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Google axes Chromebooks with discrete Nvidia GPUs

Asus gaming Chromebook keyboardImage: Asus

Who wants to play full-power PC games on a Chromebook? At least a few people, presumably, since Google and its manufacturing partners have made “gaming Chromebooks” for a year or so. But with some screen upgrades and RGB keyboards, these machines are very clearly intended to be used with cloud services like GeForce Now, Xbox Game Pass, and Google’s own ill-fated Stadia. It looks like more conventional gaming laptops, complete with dedicated graphics cards, were in the pipeline. Unfortunately, they’ve now been unceremoniously axed in the early development process.

The news comes via developer commentary on Google’s public Chromium Gerrit. “Clean house on some dead [mother]boards,” writes the developer. “Herobrine, Hades, and Agah are all canceled.” As About Chromebooks reports (via Ars Technica), these codenames corresponded to motherboard designs destined for future ChromeOS-powered laptops or tablets, a frequent method for eagle-eyed Google fans to get a peek at upcoming hardware specifications. These three particular motherboards had discrete Nvidia laptop GPUs powering their graphics.

Google has been working on getting a version of Steam running in Chrome OS for a while. The system is still in beta now, available to test out, but there’s a reason that it hasn’t graduated to the stable channel after nearly a year. Getting the complex Linux version of the software to play nice on typically low-powered Chromebooks is a bit of a headache, with the official documentation still listing issues with window placement, external monitors, UI scaling, audio and online chat, and Valve’s ubiquitous Easy Anti-Cheat system. Only twenty models get the official blessing and external storage still isn’t supported, a big problem when PC game installation sizes are exploding and Chromebooks might have as little as 64 gigabytes of onboard storage.

And, of course, the big hurdle is that lack of discrete graphics card support, which means games played locally must be limited to older titles or new games with extremely basic visuals. The abandonment of these in-development laptop motherboards doesn’t automatically mean that Google’s not interested in more Chromebook gaming in the future — AMD and Intel both make discrete graphics for mobile, after all. But if you’re hoping to fire up Baldur’s Gate III on your Chromebook anytime soon, you’ll have to do it via the cloud.

Michael is a former graphic designer who’s been building and tweaking desktop computers for longer than he cares to admit. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.

Recent stories by Michael Crider:

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