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Intel v. ARM: The Chromebook performance battle

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After nearly a week of using the latest Google Chromebookthat runs on a chip designed for smartphones and tablets, I’ve tried to determine the device’s performance compared to my older Chromebook. Both are built by Samsung but there’s a large price difference. I paid $449 back in June for the Series 5 550 device that uses an Intel(s intc) chip, while the new one costs only $249. The latest one uses a ARM-based(s armh) Samsung Exynos 5250 chip, which I expect will power smartphones and tablets next year.

What I said in my hands-on video of the newest Chromebook was that it felt about a half-step behind the prior model, in terms of performance. That statement doesn’t really quantify the difference though, so I spent some time benchmarking the two devices. I first made sure both had the latest Chrome OS version installed and I then factory restored them to completely clear out all extra files, history and such. Both devices were plugged in to an AC adapter for the tests, and since they both are kept in sync, all of the same extensions I use are installed on both by default.

Here’s a summary of what tests I used and how the two devices scored. Except where noted, a higher score is better.

What these benchmarks do is tell me that my own observations on the performance between both Chromebooks are accurate. And I’ve noticed a little more sluggishness on the ARM-powered Chromebook as I open more tabs. That’s probably attributable to the lower amount of memory in the device; it has 2 GB of memory, while the Series 5 550 machine has 4 GB.

Samsung Chromebook XE303Does that mean you shouldn’t consider the ARM-powered Chromebook? Not at all, as it’s fast enough for everyday web tasks; I’ve been using my review unit full-time without any problems for nearly a week. But I do like the extra performance boost on the Intel-based Chromebook I bought and since I’ve already invested the $449, I’ll likely keep using the device I have. If I do that however, I’ll miss the sleeker, lighter look and feel of Google’s current Chromebook for sure.

My family doesn’t notice or see any such slowness in the new Chromebook. Of course, they don’t have much experience with the older model to compare to, so this makes sense. And for their basic web needs, it looks like the $249 version will surely work for them, so while I may pass this one up, at least 2 out of 3 family members are considering the purchase of one. It’s a great secondary or casual use computer for them and probably for most others as well.

35 Responses to “Intel v. ARM: The Chromebook performance battle”

      • Walter Yongtao Wang

        Thanks. I saw more customers are using ChromeBooks(They are using our software for Remote Access and legacy apps) recently. I do believe Chromebook is rising at this price point.

  1. John McBriarty

    Ah but the HDMI output only gives me sound (Known Bug) and Bastion doesn’t run. Plus I cant create a listing within e-bay to sell something. I’m sure other things will creep up as I go but the speed that Google push out updates I don’t think these issues will last very long…

  2. Kevin_405

    Looking for a lightweight laptop for my MBA classes.. need basic surfing, google docs and spreadheet, PPT support.

    How is the performance of google docs on this thing?

  3. John Blaze

    I bit the bullet and pre-ordered One. I figure its an update on my S5 and will tide me over until the higher end models arrive with Lighted Keyboards, i5 procs, etc. I was going to buy the S550 but was wrestling with getting it as a $450 for a celeron just seems high.

    I’ve used my S5 well for a year now and love the hassle free experience. Looking forward to the HDMI out so I can now plugin to my 24″ monitor and really enjoy working from home.

    I’m going to try out all of the kiddies school websites and the kid network websites to see if their games and modules work. If so I will definitely get these for the family.

    Most people only use Facebook, Newspaper Website, Sports Site, iTunes, youtube, Skype and Pandora. People pay $300 for Office and only use it occasionally. Looking at the top 10 apps for Apple iPhones and iPads, there isn’t anything there that screams I need a full laptop. Why not go cloud?

    If they could somehow get Citrix to work without the Storefront server like the Android devices this would really be a full fledged replacement for me.

  4. Sorry if ends up being a repeat.

    First of all I want to thank you for your post. It helped me greatly make my decision to buy the Chromebook 550. I have one question. You mention the following…”I first made sure both had the latest Chrome OS version installed..” Is there a way to manually do this? When I brought it home it went through and update process but then ended up with Version 21 of the OS.

    According to the websites you can’t redeem the 100GB Google drive offer without version 23. Any suggestions?

    • Glad to help! If you go into the Settings on a Chromebook and click Help, you can see the version you’re running. Hit the More Info link and you can switch to newer versions that are currently under test: Beta and Dev. I wouldn’t use Dev as that’s not 100% stable. I actually, went to the Beta channel on my own Chromebook and that got me the right version to redeem the 100 GB Google Drive offer. Or you can just wait for it as I suspect that the Beta version will become the Stable one soon.

  5. Thank you so much for your post. It was greatly helpful to me as I stood in a Best Buy and decided to buy the Chromebook 550. You mentioned the following in the article “I first made sure both had the latest Chrome OS version installed…” How do you do that? Is there anyway you can manually make it update. So when I first opened the new laptop it went through and updatting process but the Chrome OS that it updated to was version 21.

    According to all the websites I can’t get the 100gb of Google Drive storage unless I have version 23.

    Any thoughts?

  6. By the way, Kevin. You should know your old Chromebook 550 has a 51 Whr battery, while this one has a 15 Whr battery, so more than 3x smaller, and yet it still gives more battery life.

    The new Chromebook’s battery is actually slightly smaller than the Nexus 7’s battery. I wish Google would’ve used a slightly bigger one to push the battery life to 10h, but I guess they didn’t have anywhere else to cut the costs from.

  7. Oh wow. 670 for Sunspider? That’s significantly lower than Apple’s A6 in the new iPhone (900). It makes me excited for an Exynos 5 Dual smartphone or tablet.

