Gaming Chromebooks teased with a colorful keyboard trick

Google's Chromebook initiative has been a major success, particularly in the education sector where schools have made significant cost savings on both hardware and software. Chromebooks can be relatively inexpensive to purchase and maintain, while Google's cloud-based Google Classroom means schools aren't tied into expensive software licensing.

Joining this success in K-12 schools, Chromebooks have become increasingly popular among university students, too. While the laptops are great for accessing the internet and writing reports, they still fall short when it comes to gaming.

That doesn't mean gaming on Chromebooks is a lost cause. Recently, we have seen the rise of cloud-based game streaming platforms like NVIDIA's GeForce Now and Google Stadia bring up to 4K gaming to Chromebooks, though these services are only available in select markets. In March 2021, we first learned of a new "Game Mode" being developed for ChromeOS designed to bring Steam games to Chromebooks via a Linux container.

This is part of a joint project known as "Borealis" being developed by Google and Valve. Then, in April 2021, NVIDIA announced it had partnered with MediaTek to bring Chromebooks with serious RTX-powered gaming chops to the market. It now looks like we are another step closer to seeing these efforts come to life, at least based on a new feature flag identified by 9to5Google that is under development in the Chromium source code.

What this means for gamers

With NVIDIA and MediaTek working on a Chromebook platform that is targeted at gamers, it would stand to reason these new gaming-capable Chromebooks will have the looks and features gamers expect to see in a gaming laptop.

That is exactly what 9to5Google has uncovered in the form of a "feature flag" called "Enable RGB Keyboard Support." While the functionality could be aimed at supporting external gaming keyboards, it appears this new feature is being readied for new gaming-focused Chromebooks currently under development.

With some further sleuthing, 9to5Google has uncovered at least three specific hardware codenames amongst the source code, including "Vell," "Taniks," and "Ripple". The first two will seemingly be Chromebooks powered by 12th-gen Intel chips, which suggests they will be higher-end devices. In terms of graphics options, there are at least three possibilities.

One is that they run on Intel's integrated Xe graphics, while another is that they may be mated to NVIDIA's RTX GPUs. A third option is that they may be paired with mobile variants of Intel's own upcoming discrete Xe-based GPUs. There are also hints that these could be HP Chromebooks that could slot into its OMEN gaming range.

The third device, "Ripple," looks like it might be a gaming-capable 2-in-1 akin to a less powerful version of the new Asus ROG Flow Z13, although there aren't any obvious hints as to who might be its OEM or its architecture.

When will gaming Chromebooks hit the market?

While we can't say with any amount of certainty when we will see this new generation of gaming-capable Chromebooks hit the market, the fact that the hardware is now in development in addition to the necessary software development suggests we could see them launch later this year.

Although there is an increasing influx of higher-end Chromebooks hitting the market, it seems unlikely that any of these new Chromebooks will be able to match a high-end or even mid-range Windows-powered gaming laptop.

For starters, the Chrome OS "Gaming Mode" appears to rely on a Linux container. Secondly, Chromebooks still need to be affordably priced to hit their target audience, which would also suggest their raw processing power will still be somewhat limited.

Google hasn't said much publicly about its Chromebook gaming plans and much of what we know is pieced together from source code. Still, there is enough evidence to suggest that the future of gaming on Chromebooks is certainly looking a lot brighter.