In today’s cloud blog, Google introduced Uri Frank, Vice President of Engineering for Server Chip Design. However, this does not preclude future efforts to support rumors about custom Google Chromebook chips. Frank has 25 years of experience leading the design of custom CPU chips and most recently headed the Intels Core & Client Development Group.
Much of Google’s news is related to general computing advances, but it’s clear that Franks’ first priority is on the Google Cloud infrastructure. As the cloud matures, it makes sense for custom silicon in Google data centers for AI, ML, and big data.
Computing at Google is at an important turning point. In the past, motherboards have been the integration point for configuring CPUs, networks, storage devices, custom accelerators, and memory into optimized systems from a variety of vendors. But that’s not enough anymore. To achieve higher performance and use less power, workloads require deeper integration into the underlying hardware.
Apart from cloud hardware, Chrome OS is actually part of Google’s Google Cloud organization. And it’s here that Frank’s expertise could fit into the world of Chromebook hardware. A custom-designed system-on-chip optimized for the best Chrome OS experience possible.
In fact, after purchasing and using an Apple M1 MacBook that uses Apple’s own custom SOC based on the ARM architecture, Franks is even more likely to eventually bring Google Silicon to the Chromebook.
Otherwise, Google will be fully dependent and limited by CPU partners such as Intel, AMD, Samsung and MediaTek.
This is how I see it.
Google already manages the Chrome OS software stack. Hardware partners usually cannot add bloatware or their own customizations. This allows all Chromebooks to behave like any other Chromebook and provide an experience. The only difference is in the form factor and the underlying hardware such as the processor, memory and storage capacity, and display.
And Google has already tested and certified hardware options. Companies like Dell and HP can’t design all the interiors of their laptops and hit Chrome OS. Google itself will do all the integration work to ensure that the software and hardware work together. But again, companies have to deal with hardware vendor limitations.
For example, if Google wants to certify a Chromebook board to use a new technology that isn’t yet supported by your processor, you can’t simply do that. But if Google can build custom chips that support the technology, that limitation will be lifted.
A more Apple-like approach. And whether you’re a fan of Apple devices or not, it’s hard to discuss the benefits of controlling both hardware and software stacks.
Yes, Google can work with existing ARM partners to bring their own branded processors to Chromebooks. Early rumors were that Samsung would be its partner.
But if Samsung is designed for versatility, think of Android smartphones, tablets, and Chrome OS devices as not optimized solutions that benefit Chromebooks.
It doesn’t matter who’s name is on the chip. If Google doesn’t leverage Chrome OS expertise to design a chip that maximizes performance and battery life, it’s not a custom chip for Chrome OS.
Obviously, I’m taking a leap into the future with the news that Franks hire on Google. I could be as wrong as I am. But I really want to be right about this. Custom processors allow Google to take Chromebooks to the next level, just as Apple did with the latest MacBooks and MacBook Pros.
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