Qualcomm vs Intel vs AMD Chromebook: A detailed comparison

Qualcomm vs Intel vs AMD Chromebook: A detailed comparison

Chromebooks come in a variety of configurations. One aspect you might not consider when buying a new Chromebook is the processor. While processor speed and benchmarks are all the rage for many PC users, those looking for a Chromebook typically give these things less weight. That doesn’t mean raw processing power isn’t important. If you want to run demanding Linux apps, Android games, or open a hundred Chrome tabs, a capable processor is key. Let’s talk about Qualcomm vs Intel vs AMD in Chromebooks today.

Current state of processors in Chromebooks

Processing power isn’t just about today either — you might want to buy your next Chromebook with the applications of tomorrow in mind. We already know Steam gaming is coming to Chrome OS soon with Borealis. If you’re looking to get serious about gaming on your Chromebook, it’s nice to know you have a processor that can keep up.

With that in mind, it’s worth taking a look at the available processor options for Chromebooks right now. Basically, there are four companies making chips for Chromebooks — Intel, AMD, MediaTek and Qualcomm. However, there are only two distinct architectures in use among these companies, namely ARM and x86. Both MediaTek and Qualcomm use the ARM architecture, while Intel and AMD famously use the x86 instruction set for their chips. Many often think of Intel and AMD as being faster when it comes to Chromebooks. MediaTek chips are typically used in low-end Chromebooks, so it makes sense their performance would not measure up in most benchmark tests.

On the other hand, Qualcomm is a relative newcomer to the Chromebook game. Thus far, only two devices are currently available to buy with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c chip. The Acer Spin 513 was the first such device, followed by the HP Chromebook x2 11 just last month. Both of these devices are priced in the mid-range of Chromebooks, the $400-600 spot above budget, but not quite premium.

We thought it would be fun to see how the Qualcomm new Snapdragon 7c processor stacks up against the usual suspects from Intel and AMD at this price point. In this comparison, we’ll compare the performance of the Acer Spin 513 (Qualcomm), Pixelbook Go Core i5 (Intel), and the Acer Spin 514 (AMD).

Machines tested

As mentioned, we tested three Chromebooks for this comparison. Of course, these Chromebooks do have some differences other than the processor inside. Below are the specifications for the Acer Spin 513, Pixelbook Go, and Acer Spin 514 we tested.

Qualcomm vs Intel vs AMD: Specifications

SpecificationAcer Chromebook Spin 514Acer Chromebook Spin 513Google Pixelbook Go
Dimensions & Weight
  • 0.68″ x 12.7″ x 8.9″
  • 3.64lbs
  • 0.61″ x 12.2″ x 8.2″
  • 2.84lbs
  • 12.2″ x 8.1″ x 0.5″
  • 2.3 lbs
Display
  • 14″ FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS
  • LED backlit
  • Touchscreen
  • CineCrystal (Glare)
  • 13.3″ FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS
  • LED backlit
  • Touchscreen
  • 300 nits max brightness
  • 13.3″ LCD touchscreen display
  • Full HD 1920×1080 (166ppi) or 4K (331 ppi), 4K on i7 model only
  • 16:9 aspect ratio
  • 72% NTSC color
Processor
  • AMD Ryzen 5 3500C
  • 2.10 GHz Quad-core (4 Core)
  • Qualcomm® Snapdragon 7c Compute Platform
  • 2.10 GHz Octa-core (8 Core)
  • 8th Gen Intel Core i5
RAM & Storage
  • 8GB RAM
  • 128 GB eMMc storage
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64 GB eMMc storage
  • 8GB or 16GB RAM
  • 64, 128 or 256 GB SSD storage
Battery & Charging
  • Up to 10 hours, 4670 mAh
  • Lithium Ion (Li-Ion)
  • Up to 14 hours, 4670 mAh
  • 2-cell
  • Full HD: 47 Wh battery
  • 4K Ultra HD Molecular Display™: 56 Wh battery
  • Up to 12 hour of usage.
  • 45W charger included.
Security
  • Discrete H1 Trusted Platform Module (TPM) solution for Chromebook
  • Kensington lock
  • Discrete H1 Trusted Platform Module (TPM) solution for Chromebook
  • Titan C Security Chip
  • Built-in FIDO authenticator
Front camera
  • 720p resolution
  • 1280 x 720 Webcam With Super High Dynamic Range Imaging
  • Duo Cam
  • 2 megapixel, ƒ/2.0 aperture, 1.4μm pixel size
  • Video Recording: 1080p HD at 60fps
World-facing camera
  • None
  • None
  • None
Port(s)
  • 1 HDMI port
  • 1 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A
  • 2 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-C
  • USB Type-C port supporting:

