Inside the new Chromebook

Similar to its predecessors, getting access to the internals of the new Chromebook doesn't require anything more than a tiny Phillips head screwdriver. There are four exposed screws and four more under the feet beneath the chassis. Remove all eight screws and you can pry off the bottom cover. The cover snaps into place so be careful if/when you remove it.


The new ARM based Chromebook

Inside the new Chromebook is a far more simplified setup. It honestly looks more like a modern day tablet under the hood. I never got the Celeron based Chromebook 550, but I do have the 500 which featured a dual-core Atom N570 processor. Here's a shot of that model for comparison:


The old Atom N570 based Chromebook

Right off the bat you'll notice a significant reduction in battery capacity. That old N570 based Chromebook had a mammoth 61Wh battery compared to the more tablet-sized 30Wh battery in the new model.

The old motherboard was also far less integrated. Discrete cards were used to provide cellular and WiFi connectivity, whereas the new board integrates WiFi (Marvell?) directly onto the motherboard.

The cost reduction extends to the SoC side as well. Intel charges $86 for an Atom N570, while the going rate for high-end ARM based SoCs is in the $20 - $30 range (and this is why ARM is the new AMD when it comes to keeping Intel pricing in check). I also suspect that this first run of Samsung Exynos 5 Dual chips are a bit leakier and perhaps even lower yielding than what we'll eventually see down the road. Samsung could be motivated to move these parts at a better cost structure as they work out kinks in manufacturing.


The 2-chip Atom solution

Note that the previous Atom solution required two chips: the N570 and its NM10 Express PCH. The N570 had a 2.1W TDP and was used for all IO, while the N570 and its two Atom cores needed about 8.5W. The combination was fine for a notebook but when Haswell can deliver much better performance within the same TDP, it's clear the old 45nm CPU + chipset were getting long in the tooth.


The far simplified, single-chip Samsung Exynos 5 Dual solution

Despite the absence of any significant heatsink, to remove 10.6W of heat you do need forced air convection hence the inclusion of a fan in the old Chromebook 500. The thermal requirements of the Exynos 5 Dual are significantly lower. The SoC benefits from Samsung's 32nm HK+MG LP process and is highly integrated, meaning there's only a single chip. Although there's a big heatspreader plate complete with heatpipe that runs over the Exynos 5, there's no fan needed. Removing the fan lowers build cost, reduces internal complexity, and helped Samsung shrink the chassis size.

There are a total of 8 x 256MB DDR3L devices (2GB total) that surround the Exynos 5 Dual SoC (4 on each side of the PCB). Each device is 8-bits wide, all connecting up to the 64-bit wide DDR3L memory controller. The DRAM is clocked at a 1600MHz data rate, resulting in 12.8GB/s of memory bandwidth to the chip. The Exynos 5 Dual integrates two ARM Cortex A15 CPU cores as well as an ARM Mali-T604 GPU

The other big change on the motherboard is the move from a SanDisk discrete controller + NAND device to an integrated iNAND solution for storage. Capacity remains unchanged at 16GB, but the integrated eMMC controller does offer board (and perhaps cost) savings.

Moving to a lower power SoC not only gave Samsung some flexiblity in cooling, it also allowed it to run the platform with a much smaller battery. While the old Chromebook 500 used a massive 61Wh battery, the new model only needs a 30Wh unit. Battery life has gone down (Exynos 5 Dual isn't 2x more power efficient than the 45nm Atom N570) but so has weight as well. I believe the Chromebook 550 ditched the giant battery and moved to a ~40Wh unit, so the difference isn't as drastic there.

The Chromebook Display Quality, Keyboard & Trackpad
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  • actionjksn - Thursday, November 08, 2012 - link

    How would the performance on this compare to a similarly clocked Core 2 Duo? I'm talking about CPU tasks not graphics. Reply
  • TheJian - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    You're forgetting to mention your basing that on a 1.3Ghz cpu from a year ago instead of the 1.7ghz tegra3+ that they're currently putting out (htc one x+ etc). That's about another ~27% you're leaving off NV's table right anand?

    So Intel's current tech is just about to catch NV's old tech with Tegra4 just around the block that will increase cpu (I don't expect much here, but they don't need much already quad and performs on par with what just came out to a large degree), and double gpu since going quad instead of dual, so at worst it will double if no chip improvement at all, and dual channel finally. Looks like they'll be behind again just after launch I guess? They'll have to do better than catching last years tech. And they didn't make it into xmas devices like Tegra. So again NV will get their tech out in time in Q1 for craploads of devices to be planned all year. I'm thinking it's best to be fastest in March/April if you want to be designed into Xmas devices.

