Google’s Tensor Chip for the Pixel 6 Won’t Break Benchmark Records, But Still Packs Enough for a Solid Experience

While this was a long time coming, Google finally decided to shift away from Qualcomm and partner up with Samsung to work on their own in-house chips, the first of which we will see on the upcoming Pixel 6 line of devices. The general expectations were that Google would go for the best Exynos chipset Samsung had on offer for that year, and then build on it with their own software stack and dedicated hardware-accelerator chips.

According to a recent XDA report, it seems Google’s chip won’t be a bleeding edge affair, and it will most likely house the following core configuration.

  1. 2x-Cortex-X1 cores @2.802GHz
  2. 2x-Cortex-A76 cores @2.253GHz
  3. 4x-ARM Cortex-A55 cores @1.80GHz

Moving on to the Cortex-X1, which is a new custom line of CPU cores that are all about performance. The core design is the result ofARM’s CXC program, where ARM collaborates with partners to make custom cores.

The Cortex-X1 has a 30% higher peak performance than the Cortex-A77 and is 23% faster than the new Cortex-A78 at integer calculations. Additionally it has double the machine learning abilities.

That kind of performance boost was enabled because the X1 is both bigger and more power-demanding than the A78. Because of this it’s unlikely we’ll see multiple Cortex-X1 cores in a smartphone CPU. The most likely combination will be a single Cortex-X1 combined with three Cortex-A78 cores and then some A5x cores for less demanding tasks.

– GSMArena

As the XDA report rightly points out, the use of two Cortex-A76 cores is surprising, with a 2018 release date and having newer iterations in the form of the Cortex-A77 and A78, both of which deliver significantly more on the performance front. For comparison, the Mediatek Dimensity 1200 chipset comes with 1x Cortex A78 core, 3x lowered clocked Cortex-A78 cores, and 4x-Cortex-A55 efficiency cores. It seems like Google is ditching the 1+3+4 configuration on most processors and following the 2+2+4 config here.

This is also where we can see the Samsung influence play out, because if we look at a previous flagship Exynos, the 990, even that had a 2+2+4 configuration with 2 custom M5 cores from Samsung, and then the same 2x-Cortex-A76 cores and 4x-Cortex-A55 cores.  Although this doesn’t infer that the upcoming Pixel devices will be laggards when it comes to real-life performance, it’s just that they won’t set any benchmark records either.

Exynos 2100 Architecture
Exynos 2100 Architecture

Also, the choice of 2x Cortex-X1 cores is an interesting one. The X1 cores are ARM’s most powerful cores yet and even the Snapdragon 888 chipset (or the Exynos 2100) sports only one such core. This also points towards Google’s general design philosophy with the Pixel devices, which is to provide the smoothest Android experince possible. This explains the use of not one but two very high performance X1-cores that can potentially do most of the immediate heavy lifting, like the UI elements and other heavy single-threaded applications. Apple also employs two high performance cores in its own chipsets, opting for a 2+4 configuration.

As for the other aspects of the chipset, Google will most likely use the ARM Mali-G78 as the GPU unit. This is a perfectly adequate choice, as recent Mali GPUs are neck and neck against their Adreno counterparts, although Apple’s newer chipsets still maintain a sizeable lead here. The XDA report also points out Google’s AV1 decoder on the Pixel 6 Pro which will be hardware accelerated by the tensor chip. This can potentially bring a number of advantages, like better video calls and smaller file sizes from phone recordings.

However, there is one major omission, which may or may not be significant depending on your use case. The Pixel 6 Pro doesn’t have a DisplayPort Alternate mode which allows a video signal to be sent via USB-C, something Samsung does well with Dex. Many smartphone manufacturers are working on their own desktop modes, so it’s strange that Google would completely omit this with the Pixel 6, even when Android has included a very basic desktop mode in recent releases. Google certainly has a lot more to show with regards to the upcoming Tensor chip, like the TPU unit for enhanced AI features or the second-gen Titan M2 chips for security, we will probably get to know more about these aspects as the Pixel 2021 launch draws closer.

Indranil Chowdhury
Indranil is a Med school student and an avid gamer. He puts his absolute faith in Lord Gaben and loves to write. Crazy about the Witcher lore, he plays soccer too. When not playing games or writing, you can find him on 9gag spreading the Pcmasterrace propaganda.