Google’s next Pixel flagship – presumably dubbed ‘Pixel 6’ – will reportedly feature a Google-designed GS101 ‘Whitechapel’ SoC (system on a chip), a first for the company, as reported by 9to5Google and XDA Developers
9to5GoogleAccording to the report, Google is working on two phones with the Arm-based GS101 – presumably a flagship to follow up on last year’s Pixel 5 and a Pixel 4A 5G follow-up.
XDAThe report, meanwhile, takes a closer look at the new SoC and claims that the GS101 chips will have a “three cluster array with a TPU (Tensor Processing Unit)” for machine learning applications. (For reference, Qualcomm’s own flagship Snapdragon 888 uses Arm’s Cortex-X1 / Cortex-A78 / Cortex-A55 as a triple cluster CPU array.) In addition, the new SoC can include an integrated security chip, similar to the Titan M.
The idea of Google making a custom TPU or security chip isn’t new: Google has previously created TPUs for servers and the Pixel 4’s neural core, along with the discrete Titan M chip on its current phones. But the custom-designed GS101 would likely allow the company to integrate those functions at a deeper level.
Rumors about the Whitechapel chips have been circulating since last year Axios reported that Google wanted to develop its own internal chips for use in Pixel and Chromebook devices. That report claimed the company would optimize its chip for Google’s machine learning technology – something like that XDA report confirms. However, the GS101 chip for the Pixel lineup for 2021 would be the first fruits of the Whitechapel project AxiosThe original report noted that Chromebook chips were not expected until later in the future.
9to5GoogleThe report also includes references to a ‘Slider’ codename associated with the new device, which it says is also connected to Samsung’s Exynos SoCs (which the company uses on Galaxy smartphone devices outside the US). Samsung’s commitment to the production side – die Axios also reported last year – would make sense, as one of the largest semiconductor manufacturers for smartphones.
The idea of chips designed by Google is compelling. Apple has long touted its tightly integrated software and hardware stack as an important part of how its iPhones, iPads and now Mac computers can work so well – a key part of that is the company’s custom-designed A-Series and Chips from the M series.
Google – and almost every other Android manufacturer, except Samsung and Huawei – doesn’t have that advantage. It instead relies on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips, which dominate the Android market in the US. Often times, an Android device lives or dies from how well the manufacturer is able to sync Qualcomm’s chips, Google’s software, and its own hardware designs. Likewise, the fact that essentially every Android device runs on the same chipset and software makes it difficult for any model to stand out.
But a Google-designed GS101 chip carries a tantalizing promise: that Google could give an Apple-like boost in speed, performance and battery life for Android (and specifically the Pixel lineup) with a similar level of control. about the hardware design, software and processor. It’s an intriguing idea – assuming Google can get it done.
That said, building an Apple or Qualcomm-level smartphone processor isn’t easy. While both companies use Arm as a common foundation, they’ve spent years refining those basic building blocks with customizations to meet their needs. Apple has been using custom designs in its processors since the A6 design in 2012 (as opposed to previous models that used Arm’s own licensed CPU designs). Qualcomm takes a similar approach in its modern processors, using custom Kryo cores that are semi-custom versions of Arm’s basic Cortex designs.
It may take Google a few generations to refine its Pixel chips. But if Google can actually provide a good custom chip built from the ground up to be specifically designed for Android software and the Pixel hardware, this could be the key to transforming the Pixel line from an afterthought to a real smartphone powerhouse.