Google's Chromebook enters adulthood, thanks to Intel

Haswell chips on Chromebook will make a difference to the platform, analysts say

Intel's decision to bring its Haswell chips to Google's Chromebook might make it the system it was meant to be.

Up until this point, Chromebook systems have been cobbled together with variety of low end processors -- Atom, Celeron and ARM -- in systems selling from $200 to $400.

The exception: Google's Pixel, which runs Intel's Core i5 chip and is priced at $1,299. The Pixel emerged as more of a high-end demonstration platform than any kind of market threat.

Consequently, the majority of Chromebook users today are running systems that may seem lacking in some ways. They might be deficient in their performance, battery life, screen quality, or overall build.

But for people shopping for low-cost systems, the Chromebook is very appealing. It's been a top seller on Amazon, and Walmart this year added Chromebook to its lineup.

For sure, these system have seeded the Chrome OS market, but the hardware lacked business user appeal, regardless of how these users feel about the Chrome OS approach. This may change, thanks to Intel.

At the Intel Developer Forum this week, Intel outlined plans to bring its Haswell architecture to Chromebook. The announcement included PC vendors Hewlett-Packard, Acer, Asus and Toshiba. Everyone will be working closely with Google.

Intel didn't detail exactly what it will be doing with Chromebook, but analysts such as Nathan Brookwood, a chip analyst at Insight64, have a good idea.

Brookwood is expecting to see a low-power Haswell chips on fan-less systems. "Intel's argument is that Haswell will be deliver more performance in those form factors and still give you the kind of all-day battery life," he said.

Battery life, "doing real work," will be in the 10 to 12 hour range, said Brookwood. Haswell is a redesign of Intel's PC chip and built with low-power utilization in mind.

The pricing for Haswell-based systems was not announced, but Brookwood expects them to be a little higher than what's available today.

Chromebook is far from being an existential threat to Microsoft or Apple. Using Chromebook means embracing a cloud-only approach with limited applications. But if Chrome OS is going to get anywhere, what happened at IDF this week was necessary, say analysts.

Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group, said, "Intel knows how to sell to government and corporations, [and] their brand helps validate the product as a valid solution."

"[What Intel is doing] is critical if the product is going to be more than a curiosity," said Enderle. "It doesn't assure success but it makes that positive outcome more likely."

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at  @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

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