Googles next Pixels will reportedly switch to a custom in-house GS101 processor

Googles next Pixel flagship the presumably named 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.

9to5Googles report claims Google is working on two phones that will feature the Arm-based GS101 presumed to be a flagship device to succeed last years Pixel 5 and a Pixel 4A 5G follow-up.

XDAs report, meanwhile, goes into further detail on the new SoC, claiming the GS101 chips will feature a three cluster setup with a TPU (Tensor Processing Unit) for machine learning applications. (For reference, Qualcomms own flagship Snapdragon 888 uses Arms Cortex-X1 / Cortex-A78 / Cortex-A55 as a triple cluster CPU setup.) Additionally, the new SoC may feature an integrated security chip, similar to the Titan M.

The idea of Google making a custom TPU or security chip isnt new: Google has previously made TPUs for servers and the Pixel 4s Neural Core, along with the discrete Titan M chip on its current phones. But the custom-designed GS101 would presumably allow the company to integrate those features on a deeper level.

Rumors of the Whitechapel chips have circulated since last year when Axios reported that Google was looking to develop its own in-house chips for use in Pixel and Chromebook devices. That report claimed the company would be optimizing its chip for Googles machine learning technology something the XDA report corroborates. The GS101 chip for the 2021 Pixel lineup would be the first fruits of the Whitechapel project, although Axios original report noted that Chromebook chips werent expected until further in the future.

9to5Googles report also includes references to a Slider codename tied to the new device, which it says is also connected to Samsungs Exynos SoCs (which the company uses on Galaxy smartphone devices outside the US). Samsungs involvement on the manufacturing side which Axios also reported last year would make sense, as one of the largest manufacturers of smartphone semiconductors.

The idea of Google-designed chips is a compelling one. Apple has long touted its tightly integrated software and hardware stack as a key part of how its iPhones, iPads, and now, its Mac computers are able to run so well a key part of which is the companys custom-designed A-series and M-series chips.

Google and almost every other Android manufacturer, save Samsung and Huawei doesnt have that advantage. It instead relies on Qualcomms Snapdragon chips, which dominate the Android marketplace in the US. Oftentimes, an Android device lives or dies on how well its manufacturer is able to synergize Qualcomms chips, Googles software, and its own hardware designs. Similarly, the fact that, at their core, almost every Android device runs on the same chipset and the same software makes it difficult for any one model to stand out.

But a Google-designed GS101 chip brings a tantalizing promise: that Google could bring an Apple-like boost in speed, performance, and battery life to Android (and specifically, its Pixel lineup) with a similar level of control over the hardware design, software, and processor. Its an intriguing idea assuming Google can pull it off.

That said, building a smartphone processor at the level of Apple or Qualcomm isnt easy. While both companies use Arm as a common base, theyve spent years refining those basic building blocks with customizations to suit their needs. Apple has been using custom designs in its processors since the 2012s A6 design (as opposed to previous models that used licensed CPU designs from Arm itself). Qualcomm takes a similar approach in its modern processors, using custom Kryo cores that are semi-customized versions of Arms base Cortex designs.

It might take Google a few generations to fine-tune its Pixel chips. But if Google can actually deliver on a proper customized chip thats built from the ground up to be specifically designed for Androids software and the Pixels hardware, it could be the key to transforming the Pixel line from a sideshow to a true smartphone powerhouse.

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