Surprising Pixel 6 rumor lists Google SoC with two ARM X1 CPU cores
Google’s best picture of the Pixel 6 Pro.
The Pixel 6 Pro (left) and Pixel 6 (right). The Pro screen has slimmer bezels and is curved on the sides, while the non-Pro screen is flat and has thicker bezels.
The backs (not to scale). Note that the Pro version has a taller top part (and more cameras).
We can turn up the exposure a bit and label the camera parts.
Pixel 6 Pro colors.
Pixel 6 colors.
The camera hump is pretty big.
A picture of the “Google Tensor” chip.
What on earth is going on?
Google is building the Pixel 6, and with it the company throws Qualcomm off and introduces its first in-house main SoC (with the help of Samsung): the “Google Tensor SoC”, also known as “Whitechapel”. Aside from some conversations about Google’s special AI sauce, there wasn’t much information on the core parts of Tensor, such as the CPU. A reasonable expectation for a company building its first SoC is that it won’t be too ambitious – we would expect Google to play within the guard rails set by ARM, and after shipping a humble, outrageous SoC, the company would learn from it his first design and iteration. But a new report by Mishaal Rahman of XDA Developers claims that even with its first design, Google isn’t afraid to go its own way in SoC design.
Recall that ARM SoCs generally come with three tiers of CPU cores: a large CPU for bursty processing tasks like starting applications, medium cores for sustained performance, and small cores for background loading and low-power processing. Rahman says he has a source with a real Pixel 6 Pro and has the following CPU specs: two 2.8GHz Cortex-X1 cores, two 2.25GHz Cortex-A76 cores, and four 1, 8 GHz Cortex A55 cores.
If this information is correct, Google’s range of CPU cores will be unlike anything else on the market. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 and Samsung’s Exynos 2200 both have a Cortex X1, three Cortex A78, and four Cortex A55. You shouldn’t have two X1 cores. These are the big cores that can do some serious processing, and cramming two of them into a smartphone could result in incredible performance. Or extreme overheating can occur. A76 cores from last year should also not be used. The “middle” cores of all other companies are the newer, faster A78 cores.
Compared to the typical design, Google swapped one of the middle cores for a second large X1 core and then rejected the remaining middle cores by switching to cores from last year. Perhaps the downgrade of the remaining middle cores is an attempt to balance the thermal output? At launch, ARM said a 5nm Cortex-A78 had 20 percent better sustained performance with the same thermal envelope as a 7nm Cortex-A76. However, since Google uses 5nm A76, the A76 cores should give off less heat than the A78.
So what exactly is the goal here? Is Google trying to conquer the Android benchmark crown with this dual X1 Frankenchip? It would be a shame to spend all of that development resources on a custom solution and deliver a mid-range benchmark when mid-range chips from multiple vendors are immediately available. A lot of effort is made here, which hopefully will somehow pay off.
The Android community’s collective head-scratching tensor journey began with this surprising entry in the Geekbench 5 database listing a “Google Pixel 6 Pro” with this unprecedented 2 x 2 x 4 core layout. Geekbench info reads from an easily faked file, but this entry didn’t seem fake as it was completely incredible on its own. Rahman says, “The build fingerprint, kernel version string, CPU frequencies, CPU clusters, GPU information, and more all match the values of Pixel 6 Pro from our source.” So it’s very likely that this entry shows a legitimate Geekbench run.
And for a flagship smartphone, that Geekbench 5 score is terrible. A Snapdragon 888 performs somewhere in the 3300-3500 range, while Google’s Pixel 6 does worse than a Pixel 4. We suspect this is due to a lot of tweaking and configuration that has yet to be done and this would be wrong, any conclusions from the score.
We are slowly getting a clearer picture of what is in the Google Tensor SoC, even if the real performance is still a wild card. Samsung’s Exynos unit helps with the design of the chip, and the other core components are very typical of Samsung. The GPU is supposedly the same as the Exynos Galaxy S21, a commercially available ARM Mali G78. The modem is also from Samsung (an Exynos 5123), which will be the first time an Exynos modem has hit the US coast in a while. Google is pushing up the AI-centric parts of the chip design and promising that the chip will support voice transcription on board.
Having access to someone with a Pixel 6 Pro has also allowed XDA to confirm many of the other specs that are floating around. The 50MP “GN1” image sensor for the main camera manufactured by Samsung is the first image sensor upgrade in the Pixel range in several years. This rectangular camera part is a 4x telephoto optical lens with a Sony 48 MP IMX586, while the wide-angle camera continues Google’s love affair with Sony image sensors from 2016 – it’s a 12 MP IMX386.
Other reported specs promise a computing power package with a huge 5000 mAh battery, 12 GB of RAM, 128 GB of storage, and Wi-Fi 6E. After a year hiatus with the Pixel 5, Google seems to be returning to the flagship race.
Enlarge / Google’s Tensor SoC gets a promotional bag with potato chips – but only in Japan.
Google certainly hypes the Google Tensor SoC in its advertising. In Japan (which is apparently Google’s new second-favorite country), the company is celebrating its first in-house SoC with the sale of “Google Original Chips” in the Google Store – these are literally bags of edible potato chips styled after every color of the Pixel 6 They all come in a “Googley Salty Flavor” and even have a large stripe that fits the camera block. The video display for the chips – in which a woman charges a bag of pixel potato chips with a USB-C connector – is really something.
We still have no idea when this phone is actually coming out. Android 12 is rumored for October 4th – so a release would probably be sometime after that.
Entry image from Google