Google is Building its Own Processors for Chromebook Computers

The US software behemoth speeds up its hiring push in preparation for its semiconductor and hardware aspirations.

Google is creating its own core processors for laptops and tablets. The latest evidence that big tech companies regard in-house semiconductor research as critical to their competitiveness.

Three individuals familiar with the subject told Nikkei Asia that the US internet giant aims to release CPUs for laptops and tablets that operate on the company’s Chrome operating system in approximately 2023.

After revealing that it will utilize in-house processing chips for the first time in its forthcoming Pixel 6 series. Google is speeding up its efforts to develop mobile CPUs for its Pixel smartphones and other devices, they claimed.

Google’s increased emphasis on building its own chips coincides with worldwide competitors pursuing a similar strategy to distinguish their products. Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Tesla, Baidu, and Alibaba Group Holding are all competing for the right to develop their own chips to power their cloud services and electronic devices.

Apple’s success in creating its own crucial semiconductor components for iPhones. As well as Apple’s declaration last year that it will replace Intel CPUs with its own products for Mac desktops and laptops, encouraged Google, according to two individuals familiar with the company’s thinking.

Google’s new CPUs and mobile processors are based on the chip blueprints of Arm, a Softbank-controlled British semiconductor firm whose intellectual property is utilized in more than 90% of the world’s mobile devices.

Separately, the firm has high hopes for the Pixel 6 series and has requested suppliers to prepare 50 percent more manufacturing capacity for the devices in 2019 than in the pre-pandemic year, according to two individuals familiar with the matter. According to research firm IDC, Google delivered more than 7 million Pixel phones in 2019, the greatest number ever, but just 3.7 million the following year as COVID decimated the planet.

Google told several suppliers in recent meetings that it sees potential for massive growth opportunities in the global market because it is the only U.S. smartphone maker building handsets using the Android operating system.

Regarding chip development, experts say Google’s strategy is a logical move but not without challenges.

“We found that all the tech titans are joining the foray to building their custom chips because in that way they could program their own features into those chips that could meet its specific needs,” Eric Tseng, chief analyst with Isaiah Research, told Nikkei Asia. “In that case, these tech companies could easily adjust R&D workloads without being restricted by their suppliers and offer unique services or technologies. In an ideal scenario, using one’s own chips also means better software and hardware integration.”

However, building chips requires massive investment and long-term commitments, and all these new tech players building their own chips also need to fight for production capacity with existing top chip developers from Intel, Nvidia, Qualcomm, and others, Tseng said.

Google started to build its own silicon — dubbed tensor processing units (TPUs) — to facilitate its workloads for artificial intelligence computing for its data center cloud servers in 2016. It unveiled the fourth generation of TPUs this May. It is hiring chip engineers around the world, including in Israel, India, and Taiwan — all key tech economies — and at home in the U.S., according to supply chain executives, employees, and the company’s job postings. Google has already hired chip talent from its key suppliers including Intel, Qualcomm, and Mediatek, according to sources and a Nikkei Asia analysis of LinkedIn profiles.

Google is one of the world’s most important developers of operating systems. Most of the world’s top smartphone makers, including Samsung, Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo, use the Android OS for their handsets. Google has also has licensed its Chrome OS to HP, Dell, Acer, AsusTek, Lenovo, and Samsung to build Chromebooks, lightweight laptops mainly targeted toward the education market.

According to IDC statistics, Google released Pixelbook and Pixel Slate, its own Chrome OS laptops and tablets, in 2017 and 2018, respectively, although yearly shipments were fewer than half a million units.

Meanwhile, owing to the pandemic’s spurt on remote learning, global shipments of Chromebooks nearly quadrupled last year. Shipments grew in the first half of 2021, but the pace has dropped significantly after July.

Google declined to comment other than to confirm that the Tensor mobile CPUs will be used in the forthcoming Pixel 6 devices.

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