    • USB 3.2 Gen 1 (up to 5 Gbps)
    • DisplayPort over USB-C
    • USB charging 5/9/15/20 V; 3 A
  • 1 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A
  • 2 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-C
  • USB Type-C port supporting:

    • USB 3.2 Gen 1 (up to 5 Gbps)
    • DisplayPort over USB-C
    • USB charging 5/9/15/20 V; 3 A
  • USB-C charging and display output (2)
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
Audio
  • Bottom-firing speakers
  • Bottom-firing speakers
  • Dual front-firing speakers for better surround sound
  • 2 mics for improved noise cancellation
Connectivity
  • IEEE 802.11ac
  • Bluetooth® 5.0
  • IEEE 802.11ac
  • Bluetooth® 5.0
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 2×2 (MIMO), dual-band (2.4 GHz, 5.0 GHz)
  • Bluetooth 4.2
SoftwareChrome OSChrome OSChrome OS
Other Features
  • Comes in Mist Green
  • 2-in-1 convertible
  • Comes in Pure Silver
  • 2-in-1 convertible
  • Backlit keyboard
  • Jumbo trackpad
  • Ambient light and magnetic sensors

Note that all of these machines were tested using the Chrome OS 92 stable build, so software performance shouldn’t have much influence in the benchmark performance at the end of the day. There’s certainly something to be said for the differences in RAM, but this shouldn’t have a huge relative impact in most of the important browser-based benchmarks discussed here. Browser-based benchmarks are the most commonly assessed with Chrome OS, since it’s primarily a cloud-first operating system.

Qualcomm vs Intel vs AMD: Benchmark results and analysis

JetStream2

JetStream2 combines a variety of JavaScript and Web Assembly benchmarks, covering a variety of advanced workloads and programming techniques, and reports a single score that balances them using a geometric mean.

Each benchmark measures a distinct workload, and no single optimization technique is sufficient to speed up all benchmarks. Some benchmarks demonstrate tradeoffs, and aggressive or specialized optimizations for one benchmark might make another benchmark slower. JetStream2 rewards browsers that start up quickly, execute code quickly, and continue running smoothly.

Each benchmark in JetStream2 computes its own individual score. JetStream2 weighs each benchmark equally, taking the geometric mean over each individual benchmark’s score to compute the overall JetStream2 score.

Acer Spin 514 Jetstream

Acer Spin 514 Jetstream2

In the Jetstream 2 benchmark, the Pixelbook Go was the clear winner, followed closely by the Acer Spin 514. The Acer Spin 513 running the Qualcomm chip was a distant third place. The majority of the crypto tests and other mathematical tests were nearly identical on the Pixelbook Go and Acer Spin 514, within an acceptable margin of error.

Acer Spin 513 Jetstream

Acer Spin 513 Jetstream2

The Jetstream 2 score for the Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c is a bit of a surprise and disappointment. Although I didn’t expect it to be equal to the Intel or AMD processor, I also didn’t expect it to lag quite this far behind. These scores demonstrate that the Snapdragon 7c and Acer Spin 513 are not ideal for serious scientific computing with complicated mathematical calculations or encryption tasks.

Pixelbook Go Jetstream

Pixelbook Go Jetstream2

Octane 2.0

Octane 2.0 is a benchmark that measures a JavaScript engine’s performance by running a suite of tests representative of certain use cases in JavaScript applications. Traditional benchmarks simply measure how quickly JavaScript can be executed. Octane 2.0 additionally measures latency, which is another important aspect of performance that’s concerned with the smoothness of execution.

