Google has been quietly hiring microprocessor engineers for several years, and the fruit of their labor is the new Tensor mobile system-on-a-chip (SoC). This chip will come in the new Pixel 6 and 6 Pro later this year, but Google didn’t offer any real hardware details on Tensor, except to say it’s based on technology from its Tensor AI server chips. A new report includes a few tantalizing details, though.
A new Nikkei report pegs Tensor as a 5nm chip, which is the same manufacturing node used for the latest chips from Qualcomm and Samsung — the Snapdragon 888 and Exynos 2100. This measurement tells us how the length of the transistor gates used on the chip. Generally, the smaller the node, the more computing elements you can fit in a given area. That affects every aspect of your phone because an SoC includes many major system components like CPU cores, the GPU, digital signal processor, and 5G modem. So, smaller manufacturing processes mean faster, more efficient chips.
Google might have the chops to design a chip (although the jury is still out), but it can’t manufacture them. According to Nikkei, Tensor mobile chips will be produced at Samsung’s foundries. This doesn’t come as a major surprise as Google was rumored to be working with Samsung on a custom chip (known as Whitechapel) some months back. It’s possible Tensor will have a lot in common with the latest Exynos parts, which uses the same tri-cluster architecture as the Snapdragon 888. There’s a Cortex X1 core for high-demand applications, along with three fast Cortex A78 cores and four low-power A55 cores.
Samsung and Google have declined to comment on the report, which is what you’d expect. The Samsung partnership is a safe bet, though. Google might not sell as many phones as Samsung, but it’s still going to want enough chips to meet whatever demand the Pixel 6 may see. With Google promising more advertising and promotion, that could be a big number. Samsung is one of the few companies in a position to manufacture a new 5nm SoC right now.
We hope to learn more about Tensor in the near future. One thing is certain: Google will only allow Tensor chips in its own phones. That means you’ll need to pick up one of the new Pixels to see what this chip can do. Hopefully, it can wow us because the market for ARM chips has become stagnant in recent years with Qualcomm absorbing the market share that was once held by firms like TI and Nvidia.
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