Most Chromebooks today are running Intel processors, but chipmaker Mediatek wants to change that as it sees an opportunity to expand its market beyond Android tablets and smartphones.
MediaTek's new high-performance mobile chip, the Helio X10, already supports Chrome OS, said Kevin Jou, vice president and chief technology officer at MediaTek, in an interview on Sunday ahead of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Besides powering Chromebooks, the chip is also a fit for other thin-and-light laptops and hybrid laptop-tablets, he said.
Chromebooks are growing in popularity as a low-cost alternative to Windows PCs for users who do most of their computing while online. Most Chromebook applications require Internet connectivity, though more applications are moving to offline functionality as well.
Chromebooks don't require fast processors as most of applications processing is done in the cloud. But a model with an eight-core Helio X10 could be a powerhouse, with the ability to support 4K videos and high-resolution screens. The Helio X10 can encode and decode 4K video at 30 frames per second, and also support monitors with 120Hz refresh rates, which is a key specification for high-resolution gaming.
The Helio X10 could also boost ARM, whose processor designs have been losing favor in Chromebooks as vendors switch to Intel chips. No Chromebook yet has a 64-bit ARM processor, and Helio could change that. Independent benchmarks have placed Helio X10 at par in performance with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810, which is considered one of the fastest mobile chips.
For now, the fastest ARM-based Chromebook is Acer's Chromebook 13, which runs on Nvidia's 32-bit Tegra K1 processor and sells for US$325 on Amazon. Samsung sells entry-level Chromebooks with homegrown ARM processors starting at $199.
The Helio X10 pairs eight "big" Cortex-A53 cores, which will handle demanding tasks and mundane tasks like audio playback. At a press event on Sunday, MediaTek also announced a successor to that chip based on the latest Cortex-A72 design, which ARM announced last month and claimed was its fastest-ever processor design.
The company is also in talks with Microsoft to support Windows 10 on smartphones and Xbox, Jou said.
At MWC, Mediatek also announced a new chip called the MT8173, which it claims is the fastest 64-bit processor for Android tablets.
This story was updated to add new information on the nature of talks between Mediatek and Microsoft in paragraph eight.