In modern JavaScript engines like V8, latency comes from two main sources — compiling JavaScript to machine instructions so it can run faster, and garbage collecting memory that’s no longer used. These tasks are computationally intensive and if they run for too long, they can be visible to users as small hiccups and freezes of JavaScript programs.

We’ve added a modified version of our Mandreel and Splay benchmarks to measure how well JavaScript engines can minimize these pauses.

Acer Spin 514 Octane

Acer Spin 514 Octane 2.0

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we see an identical overall ranking with the Octane 2.0 benchmarks. What’s surprising however, is that the Intel and AMD processors are much further apart in this benchmark. The Snapdragon 7c is actually relatively on par with the AMD Ryzen chip in this case, while the 8th gen Intel i5 is more than twice as fast as the AMD score.

Acer Spin 513 Octane

Acer Spin 513 Octane 2.0

One thing I did find a bit strange is the inconsistency of my Octane 2.0 results, when compared with others that have tested the Spin 513 and Spin 514. Many users report a score of around 19,000 for the Spin 513, and a score for the Spin 514 of around 25,000. Still, my testing practice was consistent across all three devices, letting each machine rest for five minutes in between each benchmark I ran. Although there may be a difference in the actual scores, the relative performance of the machines should still be consistent for comparison purposes.

Pixelbook Go Octane

Pixelbook Go Octane 2.0

Speedometer 2.0

Speedometer tests a browser’s Web app responsiveness by timing simulated user interactions.

This benchmark simulates user actions for adding, completing, and removing to-do items using multiple examples in TodoMVC. Each example in TodoMVC implements the same todo application using DOM APIs in different ways. Some call DOM APIs directly from ECMAScript 5 (ES5), ECMASCript 2015 (ES6), ES6 transpiled to ES5, and Elm transpiled to ES5.

Others use one of eleven popular JavaScript frameworks — React, React with Redux, Ember.js, Backbone.js, AngularJS, (new) Angular, Vue.js, jQuery, Preact, Inferno, and Flight. Many of these frameworks are used on the most popular websites in the world, such as Facebook and Twitter. The performance of these types of operations depends on the speed of the DOM APIs, the JavaScript engine, CSS style resolution, layout, and other technologies.

Acer Spin 514 Speedometer

The Speedometer 2.0 results show a similar relative ranking for the three processors, although there isn’t as much clustering as in the previous two tests. The Intel Core i5 is the clear winner, with the Ryzen chip in a solid second place, and the Snapdragon 7c coming in last again. As with the Octane 2.0 results, the Intel processor has a relatively large advantage over both processors, while the other two are closer together.

Acer Spin 513 Speedometer

Acer Spin 513 Speedometer

One really nice thing about the Speedometer 2.0 output is it demonstrates not only a point estimate, but a margin of error. Having access to this confidence interval information makes it easy to see there’s actually more variance in the results for the AMD processor. I’m not quite sure why the margin of error is significantly higher for the Ryzen processor, but perhaps it’s due to thermals or other variables that can’t be controlled completely in testing.

Pixelbook Go Speedometer

Pixelbook Go Speedometer

MotionMark 1.1

MotionMark is a web benchmark that focuses on graphics performance. It draws multiple rendering elements, each of which uses the same set of graphics primitives. An element could be an SVG node, an HTML element with CSS style, or a series of canvas operations. Slight variations among the elements avoid trivial caching optimizations by the browser. Although fairly simple, the effects were chosen to reflect techniques commonly used on the web. Tests are visually rich, being designed to stress the graphics system rather than JavaScript.

After an initial warm-up, each test runs for a fixed period of time. Based on measurements of the browser’s frame rate, MotionMark adjusts the number of elements to draw, and concentrates around a narrow range where the browser starts to fail animating at 60 frames per second (fps). A piecewise linear regression is applied to the data, and the change point is reported as the test’s score. The confidence interval is calculated through bootstrapping. MotionMark calculates the geometric mean of all of the tests’ scores to report the single score for the run.

