The 2021 Google Pixel 6 could ditch Qualcomm for custom chipsets

The 2021 Google Pixel 6 could ditch Qualcomm for custom chipsets
Rumors about Google planning a series of custom chipsets first emerged in mid-2017 when the internet giant hired an ex-Apple chip designer. This turned out to be true when, later that year, it unveiled the Pixel Visual Core image processor. 

Google has since announced the Titan M security chip and the powerful Pixel Neural Core, which replaced the Visual Core. There has, however, been little sign the company plans to develop its own Snapdragon SoC rivals, but come next year that could all change. 

Google's developing a custom chipset for Pixel phones

A new report by Axios claims Google has made significant progress toward developing its own processor. The chip in question goes by the codename ‘Whitechapel’ and is being designed in close cooperation with Samsung.

One source familiar with the matter says Samsung, who currently manufactures Exynos chipsets and previously Apple ones, will be using its state-of-the-art 5-nanometer manufacturing technology to produce it. 

This strategy mimics the one adopted by Apple a decade ago when it developed its first custom chipset – the Apple A4 – for use inside iPhones in close partnership with Samsung, who became the exclusive manufacturer.

The news also explains the recent rumor about Samsung developing a custom Exynos processor for use inside future Google Pixel devices. Speaking of which, the report claims Google won’t have the chipset ready in time for the Pixel 5 series later this year.

The Silicon Valley-based company only received its first working prototypes a few weeks ago and still has a lot of work to do. Axios believes it could be ready in time for 2021, making a launch inside the Google Pixel 6 series very possible. 

Eventually, Google hopes to use its custom chipsets inside its range of Chromebooks too.

This strategy has several advantages

Most Android manufacturers these days fit their smartphones with Snapdragon chipsets. These are far from bad products, but developing a custom chipset designed for specific products does come with its benefits.

This year, for example, Qualcomm has forced flagship manufacturers to adopt 5G network support or settle for a less powerful mid-range chipset in their high-end products. That has driven up costs significantly and is something Google could avoid with its own offering.

The company could also design certain aspects of the chipset around what features it has planned for future Pixel smartphones. Coincidentally, that appears to be something Google is planning to do from the get-go.

An 8-core CPU and custom hardware optimized for Google

The custom Google chipset apparently consists of an 8-core ARM processor. Details weren’t provided in the report today, but the previous rumor mentioned two high-end Cortex-A78 cores, two speedy Cortex-A76 cores, and a cluster of four Cortex-A55 cores for less power-hungry tasks.

That will be combined with the ARM’s unannounced Mali MP20 GPU, although Google is said to be substituting Samsung’s image signal processor with its own version. A custom neural processing unit is to be expected too.

Axios says it includes hardware optimized for Google’s machine-learning technology. A portion of the silicon will be dedicated to improving the performance and always-on capabilities of Google Assistant.

How the first custom Pixel chipset will compare with Samsung, Qualcomm, and Apple chipsets remains to be seen. But Google has consistently said that its hardware business is a long-term strategy, so it may take several iterations before Pixel processors are seen as worthy competitors.

In the meantime, the company is expected to continue using Snapdragon chipsets inside its smartphones. The Google Pixel 5 should feature the Snapdragon 765.

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