Chromebooks: Unlikely battlefield for Intel vs. ARM

Chromebooks: Unlikely battlefield for Intel vs. ARM

Summary: Intel has been gearing up to put its processors against ARM, and it's logical that would happen with tablets. New Chromebooks have put the two technologies head-to-head unexpectedly.

Chromebook Intel ARM

Until Windows 8 and RT came along, almost all popular tablets have used ARM technology. ARM processors are in all iPads and Android tablets, even in the Microsoft Surface RT and Surface 2. Tablets run reasonably well and have long battery life due to having ARM inside. ARM technology has always been much cheaper than Intel alternatives, too.

That's a big reason why Intel hasn't been able to make a dent in ARM's lock on the tablet space, largely due to a large price differential. Intel has always stated it wants to go up against ARM but has found that to be hard to do.

That may be changing, but not with tablets as expected. There's an unlikely place that may let Intel compete directly with ARM. That place is in Chromebooks.

The Acer C720 Chromebook with the Haswell Celeron is only $249. That shows how seriously Intel is taking this battle royale with ARM, as it is obviously offering the processor with aggressive pricing.

Laptops running Google's Chrome OS are appearing that will put Intel's latest Celeron processor with Haswell technology directly up against those running ARM. These Chromebooks will allow us to compare Intel's offering directly with ARM technology, both in performance provided and battery life.

HP and Google jointly unveiled the Chromebook 11 recently, a laptop running ARM (Samsung's latest Exynos processor). This Chromebook has 2GB of system memory, the maximum currently allowed by ARM technology not counting Apple's new 64-bit processor in the iPhone 5s.

Acer has just announced the C720 Chromebook that is very similar to the Chromebook 11 with one important exception. Acer is using the Intel Celeron processor with Haswell technology, the first device to use it. This will allow a direct comparison of a good Intel mobile solution with the heavily used ARM. The C720 has 4GB of system RAM which is possible due to the Celeron.

Intel's latest Haswell technology has proven in the field and with benchmarks that it yields both good performance and battery life. These are key attributes for tablets and laptops, and it's expected to do so in this new Chromebook. 

A popular Chromebook, the Samsung Series 5 550, has been selling for a while with the last generation Intel Celeron processor, and it's a decent performer. It lacks good battery life, however, an area that the Haswell version of the Celeron should address handily in the Acer C720 Chromebook.

I used a Series 5 550 with its older Celeron for months alongside a Samsung Chromebook with an ARM processor. The Celeron outperformed the ARM Chromebook in every way, but the ARM delivered much better battery life. The $249 price tag on the Samsung Chromebook with ARM made the slower laptop a reasonable compromise over the Celeron device that cost twice as much.

That's what makes these two new Chromebooks interesting to compare. The Chromebook 11 with ARM inside is listing for $279, a decent price. The Acer C720 with the Haswell Celeron is only $249. That shows how seriously Intel is taking this battle royale with ARM, as it is obviously offering the processor with aggressive pricing.

These two Chromebooks should be available in short order, so the comparisons will begin. We'll be able to see how this new Intel Haswell processor stacks up against the ARM technology widely used. And we'll be able to do it at comparable prices, a first.

Some will make the argument that the 2GB of RAM in the ARM Chromebook is a disadvantage when comparing with the Intel Celeron Chromebook with 4GB of RAM. That's a reasonable argument but the comparison of the two referred to in this article is not at a benchmark level. The memory difference is a direct limitation of the processors being compared, and that makes it a good comparison. The prices of the two are comparable, and if the difference in memory is in play that is fair. The important comparison is in usability, not benchmarks.

Intel will no doubt continue to push its Haswell technology on tablets and perhaps even laptops with Windows 8. It desperately wants to show it can handle the mobile needs of both consumers and enterprise customers. But the Chromebook front may be the surprise product category that lets Intel show clearly it is the hardware platform of choice for the price.

See related: 

Topics: Mobility, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Laptops

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  • The Android world too

    Both of Google's OS are hardware platform agnostic (goobuntu too if you want to count it). They will be able to use this to get better cpu prices by pitting them against each other. I think there will be a place for both architectures in the future. NOTE: they are beginning to compete in the data center too and that race will be won by the cpu that gets the most work done per watt.
    • Re: The Android world too

      Android is starting to leap out of the tablet and smartphone box and land on the laptop. As you said this will be used to get better cpu prices through chip maker competition. It looks like there will be a lot of OEMs rolling out Android on touch enabled laptops.