Qualcomm vs intel vs amd chromebook: Acer Spin 514 MotionMark

Acer Spin 514 MotionMark 1.1

Motionmark 1.1 is the first graphics-specific benchmark, so it’s interesting to see the relative hierarchy still holds. We also get a confidence interval with a margin of error here, which shows that in this case the Intel Core i5 results are potentially off by a fairly large margin of error.

Qualcomm vs intel vs amd Chromebook: Acer Spin 513 MotionMark

Acer Spin 513 MotionMark 1.1

Still, the result for the Core i5 leading the pack is statistically significant in the sense that these differences are large enough to be meaningful. On the other hand, the Snapdragon 7c and AMD Ryzen graphics performance are relatively the same when considering the overlap of these two confidence intervals.

Qualcomm vs intel vs amd chromebook: Pixelbook Go Motion Mark

Pixelbook Go Motion Mark 1.1

Qualcomm vs Intel vs AMD:  Real-world performance

Benchmarks don’t tell the entire story. Although we did get a fairly consistent ranking of these three chips, it’s important to look at real-world performance to truly understand how a processor performs as part of the overall Chromebook experience. Let’s dive into what I’ve noticed while using the Core i5 on the Pixelbook Go, Snapdragon 7c on the Spin 513, and AMD Ryzen on the Spin 514.

Intel Core i5 performance in the Pixelbook Go

When a laptop is a few years old, performance and battery life are where you’d expect to see the biggest dings. With the light nature of Chrome OS, performance on the Pixelbook Go doesn’t take much of a hit. My Core i5 model still chugs along and handles pretty much everything I throw at it currently. I can still multitask with ease and even play some high-end Android games like Asphalt 9 without many hiccups.

Of course, looking towards the future is a different story. The 8th-gen Intel processors on the Pixelbook Go won’t be equipped to handle the gaming revolution coming to Chrome OS with Borealis. If you’re really excited about Steam gaming arriving on Chrome OS later this year, the Pixelbook Go would still not be the best Chromebook to invest in at this point. Instead, check out the ASUS Chromebook CX9 I recently reviewed.

Qualcomm vs intel vs amd chromebook: Pixelbook go with colorful wallpaper

One other persistent performance issue I noticed is a fairly audible coil whine coming from the middle of the laptop. Coil whine is a high-pitched noise caused by electromagnetic coils that act as inductors or transformers. My Pixelbook Go unit suffered from the phenomenon throughout my usage, but it doesn’t bother me too much as I often listen to music while working. On the plus side, the processor used on the Pixelbook Go is fanless, so you won’t deal with any fan noise.

AMD Ryzen performance in the Acer Spin 514

Performance on the Spin 514 is very solid. You can run Android apps, including intensive games, with relative ease. I spent quite a bit of time playing Asphalt 9, Alto’s Odyssey, and NBA Jam. All of these games played incredibly well on the Chromebook. I also spent considerable time playing Stadia on the Spin 514, an experience that’s rather enjoyable with the laptop in tent mode.

Of course I ran Linux apps on the Spin 514 as well, using GIMP and Kdenlive for some light photo and video editing. The Ryzen 5 processor was up to the task in general and I rarely noticed the fans kick in. Unfortunately, the Spin 514 does still suffer from some of the Ryzen-specific bugs I noticed on the ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook.

Q ualcomm vs intel vs amd chromebook: Acer Spin 514 Zoomed out view

Certain video players still freeze and crash to a black screen (perhaps this just needs a Chrome OS update to fix) and the battery percentage seems poorly calibrated as well. Often the battery percentage would jump by 5% at a time, not something you really want to see while you’re working on the road.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c performance in the Acer Spin 513

Performance on the Spin 513 is just okay. I was expecting much better performance from the first highly-anticipated Qualcomm Chromebook. For more demanding tasks, this Chromebook is quite a bit slower than models that feature low-end Intel processors. It’s generally fine for writing documents or browsing the web, but playing games is pretty disappointing, considering how well Qualcomm chips perform on Android phones. In fact, Android app support in general is not great (more on that in a moment).

