Project Crostini: Gemini Lake Chromebooks likely to have Linux apps at launch

Back in December, Intel announced Gemini Lake, a successor chip to Apollo Lake. And there are already Chromebooks in the works for this new chip; some will be built off a board that’s code-named “Octopus”, spotted by Chrome Unboxed in February. Interestingly, these devices are likely to be among the first Chromebooks to support Project Crostini — allowing for Linux app support — on day one when they launch.

The evidence for this is a new code commit description that enables a key Project Crostini component for devices built around Octopus:

octopus: Enable virtual machines
Turn VMs on for all Gemini Lake processor based systems.

The actual code is a single line; two lines if you count the leading comment line.

kvm-host enable octopus

If you’re not sure what kvm-host is or how it relates to running Android apps on Chrome OS devices, this excellent write-up from Kieran Miyamoto over at XDA-Developers is a great resource. And his unofficial Crostini architecture diagram will give you a quick idea.

crostini-architecture

Enabling the KVM host is essential to “linking” the Linux kernel in Chrome OS to Project Crostini containers for Linux app support.

So back to Intel’s new Gemini Lake chips. As of now, there aren’t any Chromebooks using it. Instead, the latest devices are either using KabyLake-Y or Apollo Lake processors. The HP Chromebook X2 and Samsung Chromebook Plus v2 use the former chipsets while the Acer Chromebook 11 and Chromebook 15 run on the latter, for example.

Gemini Lake chips will be updated to the Pentium Silver, Celeron J4xxx and the Celeron N4000/N4100 series and here’s what AnandTech, a great technical resource, had to say about the processors when they were announced:

The new Gemini Like SoCs feature improved CPU cores over the previous generation, an enhanced media decoding/encoding engine, and a new display pipeline. Intel promises to offer higher performance than predecessors while consuming about 6 W or 10 W, depending on the application. The higher-end Gemini Lake SKUs will be sold under the Pentium Silver brand, whereas the entry-level models will carry the Celeron name.

Essentially, these are updates on the low- to mid-end of Intel’s processor range and the chip costs are around $100 to $160. So don’t expect to see them in Chromebooks that start at $500 and go up. Instead, these are for the sub-$500 range, which will bring Linux apps to a number of “entry level” Chromebooks, likely later this year.

This is important because I expect Google to make an announcement similar to the one they made in 2017. Back then, it said Android app support will be available on on all new Chromebooks going forward. By building on Project Crostini through 2018 as new processors become available, I’d think Google similarly says that in 2019, all new Chromebooks will support Linux apps out of the box.

4 thoughts on “Project Crostini: Gemini Lake Chromebooks likely to have Linux apps at launch

  • July 12, 2018 at 11:56 am
    Permalink

    “I’d think Google similarly says that in 2019, all new Chromebooks will support Linux apps out of the box.”

    With likely key exceptions. Like, except for those based on ARM processors.

    Reply
    • July 12, 2018 at 11:58 am
      Permalink

      Why those based on ARM processors? The OP1 devices support Crostini today. I’d expect Cheza, the Snapdragon 845 device, to support it as well. Not necessarily disagreeing, just wondering why you’re thinking ARM processor devices won’t have support.

      Reply
      • July 13, 2018 at 12:25 pm
        Permalink

        Really looking forward to Google’s next hardware event, the Pixelbook 2 (or whatever it’s called) might just be my next laptop.

        Off-Topic
        Mr. Tofel, regarding today’s news that full Photoshop will be arriving to the iPad next year, do you see the same happening to Chromebooks?

        Reply
  • July 13, 2018 at 1:37 pm
    Permalink

    The diagram looks accurate to the extent of my knowledge, but doesnt capture one of the big advantages of crostini over crouton (not as big as no-developer-mode, but still big). Namely
    that crostini is acting as a window manager, rather tha just providing an X11 display and requiring
    a Linux windows manager.

    The fact that the windows are normal Chrome Windows is even better than the xiwi crouton display which places an X11 display inside a window.

    Reply

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