The support for linux applications makes Chrome OS very interesting to me. But I would like to know more about their actual performance.

Apparently, the applications are executed in KVM. The google docs are a bit confusing, since they don't distinguish clearly between containerization and virtualization. This article is called Running Custom Containers Under Chrome OS but it quite clearly says that the various linux features are sandboxed in a virtual machine.

This website talks about the performance penalty of virtualization, but doesn't give any concrete numbers:

The second limitation is that Google runs Linux apps by placing them in a Debian-based virtual machine. For those that aren’t familiar, this means that performance won’t be quite as good as you’d get from a native app installation. That’s likely the reason Google is kicking off support with the beefy Pixelbook.

Can you tell me how much overhead is introduced here ? How does the performance of a linux application on chrome os compare with the same application on ubuntu for example.


I appreciate the feedback given so far and would like to make my question more precise. As far as I understand, there are three problems with my question:

  1. The hardware setup is important. Something like the pixelbook might get special fine-tuning.
  2. The software I'm using is important.
  3. The baseline for comparison is not clearly defined.

To address these points:

  1. I can't give you precise information on the hardware. For the sake of this argument, let's assume an Intel ULV chip, something like the i5-7Y54, together with 4GB of RAM and 64GB eMMC. For a chromebook I think this would be quite beefy, while still being much slower than most windows laptops. (This might even be the hardware of the pixelbook. If so, it's not intended)
  2. I'm interested in software development. The most basic tools I need are VS Code and Latex, I assume that this will not be a problem. It would be nice to run Android Studio and PyCharm. I sometimes do some image editing, let's say GIMP. Gaming is not really a topic for me, but if we have Linux, let's try playing some Half Life 2 :).

  3. For the baseline, let's say we install software over apt and look at Chrome OS + KVM vs Ubuntu or Debian. If we have something like Gentoo where everything is compiled from source, I know that it will be impossible to predic the effect of compiler optimizations.

I also searched a bit more and found this nice article: https://forum.level1techs.com/t/how-fast-is-kvm-host-vs-virtual-machine-performance/110192

Actually, I think this is almost an answer to my question: Given enough resources, the performance difference between KVM and host OS is negligible. It's just that this article is very much focused on a high-end PC. Can you give me some intuition, how this scales if the host becomes much slower ?

closed as unclear what you're asking by Rui F Ribeiro, user88036, RalfFriedl, Thomas, Romeo Ninov Oct 5 '18 at 14:47

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    While the chrome machines seem interesting in price, their specs are always on the lower end. I bought a Lenovo instead – Rui F Ribeiro Oct 4 '18 at 11:41
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    Why ChromeOS as any advantage ? anything a chrome OS can do a Linux with Chrome could. the contrary is not true. Also Rui is true, they are very cheap in terms of hardware. I wouldn't recommand one to anyone. – Kiwy Oct 4 '18 at 11:49
  • yep, all very valid. I'm more interested in chrome os as a tablet os, than chromebooks as cheap notebooks. There are rumors about google releasing a pixel tablet ;) I find tablets to be very convenient. But the only recent high-end android tablet is the galaxy tab s4 - with outdated hardware at release. And the ipad is a golden cage. – lhk Oct 4 '18 at 12:22
  • @Kiwy Actually there is a quite an amount of nicely integrated features that you can't find on your free desktop as far as I have heard and seen so far. youtu.be/SB039KeeW8c?t=4m12s Sure I don't need that and if I want to draw a circle I open my editor in a terminal and write down the SVG coordinates. Groupthink. Because neglecting users actual needs is easier than developing features. I tried to ignore Chromebooks, they have not died yet. – LiveWireBT Oct 4 '18 at 21:05
  • @Kiwy I was talking about the abilities of stylus input as one example to make annotations and selections. Yours is sadly another example of groupthink: you saw something, you did not take the least effort to understand how it could benefit a user because you decided to refuse it up front. That kind of thinking holds free software back. Feel free to label a screen reader as spyware just because you don't use one (so there is no improvement necessary) and hope that everyone you will ever know can use computers the way you do. Good luck. As I said, I can draw SVG in terminal, no problem for me. – LiveWireBT Oct 5 '18 at 7:52

Sorry but I think the very general statement by the author at Android Authority does not raise awareness in a constructive way. Let's consider the following:

  • Pixelbooks are very likely to be devices used at Google particularly by engineers working on Chromium related projects. It's probably the hardware with the best test coverage for Chrome OS. I have not experienced their Grab and Go program myself, but I assume there are quite a lot of users with Pixelbooks and Pixel phones out there.
  • It does not make much sense to run a VM when you are already low on memory like on 2GB RAM machines, some power users may even struggle with 4GB.
  • What is a native application? Particularly on a Chromebook? Crouton runs in a chroot and if you look for issues you can find some, even when others say it's just fine. Android apps on ChromeOS aren't native either. Distributions like Ubuntu rely on Apparmor confinement which also comes into play with snap and flatpak has a sandbox mechanism too. Also we haven't talked about compiler optimizations like on Gentoo or Clear Linux. A question about native performance can be quite theoretical.
  • You can run a Windows VM with VirutalBox on a Chromebook. The only slow down I experienced besides only having 4GB RAM was that eMMC can be slow. Windows VM on GalliumOS on a Chromebook
  • Speaking of Microsoft, VMs don't have to be slow, Xbox One even runs games in a VM.

It depends on the type of workload. (As always.) It should be negligible in most cases that this solution was designed for.

I ran video encoding in a VM a few years back since I did not want to mess with a full Arch Linux desktop at the time and I only needed a CLI for that task. Most (if not all) of the CPU features I needed were available, the performance overhead was negligible (and newer versions of the required software components were faster or produced better quality).

Sure you may have seen bad performing VMs or poorly performing VM hosts, but without a specific scenario your question becomes rather theoretical to answer.

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