It hasn’t been approved yet but NVIDIA has just made it known that it is very intent on investing in the Arm computing ecosystem. The company, which does use Arm technology for a few of its own products, just made a rather big announcement of new processors and partners geared towards expanding that ecosystem, from the usual culprits like the DRIVE Atlan for autonomous vehicles to game streaming utilizing AWS’s own Arm-based Graviton2 processor. Also lurking in that announcement, however, is NVIDIA’s first step into the Chromebook space that will attempt to match its powerful RTX GPUs with MediaTek’s CPUs.
Chromebooks carry the perception of mostly being underpowered and inexpensive computing devices meant for education and work through web apps. While that may have been true for the early generation of Chromebooks, more recent models pack more power equivalent to some mid-range laptops. Those, however, have mostly been powered by Intel processors while Arm-based Chromebooks have mostly been left behind, almost disappearing into the background.
With the recent surge of interest in Arm personal computers thanks to the Apple M1 Macs, NVIDIA and MediaTek may have thought the time is ripe to give Arm Chromebooks a boost. The two will be working together to create a reference platform that mixes MediaTek’s energy-efficient Arm Cortex processors and NVIDIA’s extra powerful RTX graphics. That platform will support Chromium, Linux, and NVIDIA’s Linux-based SDK, with no Windows in sight.
This partnership makes a subtle jab at both Microsoft and Qualcomm, whose own team-up has yielded so far unimpressive Windows on ARM, really Snapdragons, PCs. MediaTek has recently been gaining some ground in the smartphone market thanks to its numerous Dimensity 5G chips and Chromebooks could be its way of competing with Qualcomm in the notebook space.
Of course, this raises the question of whether an NVIDIA RTX graphics and its ray tracing capabilities would actually be overkill for something like Chrome OS. The platform hasn’t exactly been known to need powerful graphics hardware but there are signs that Google might be taking it towards a more gaming-oriented direction soon.