Chromebooks, laptops designed to run Google's Chrome OS, are known for needing low-end specs to match the modest computing needs of the browser-heavy operating system. There are some exceptions — Acer added an Intel Core i3 Haswell processor to its C720 Chromebook lineup the other day, and Google's own luxury Chromebook Pixel comes with a Core i5 — but in general you find lesser performers like Intel's Celeron chips or Samsung's Exynos CPU in most models.
So it should come as no surprise that some of the chip makers that have outmanuevered Intel in the mobile space have their eyes on the growing Chromebook market, even if they don't have any "design wins" that have been announced yet.
Their interest is thanks to the fact that the Chrome OS can run on both x86 and ARM-based microarchitectures — and companies like Rockchip and MediaTek have thrived on producing ARM chips for tablets and smartphones (though, ironically, Rockchip is doing some chip design work for Intel in the tablet space).
Last month Rockchip unveiled a prototype laptop with its RK3288 ARM Cortex-A17 processor running the Chromium open source version of Chrome. Then this weekend Francois Beaufort, a French Google employee, posted on Google Plus that MediaTek has added a new ARM-based board to Chromium's repository. Code-named Moose, it reportedly uses an A7 chip, which is the basis for the Exynos 5 dual-core processor.
Why should this matter to buyers? MediaTek and Rockchip can sell their chips for less than Intel does its chips, which means the price of Chromebooks can dip even further. Already, you can grab a Celeron-based Chromebook for as little as $199, so what price point could a model with a MediaTek or Rockchip processor reach? Could you get one for as little as $149?
At that price, Chromebooks could weaken Microsoft's attempt to reach more low-end laptop buyers, as the Windows license would have to be practically given away to match that price point. Of course, they'll still be plenty of people who will want the traditional Microsoft coupling of Windows and Office, but the ongoing Chromebook success story proves there are also plenty who are likewise fine with Chrome and Google Apps for Business.
We aren't at the $149 Chromebook price point — yet. Stay tuned in the coming months to see if MediaTek or Rockchip can persuade Chromebook makers to take a chance on their processors. If so, would you be ready to grab a Chromebook for the same price as an Android tablet?