'Zork' Reference Device Hints at Closer AMD-Chromebook Ties

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Google introduced the Chromebook in 2011. It took eight years for AMD processors to make their way into the product category, and that was mostly because of Intel's ongoing CPU shortage, which forced manufacturers to look elsewhere. But a new reference device called Zork that was discovered by About Chromebooks on Tuesday suggests that AMD is hoping to have a lasting presence in the Chromebook market.

About Chromebooks said that Zork is a reference device based on a Trembyle reference board, so much like an overly detailed resume, it's just references the whole way down. That just means this hardware is supposed to provide a template manufacturers can follow with their own devices. We probably aren't going to see a retail product named Zork--much to the chagrin of those happy few who remember the Zork game from the '70s.

Moving on: the reference designs are made with the Picasso chipset. AMD revealed new Picasso accelerated processing units (APUs) in January with Zen+ CPU and Vega graphics cores in a system-on-a-chip (SoC) design. The company didn't completely rethink the Picasso lineup, but the improved design is supposed to offer up to eight percent better performance than its Raven Ridge predecessor, which is a respectable bump.

Picasso APUs should also offer drastically better performance than the mobile processors that HP and Acer used in the first AMD-powered Chromebooks. Those devices are limited to just two cores and two threads; the Picasso lineup ranges from two cores with four threads at the low end and four cores with eight threads at the high end. We suspect the Zork and Trembyle reference designs use an APU somewhere in the middle.

About Chromebooks said it found references to a 2-in-1 design based on these Trembyle and Zork when it went looking through Chromium's code. The outlet also warned that these reference designs were only added to Chromium within the last week so "it’s likely to be at least six, if not more, months before any actual products arrive from this effort." We wouldn't be surprised if most people forget about these clues by then.

Still, this could be a sign that AMD is going to be part of the Chromebook market going forward, rather than a desperation pick that will be abandoned as soon as Intel ramps up production. It took the company eight years to get its processors into some of the most popular laptops around--it seems unlikely to be content with disappearing shortly after that, or for its hardware to be limited to the low end of the market.