AMD-powered Chromebooks are on the way


Along with the reveal of the second-generation Ryzen Mobile processors, AMD also announced a couple of new chips bound for Chromebooks. The long-time x86 underdog hasn't traditionally had any presence in that market, but now it seems that the company is trying to get its foot in the door with the "AMD A-Series Processors for Google Chromebook PCs."

Stoney Ridge
for Chromebooks
TDP Modules
/ Cores
CPU clock
(base / boost)
GPU core
configuration
GPU peak
clock
Process
Node
VP9 / HEVC
decoding
AMD A6-9220C 6W 1M / 2C 1.8 / 2.7 GHz 3 CUs (192 SP) 720 MHz 28nm Yes
AMD A4-9120C 6W 1M / 2C 1.6 / 2.4 GHz 3 CUs (192 SP) 600 MHz 28nm Yes

If those specifications don't look terribly familiar, they perhaps should. AMD confirmed to us that these processors are new additions to the Stoney Ridge family of low-power APUs that were initially introduced in 2016. That means they're based around a single Excavator module—giving them two "cores"—and three GCN 1.2 (Tonga/Fiji) compute units. The CPU cores have seen some tuning for low-power operation, and the IGP's video block has been updated for modern formats, but otherwise they're unchanged.


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Source: AMD processor specifications database

In fact, there are already low-power APUs with very similar names out there: the A6-9220 and A4-9120. Those are 15W chips that came out in the middle of 2017. These variants ending in "C" are a little different, even besides the lower TDP. While the A6-9220C's CPU base clock rate drops to 1.8 GHz, it actually gains 120 MHz of GPU clock. Meanwhile, the A4-9120C gains a whole GCN compute unit compared to its higher-powered version, but again sacrifices a good bit of CPU clock rate to hit the lower TDP.

AMD's emphasis for this launch is actually on the performance of its new chips. I expect some gerbils are already cringing at the idea of using a Stoney Ridge APU, but keep in mind that Chromebooks are by no means desktop-class machines. Some Chromebooks are even based around smartphone hardware. Still, AMD keeps its comparisons to other x86-64 chips and in fact directly pits the new APUs against Intel's Apollo Lake-based Pentium N4200 and Celeron N3350.


Source: AMD

Like smartphone operating systems, Chrome OS is designed primarily to handle one task at a time, so the limited core count on these APUs isn't much cause for concern. In benchmarks like PCMark for Android, WebXPRT, and Speedometer, the company's own tests of its new little chips imply decisive leads over the Intel competition. AMD also tested the Unity-engine free-to-play FPS game Bullet Force and claims to have put up a commanding lead there, too.

AMD says it's already in talks with "leading global OEMs" to release "several" AMD-powered Chromebooks throughout 2019. The company specifically named Acer's Chromebook 315 and HP's Chromebook 14 as models that will be getting AMD-powered variants. If you're as curious as we are to see what could be the end result of AMD evolving its "clustered multi-threading" architecture, keep an eye out.

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