Google reportedly planning Chromebooks with custom CPUs by 2023

Chrome OS on the lid of a laptop
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Google has reportedly accelerated plans to build custom processors for its Chromebook and Pixel devices following the success of rival Apple’s venture into chip design.

The tech giant will roll out in-house chips for devices running Chrome OS from 2023, according to sources speaking with Nikkei Asia, alongside its existing plans to launch custom mobile CPUs with its forthcoming Pixel 6 smartphone series.

These smartphones are expected to be released within the next couple of months, with the Pixel 5 series launched in October 2020. The custom CPU is known as Google Tensor and represents a shift from Google’s 15-year relationship with Qualcomm.

The latest news aligns with a previous report from April 2020 suggesting Google was making progress on its chip-making ambitions, although these ultimately weren’t developed with the Google Pixel 5 smartphones in mind.

The Nikkei Asia report suggests that Google sources claim the company was buoyed by Apple’s recent success with its M1 series of CPUs fitted into various lines of hardware including the MacBook Pro.

Apple’s custom M1 chips fitted into notebooks, for example, reached staggering heights in performance testing, enhancing the firm’s reputation and bolstering its position as a leading hardware manufacturer.

Although the Pixel 6 CPUs will be Google first system-on-chip (SoC) design, the firm has been in the business of developing its own chips for servers and data centres for several years. The firm first launched its custom chip for AI servers in 2016, promising performance “orders of magnitude” higher than commercially available CPUs or GPUs, at the time.

This is a strategy that several tech giants have pursued in recent years; not only Apple. Facebook, Amazon and Baidu have been using custom CPUs for a few years, with the majority of tech giants in this category focusing on building in-house components data centres and servers.

"We found that all the tech titans are joining the foray to building their custom chips because in that way they could program their own features into those chips that could meet its specific needs," chief analyst with Isaiah Research, Eric Tseng, told Nikkei Asia.

"In that case, these tech companies could easily adjust R&D workloads without being restricted by their suppliers and offer unique services or technologies. In an ideal scenario, using one's own chips also means better software and hardware integration."

IT Pro approached Google to ask whether it could confirm this timeline, and to explain the benefits of pursuing in-house CPUs.

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.