Qualcomm vs Intel vs AMD Chromebook: Acer Spin 513 with display on

I tried running some Linux apps on the Acer Spin 513, which wasn’t the best experience. Running GIMP, Kdenlive and MATLAB, all of which I run on my Galaxy Chromebook 2 easily, was nearly impossible. In general, I wouldn’t recommend attempting any seriously demanding work or gaming on this machine. It’s relatively quiet while struggling to keep up, so that’s something that will impress some potential buyers.

Battery life

When comparing processors, efficiency matters as much as raw performance. I’ve used all three of these machines as my primary Chromebook, so let’s talk about average battery life on each platform.

Intel Core i5 battery life in the Pixelbook Go

Battery life of course degraded some over time, as you’d expect. I was able to get around eight hours of comfortable work usage out of the Pixelbook Go when I first unboxed it in October 2019. These days, I can squeeze out around six and a half hours of use before I need to top up. This isn’t a terrible decrease in capacity and not something I hold against the Pixelbook Go as all batteries suffer this fate.

AMD Ryzen battery life in the Acer Spin 514

In the battery life department, the Spin 514 is less impressive. This could be because of the poorly calibrated battery gauge I mentioned earlier, or perhaps because I needed to run on maximum brightness due to the dim display. Either way, I struggled mightily to get the ten hours of use Acer advertises on the specs page. I was able to get a maximum of around seven hours of use during my testing period. That sounds like a decent number for a Windows PC, but it’s fairly bad for a Chromebook.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c battery life in the Acer Spin 513

Despite ranking in last in our benchmark testing, the Spin 513 does deliver excellent battery life. I certainly didn’t get the 14 hours of use Acer claims on the spec sheet, but I did average an impressive 10.5-11 hours of actual on-screen time. During my testing I also put it through some pretty heavy workloads, so that could potentially stretch to 14 hours if you only do light browsing and use productivity apps. It’s pretty rare the number listed by an OEM is attainable in practice, but that’s at least conceivable with the Spin 513.

Qualcomm vs Intel vs AMD: Conclusion

Overall, we’ve observed that Intel is still the king of the hill when it comes to Chromebook performance. Not only did the much older Intel Core i5 destroy the Snapdragon 7c and AMD Ryzen in four different benchmarks, it also performed much better in day-to-day use. While the actual raw scores do have some margin of error, the Pixelbook Go had a substantial margin of victory in each case, easily enough for a statistically significant advantage. Of course, the Spin 513 and Spin 514 offer some unique benefits outside of performance. The Spin 513 has LTE capability and the Spin 514 is a great enterprise option.

Battery life is one area where the Snapdragon 7c pulls ahead of the other two contenders. Qualcomm has a history of battery optimization engineering, considering all of their work with mobile processors. While the AMD platform isn’t bad, it has the worst battery life and middle of the road performance. Hopefully, AMD will address some of these Chrome OS optimization issues in future Ryzen iterations. We’ll also test the second generation Snapdragon 7c soon to see if Qualcomm improved performance on their end.

    Acer Chromebook Spin 513
    If you want a 2-in-1 Chromebook, but not at a high price, the Spin 513 is a great option. You still get a bright and vivid HD display, along with excellent battery life. If you need to work on the go, the Spin 513 has optional 4G LTE capability. Performance isn't the best, but if you're not a power user this is a nice Chromebook.
    Google Pixelbook Go
    Google’s Pixelbook Go has stood the test of time. This is still the best Chromebook out there for long typing sessions and quality speakers.
    Acer Chromebook Spin 514
    Acer's Spin 514 delivers a rugged design and impressive performance backed by the AMD Ryzen 5 processor. It suffers from a somewhat dim display and mediocre battery life, but performs like a champ for productivity and Android gaming.

About author

Jeff Springer
Jeff Springer

Applied mathematician with a love for Android. I am interested in inverse problems for imaging and integration with camera software for mobile phones.