    Surface may have chosen the 1.3ghz but they should have ran a 1.7ghz Tegra3+. I guess it saved them $10/surface (less?). I'm sure customers would rather pay $5-10 for another 30% performance. They should at least offer the option. Oh well. I told my dad to buy a Nexus 10 for xmas anyway and I'll wait for a great 10in Tegra4 as if I'm going to game (dad isn't much) I want Tegra game optimizations and everything out now isn't quite as good as I'd like for Xbox360 portable replacement and double as a laptop i9300 replacement (it's 8yrs old...LOL). Nvidia seems to be the only one helping devs make some great stuff and gaining praise from the likes of Carmack and Epic's Unreal team.
    Tegrazone.com has some great games in the pipe. I'm looking forward to Baldurs Gate enhanced on a 65in TV in the near future too...LOL. That game should run on anything out by everyone on the top end and give gamers a good 100+hrs of fun on the bigscreen without an xbox360/ps3. With my limited game time, it should hold me over until android gaming really takes off. There are 5 unreal 3 engine games in the pipe now, and lots of other good looking stuff at tegrazone says next xmas should be excellent. I'm sure Id's engine will get used by them in a few games also. Between these and my PC I should have no reason to even look at an xbox720/ps4. I'm guessing a lot will be in the same boat.

    I may have to pony up for the cube u30gt jelly bean to get me to xmas which should produce a tegra4+. Then again going from 40nm to 20nm there may be no need. That's a HUGE decrease in chip size and samsung is better than TSMC at any process. The U30GT (and it's ilk) look pretty dang good for $200 tablet at 10in for something to use for training vids/books etc until next year.
    Reply
  • sathish2020 - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    "With Apple pushing at the top and Google working the bottom" Nice one. Reply
  • deslock - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    Thanks for the detailed (as usual) review. A question:

    Since it idles at 6.33W and has a 30 Watt-hour battery, shouldn't it last less than 5 hours with the screen on? It lasted 6.07 hours in the browsing test.
    Reply
  • ramonchis - Thursday, January 10, 2013 - link

    Hi. I got one of these a couple of days ago. In the first day I broke the LCD by putting some weight on the laptop.

    I went to the store (Best Buy) to check if they could repair it of exchange it, but they did not offer any solutions.

    So.... I would like to change the screen myself, which I have done in the past with other laptops.

    Did you get a chance to open the screen lid? Do you know the LCD model?

    Thanks!
    Reply
  • calden - Sunday, January 27, 2013 - link

    I have used the Chromebook Since the CR-48 then moved to the Acer and now this one. You will be surprised as to how useful the apps found in the Google store really are. I use Microsofts 365 and I am just as productive as if I was using the full program on a normal laptop. I recently found a new online service called Lime Documents, fantastic. The writing program is called Lime Writer and after using it I can honestly say I will never have any use for none web apps again. www.live-documents.com/live_writer.html The same goes for the Excel and Powerpoint clone, there awesome apps.

    I love having the security the Chromebooks give me, I travel a lot and have either have had my laptop stolen or lost after a night of drinking. These give me the freedom of just shrugging my shoulders and saying oops instead of freaking out that someone now has photos of me and my dog with peanut butter. That was a joke of course it was the cat, at 250 dollars though these really are disposable computers.

    My company recently bought over 300 Chromeboxes and Chromebooks. Our company is an all Unix environment with 90 percent of our data and internal apps being served from Oracle, in which all info is displayed with web apps. The few people who need Office or other software like the treasury department can display them using Citrix. A feature that was left out of the article, I for one use a CRM program called Goldmine. When I travel the 4G connection I have is more then fast enough to display this program and others. The Chromeboxes make a perfect dumb terminal, their also priced much better then the HP solution we were using. Google also doesn't mess about, we have many spares to switch out the defective ones if nessecsary. We then send them back to Google who just gives us new ones.

    To tell you how useful a web program can be our software development team uses online development apps that were found in the Google store. They claim it's as good as if they were using Eclipse or Netbeans. I was actually amazed when they showed me. It's also a good employee incentive to give out a laptop to everyone even the secretaries. Yes they are just Chromebooks but our staff really seems to enjoy them as they can't muck'em up like they can with ordinary machines. We supply our people with Samsung 550's, the ARM version was deemed to slow but I took ome of the evaluation machines for my self as I like the size. I find it to be quick enough for my needs, I can stream 1080p movies from my Google Drive account without breaking a sweat so it's just fine for my needs.
    Reply
  • qwerty321 - Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - link

    One of the guys working at Linaro claims he has the USB 3.0 port pushing 70+ MB/s. I'm guessing an engineer knows better than a laypress hack. Reply
  • EvilTed - Saturday, September 07, 2013 - link

    He should enlighten everyone how?
    I call BS on your enlightened engineers claims!

    I'm fuming mad at Samsung for blatant false advertising.
    I have tried ChromeOS as well as Ubuntu with Unity and XFCE and the average throughput over USB 3.0 is 16MB/s, which is slower than my 2011 Mackbook Pro over USB 2.0 :(

    I actually bought my Chromebook for image transfer and storage from SD card to USB 3 drive.
    The fact it cannot produce at all has left me with a $250 doorstop.

    Class action suit anyone?

    ET
    Reply

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