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).
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
|Specification||Acer Chromebook Spin 514||Acer Chromebook Spin 513||Google Pixelbook Go|
|Dimensions & Weight|
|RAM & Storage|
|Battery & Charging|
|Software||Chrome OS||Chrome OS||Chrome OS|
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
- 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.