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Is a Dirt Cheap MediaTek Chromebook on the Way?

Recent code commit to Chrome OS adds support for new ARM board

MediaTek-MT8127 press shotCould a new, dirt cheap ARM-powered Chromebook be in development? Based on a recent code drop to Chromium, it may just be.

Taiwanese semiconductor company MediaTek has recently pushed a batch of code for a development board named ‘Moose’ to the open-source base of Chrome OS.

‘Moose’ is based on MediaTek’s cheap, low-power and low-performance ‘MT8127’ processor. This is a quad-core ARM Cortex A7 chip running at 1.5GHz and paired with quad-core Mali-450 graphics, built-in Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi, FM receiver and GPS.

MediaTek say the chip has been designed for ‘Super-Midrange’ Android tablets.


Against the typical Celeron processors found in most Chromebooks a Cortex A7 processor would deliver incredibly poor performance. It would even struggle against the sluggish Cortex A15 Samsung Exynos chip found in the first generation Samsung and HP 11 Chromebooks.

But what it does have up its sleeve is price.

MediaTek Popularity

MediaTek’s SoC hardware is used by some of the most popular Android handsets and tablets in China, and is fast gaining traction in other emerging markets — territories where it is already said to power more than 50% of low-end and mid-end devices, including in the ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 and Lenovo IdeaTab tablets.

ARM Race

Committing code isn’t anything other than proof of experimentation. MediaTek hasn’t breathed a word on its plans, and it may sometime before concrete information on the why and when is formally revealed.

That said, MediaTek is not the only ARM chip vendor to have recently pushed hardware to the Chromium source code. Last month saw its industry competitor RockChip demo a prototype Chromebook running on their RK3288 ARM Cortex A17 CPU.

With Chrome OS yet to truly target the emerging markets, a cheap, low-end entry model utilising a low-end and low-cost MT8127 could do for the Chromebook what similar chips have done for Android. 

  • Sean Lumly

    I like the idea of a very cheap laptop, but a Cortex A7 CPU? The performance would be a sizeable step down from the Cortex A9, which is already a far-cry from the Cortex A15 (assuming similar clocks). Chrome may be a bit too heavy for this CPU core to handle comfortably.

    I’m not sure of the Cortex A-series licensing costs, but the manufacturing costs of building a chip with a dual-core Cortex A57, or Cortex A15, would certainly be very low, and not much higher than that of the A7 chip, despite their large relative sizes — I’m guessing around $1 – $2 on a small die. The benefit should be a far better user experience.

    Now I understand that price is very sensitive at the low-tier of these devices, but this seems like they are trimming fat in an area that is highly consequential to user experience. Time will tell if the A7 is up to the task, but I have my doubts.

    • sam

      I think the performance of the A7 was designed to be similar to the A9, but with improved efficiency, which be welcomed since A15’s do seem to enjoy munching through their small batteries rather quickly. But I also agree I can’t image them being up to scratch for a decent desktop experience. I read somewhere that chrome’s memory usage increases by ~30% moving to 64-bit as well, so sticking with 32-bit CPUs for the time being is probably a good move. I can’t see many companies putting a lot of R&D effort into producing A5x based chromebooks before they’ve made their money back from more expensive, and popular, phones and tablets.

      • Sean Lumly

        The A7 is a very efficient chip, but sadly while it’s performance is good compared against some measures, it is still behind the A9. The A53 is not only significantly smaller than the A9 core, but it is about the same performance while reducing the power considerably, making it a very nice target for good performance, high efficiency, and low-cost applications.

        The A57 cores are fully compatible with ARMv7 (32-bit), so running chromeOS on them isn’t really a problem. Of course they have other benefits. They have a *slight* efficiency advantage over the A15, but they also have hardware encryption instructions, which is very valuable for the web. I’m not sure the benefits over A15 are worth it at 28nm (little speed benefits in for the cost), but I’m guessing that the A57 would start looking really good at 20nm and lower.

  • Frederic MANSON

    I think that the ARM CPUs are the next step of the Chromebooks. Those CPUs are powerful enough, low energy consumers and most of all, cheap to produce. The RISC technology is coming back after those long years of errance. The CISC technology is at its end if the new process of their design and build are not changed. Anyway, for the same frequency, an ARM consules lesser than a x86.