      This one looks interesting: (Lenovo shows Android laptop in leaked user manuals)
      • Pretty cool looking laptop....

        I can see Android laptops competing with Chromebooks for those whose need aren't too stringent.

        When I think of laptops, I think of light weight desktop replacements that I can use to get work done. When I think Android/iOS I think more of consumption though I understand that there are people that can use those platforms for work. Just not me.

        If I'm going to buy a laptop, I need it to run the Adobe CS Suite, then my music productions software and lastly my video editing software. At the moment, an laptop based on Android or iOS just won't cut it.
  • Force agnostic hardware at POS?

    The EU failed the consumer here.

    If only they had forced reality and forced hardware manufacturers to leave off the OS then innivation would not have been so so stifled.
  • chrome OS is actually becomming

    what RT should have been - the next generation consumer PC OS. You blew it MS - consumer is going bye bye! But you still have a future perhaps in cloud and enterprise.
    • RT is much more than Chrome anyday !

      Unfortunately the tech writers have now clue, nor the consumers. Everyone blindly following Apple with their ultra-limiting iOS.

      Windows 8 on ARM is way superior to iOS, Android or Chrome.. period! So the catch-up is the other way in terms of utility and functionality.
      • how RT is superior?

        It is slow, it lacks applications and it is ugly.
        • ?

          Surface 2 Specs look impressive so speed isn't an issue. The Windows Store has over 100K apps faster to 100K than IOS or Android in less than a years time. Metro is far from ugly, it's actually opposite but maybe you can't grasp the concept of gestures and interacting with a UI. Everyone called MS crazy for hiding things in the UI fast forward 11 months and everyone's doing it. Arm vs Intel is already happening and it started in 2012 with Windows RT.

          • ??

            Applications for Windows Phone most can't run on Windows RT in spite both are running on ARM. In fact MS currently has currently 3 clients OS ( x86, RT and Windows phone). Windows phone and RT will be combined in the future but not right now and it does make sense. The 100K applications that you mentioned about are for Windows phone and not for RT at all. RT Applications are not fast compared to ChromeOS. Even though the new RTs run on Tegra 4, in term of performance they are still far away from the new Chromebook thanks to the Celerron Haswell. Javascript run at least 2 ( almost 3) times faster on Celeron Haswell than Tegra 4.

            I find Microsoft tablets physically ugly. Regarding Metro UI, it is a matter of taste, I don't like but I did not say it is ugly.
      • Any Linux distribution can run on ARM, or Intel for that matter.

        Note, I said "can" - The distribution should have an ARM port, and those that don't could be rebuilt for ARM.

        Even Lenovo is getting on the Android bandwagon. They have an Android laptop now:
        • Porting seldom simply means recompiling

          Usually a port involves more than just recompiling. Linux is available on ARM and x86 currently but it wasn't because of simply recompile. For an OS it means hardware drivers, dealing with internal register use differences, peripherals (different memory controllers) and sometimes endianess.

          Typically a port takes some hard work. Windows, for example, could be ported to ARM, MIPs, SPARC, Power and others. For MS it is just a matter of ROI.
      • So,

        From your title and your last paragraph, I am to assume that Windows RT = Windows 8. Riiiiiiiiight.
    • I don't agree that Chrome OS is similar to Windows RT

      Windows RT is just Windows compiled for ARM, that is not so open like Windows and tweaked for tablets.
      Chromebooks are cloud devices in the shape of ultra-light laptops (mostly).
  • C720 looks like a slamming deal

    If I don't like the OS I can put my preferred one on, right? It's all good.
  • Intel reportedly better if you plan to install dual boot Linux

    Just a possible heads up for dual-booters: Crouton and ChrUbuntu reportedly have less problems (less app incompatibility) on Intel, from what I've read (I installed Crouton on an Acer C7 Intel Celeron, and have no direct experience to compare).
  • ARM Linux packages

    I run Crouton on an ARM-based Samsung Chromebook. Most Linux apps have ARM packages, but it's not 100% for sure. The Aptana Web editor for one, doesn't. That's the only real one that's MIA for me though.

    Firefox, Chrome, LibreOffice and even Citrix Receiver all have ARM packages for Linux and run fine on my Chromebook.
    • citrix?

      how did you get citrix receiver working? after instaling crouton and the arm build, mine still gave errors and wouldn't start.
      Agim P