Google was roundly criticized last year for its decision to skip Qualcomm’s high-end Snapdragon 865 chip. Instead, Google’s Pixel 5 sported the cheaper 765 system-on-a-chip (SoC). The cheaper flagship Pixel was a risk, and it didn’t pay off. The Pixel 6, however, could come out swinging. According to leaked documents reported by 9to5Google, the sixth-gen Pixel phones could be the first to have Google’s long-rumored custom ARM chips, which are allegedly codenamed Whitechapel.
Google has been building expertise to develop its own chips for several years, but the company hasn’t spoken publicly about its progress. It must be pretty far along if Whitechapel-powered phones are going to ship later this year. The chip in question is internally referred to as GS101, which 9to5 speculates could stand for “Google Silicon.”
Apple has seen great success with its ARM SoC designs. Unlike other chipmakers, Apple uses entirely custom cores that plug into the ARM instruction set. This has enabled Apple to put extremely powerful processors in even its least expensive iPhones. It’s unclear if Google is going the fully custom route, but that is a risk. Nvidia attempted to make its own ARM core, known as Denver, in 2014. The Google Nexus 9 was the only device to ship with a Denver-based Tegra SoC, and the performance was abysmal. Even Qualcomm, which used to design its own cores, has made only minor tweaks to ARM reference cores in its last several generations.
Along with the Whitechapel SoC, Google’s leaked documents make mention of “Slider,” which is believed to be the shared platform for the first Whitechapel devices. There are also references to Samsung associated with Slider, which backs up previous claims that Samsung was working with Google on the project. It sounds like Whitechapel is going through Samsung’s large-scale integration (LSI) division, suggesting it will share some features with Samsung’s Exynos chips.
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips are basically unopposed at the high-end of the market. Some OEMs have also reportedly complained about the cost of the company’s 5G-enabled SoCs and modems. Google’s project could not only boost Pixel performance and enable new features, but it could also make the phones cheaper.
We won’t know if this report is accurate until late 2021 when new Pixel devices appear (or until we get more corroborating leaks). Currently, the rumor points to two devices, codenamed “Raven” and “Oriole,” one of which is the Pixel 6. We can only hope the other is a 6 XL and not another strange also-ran like the Pixel 4a 5G.
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