    About this article, I like the name of the HP 11 ARM CPU: sluggish. Wow. I have launch 23 tabs with a lot of Youtube videos, flash soundtracks and games, plus JSTorrent, Comic Viewer (in portrait mode) and Subtitle Videoplayer. No lags at all. For a sluggish CPU with only 2 poor gigs, it’s not so bad, is it???

    So, ARM 1 – 0 x86. Nuff said. IMO.

    • I based it on personal experience of the Samsung Chromebook, which shares the same CPU, GPU and RAM as yours. Pages like Gmail, Google+, many websites, are frustratingly slow to respond to input, scrolling websites results in a lot of tearing and ‘checkerboarding’… I love my Samsung Chromebook, but I can’t pretend it’s some kind of speed demon.

      I have an older Samsung Series 5 Atom Chromebook and it feels infinitely more responsive than the Series 3 does, though is far less elegant.

      • Boothy

        I would agree. The series 3 was my first foray into Chrome OS, but it isn’t quick when you have a bunch of stuff open. I traded mine in and got a refurbished series 5 550. The difference is like night and day. OK, the 4gb RAM certainly helps a lot, but it flies.

        • view2share

          I have the Toshiba with 2GB or RAM — no problems at all. Faster Intel Haswell processor is the key!

  • toddh

    What’s the price sweet spot for something underpowered like this? $99?

    • Shark Bait

      $99 would be a big deal Europe if performance is ok, it could be a game changer in the developing markets!

  • moe

    Ya because we need more crappy chromebooks.. How about new chromebooks that can compete against the mackbook pros looks and design, processor? enough already there is enough garbage look at windows. Hp has been selling the same plastic laptops for over 10 years made by window pc. Innovate for gods sake!

    • view2share

      The currently used processor by Intel, which is used in the Toshiba, ASUS chromebox, Acer 720 book, is more than enough power. The 2GB or RAM is enough — yes, 4GB if ya want it. What is lacking is anything in the way of screen quality. I would say the LG Chromebase, which is an all-in-one and not a laptop, has about the best chance of being a good screen — I have to to see it in person, but it does sport an ISP 21.5″ monitor, which is possibly good. I am typing this on a Toshiba Chromebook hooked to a 27″ Samsung monitor – renders well on this monitor — pretty much substandard quality on the laptop screen however. Of course it would have to be considering the low price. I have a low priced hp, and changed it to Ubuntu from Win7 — not a bad build for a low cost machine plastic wise — it is like all the rest, suffering from slow graphics and those darn 5400 spin HD for laptops.

      The current laptops, desktops, and Chromebase are just right, as Haswell Intel processor has enough performance to push a browser and get online editing done. So between $169 to $299 range, for Chrome OS devices gets you something just right. For running software, top performance, and such, you are talking a significant jump in price. The SSD devices running full software by Apple and Windows based are gonna cost you a pretty penny. Only other middle of the road way to go price wise is to get a desktop with a 7200 spin HD, and run Windows or Linux. It is wait and see time for Mac MIni next generation as to IF it has SSD at a lower cost. For surfing the Net, email and light duty stuff, these Chrome OS machines are just fine. I did some photo editing on the Chromebook, and it went OK — today I did the photo editing of many more photos on the Mac Mini using PhotoScape, and it went much better. It is what it is — Chrome OS is fast, simple, effective — for many it will be all they need, for some it will be a second or third device, and for others possibly of no interest. It does work however.

  • Are we ever going to see a quality Chromebook other than the too expensive Pixel, and the under-powered Google HP Chromebook 11 !

    Come on ! Fed up with bland looking, horrid screen, Chromebooks, make something decent now !

    Take the Google HP Chromebook 11, and put Power in to it.

    • Joseph Dickson

      I agree most of these systems look and feel cheap. But how much computing power does the Chrome browser really need?

  • andreas.arambasic

    Why don’t take a HP11 and put an Intel CPU into it. Sell it for 299-349, and I’ll buy it in an instant. It’s rly plain simple.

    • titoxtian

      Exactly what I was thinking!!! the looks of HP11…the ips screen… all that’s missing is a good processor…can’t wait till hp figure this out.

  • leo

    i like chrome tablet ChromeTab