Intel v. ARM: The Chromebook performance battle

Samsung's Series 5 550 Chromebook

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 chip, while the new one costs only $249. The latest one uses a ARM-based 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.

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