    And yes, it should’ve been expected an Intel Core Celeron would beat it, but the difference isn’t that much. This also means a dual core Cortex A15 will beat a dual core Atom.

  8. Thanks Gigaom for the benchmarks. However, the best way to evaluate the new Chromebooks is to test drive them in person. I played with one and was blown away by the combination of speed, portability, graphics and ease of use. It’s the ideal secondary computer for anyone who prefers using a real keyboard when away from your main laptop or desktop. Kudos to Google and Samsung for a great little machine.

  9. You should make it clear in the article what Intel CPU is being tested (a dual core SB based Celeron 867 @1.3GHz).
    Anyway,what really matters here is that if they can get this kind of perf in phones,A15 it is very nice and i can’t wait for quad A15 on 20nm in ,hopefully, a little bit more than a year.
    Thanks a lot for providing some numbers here,Gigaom might just be the first to have A15 perf numbers and that’s a big deal.

  10. No to rule out future optimizations for the new architecture that could boost performance further, especially now that they streamlined some of the development as the Chromebook and Chrome for Android have more in common in the machine code department.

  11. But the thinking is why would I buy one? A full netbook can be bought for not very much more? An Android Tablet for similar, and all of those chrome apps still work in other OS’s.
    Unless something like these chromebooks can be pared with a private cloud, they are not much good for any business that wants to keep it’s data out of the US, and they are even more limited than an iPad, so if you want hassle free fomputing, the problem will be telling users what they can’t do. And not even all apps for ChromeOS work on ARM, so there is fragmentation. Odd little device.

    • Like iPad’s it’s about experience, not specs. Chromebooks are simple, fast, 100% free of all maintenance. They really do “just work” which is something that appeals to a tremendous number of people. And at this price, as a secondary computer for mobile needs, how can it be beat? And factor in that you don’t have to worry about syncing or transferring files with your main machine because everything is done in the cloud.

      Just an aside: netbooks are crap. Slow performing, slow booting, crappy hardware in every way. Chromebooks are really slick, go to a Best Buy and actually try one of the new ones out. The quality for the price is unbelievable when you actually get playing with them.

      Chromebooks are FAR more capable than tablets, they are real computers that can accomplish real work. For most normal people the balance of features offered can’t be found anywhere else. They give 80-90% of the experience of an ultrabook for a tiny fraction of the cost. Obviously there are certain users with needs for specialized software that hasn’t made it to the cloud that will have to look elsewhere, but I’d argue no machine is all things to all people. The Chromebook doesn’t need to appease the film maker in need of Premiere, that’s not the target market.

      Chrome OS on ARM does support all of the same apps as the x86 counterpart, except for those relying on native client, which support will be rolled out for in less than six weeks. And when that support does come, it will happen auto-magically in the background without the user having to do anything.

      • Netbooks were crap, but the current generation is a lot more usable, especially the 11.6″ versions with higher resolution displays, which can be had for not much more than the new Chromebook, and are only slightly heavier (lighter than the Chromebook 550). E.g. Acer 756, Samsung 305U. These things are basically full-on laptops.

      • I have a 3-year old Acer AA1 with 2gb of RAM, a 32gb SSD, and Ubuntu 10.04; it’s holding up well, and performance is on a par with the original Cr-48. However, I will agree that a netbook running Windows 7 from a HDD is going to be much slower.

        I totally agree about the difference between a Chromebook and a tablet, a confusion that seems to exist in the minds of many. I have a Nexus 7 tablet with 16gb of RAM. While the N7 complements the Chromebook, it in no way replaces it. They are very different devices, serving very different purposes. As Google said in one of its early Chromebook ads, a Chromebook is the web on a computer-like device, secure by design, with almost zero maintenance. Despite superficial similarities with netbooks, Chromebooks bypass all the maintenance requirements of a traditional OS.

    • I can tell you who this would be perfect for; the guy whose computer i just spent hours removing a trojan from. After removing the trojan i found that the computer had never been updated (Windows Update was still waiting to install Vista SP2!).

      The guy only used the computer for browsing and using Skype, so if he could be convinced to switch to Google Talk it would be perfect.

      At the moment the Series 5 Chromebook is actually cheaper than the ARM one in the UK at £200 as opposed to £230. Plus Samsung is still offering a £50 cash back on the Series 5. I’d be tempted myself if i hadn’t recently acquired a refurbished ThinkPad X61 and stuck Linux Mint 13 XFCE on it.

  12. By any chance do you have a Cr-48 or even a Series 5 Chromebook or the Acer to test as well? While the comparison you did is ideal for first time buyers, including the old Chromebooks would help those of us wondering if we should upgrade. In any event, great information! :)

    • I just ran all these benchmarks on a Samsung S5 Chromebook (Atom N570, Version 23.0.1271.41 beta), but unfortunately WordPress ate my results after I signed in. I don’t feel like running them again, but off the top of my head, they were about half the performance of the ARM Chromebook, approximately (from poor short term memory):

      Peacekeeper 600
      SunSpider* 1000
      V8 2200
      Octane 2030

      I also ran Peacekeeper on a 2012 Macbook 13, with a score of 3000, and Octane score 13238 for Chrome browser 21.0.1180.79.

      As Kevin reported, the difference in memory between the Samsung 550 and ARM Chromebooks is probably the most significant factor, as the ARM Chromebook will start to slow down much sooner since it has only 2gb of RAM. I expect more Chromebooks to appear in the next 6 months, and would hold out for one with 4gb of RAM (expandable would be even better, but that seems unlikely).