcoming Pixel 6 smartphones with a custom Tensor chip. Google boss Sundar Pichai said the chip "has been four years in the making" and called it the company's "biggest innovation in Pixel to date."
Google has not provided further details about its custom silicon, but rumor has it it will not be a variant of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 888 SoC, but a modified version of Samsung's Exynos 2100 SoC. Whatever Google is cooking up for its future Chromebooks, however, will likely be more ambitious.