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Google Whitechapel in-house chip for Pixel phones: Things to know

Last year, Google CEO Sundar Pichai made a statement that the company is investing a huge chunk into hardware and that it had a perfect roadmap for 2021. This triggered a row of speculations as tech pundits predicted Google to be venturing into the SoC space, developing its own chips for the Pixel and Chromebooks of the future.

Now, according to recent leaks, the chip is under development and will debut on the Pixel 6 smartphone and another device, both coming later this year.

The Whitechapel chip

Codenamed Whitechapel, a 5nm process-based chip is in the works for the upcoming generation of Pixel devices; it is known internally as GS101 – Google Silicon chip. This advanced chip will have a three-cluster setup with TPU (Tensor Processing Unit) to assist machine learning for a better AI experience within modern apps.

GS101 has to be an 8-core chip, which will be powered by two A76 cores making up the bigger half of the hardware. The other half will be made up of four smaller A55 cores. For the GPU, it’s likely to use the ARM “Borr” design. Trusted sources also reveal the presence of Exynos software components which is not at all surprising.

Revealing a phone in 2021 with 5G support seems to be the norm, and Google will have to follow suit. As Google isn’t developing a modem of its own, the reliance on a third-party provider is a given yes. Whether it will be Verizon, MediaTek, or yet again Qualcomm – only time will tell which way Google plans to go. By logical estimation, the Qualcomm X60 or X65 will come into play for future-proofing Google Pixel devices.

Phones to debut with the chip

As per the reports, the chip could debut on two upcoming Pixel devices – most likely the successors of Pixel 5 and Pixel 4A 5G. You can bet your money on the Pixel 6 slated to be released sometime in October 2021 to have its guts powered by the latest Google chip.

The other device could well be the Pixel 5A, however, we hope it’s called something else. These devices are codenamed Raven and Oriole – both being built on the Slider platform which has its reference with the Samsung Exynos platform. We have learned that Google has called off plans to launch the Pixel 5A due to chip shortage. This opens up two possibilities; either Pixel 5A will come with a Google chip sometime later than expected or Pixel 6 will be the sole device where Google’s in-house processor will debut.

Advantages of in-house SoC

The biggest advantage of having an in-house chip for smartphones is to have more control over the hardware and software tuning. This offers benefits like superior battery optimization, RAM management, and precise control over the features of the chip. For instance, getting the maximum out of a lower memory and battery capacity – compared to a hardware superior device, which uses a third-party chip with limited control over the chip’s functioning.

Google’s longtime partner Qualcomm’s support timeline puts restrictions on the update cycle only for three years. This has forced Google to provide only up to three years of support while their competitor Apple provides six or even seven years of support for its devices. Google (and other OEMs too) can easily provide at least four years of support for the devices but Qualcomm’s support timeline prevents it.

The most obvious advantage of having an in-house custom SoC is the cost advantage. This will bring a device like Pixel 6 up to par with the competition when the cost performance aspect is considered. For instance, the Snapdragon 765G-powered Pixel 5 was overshadowed by the devices running on Snapdragon 865 SoC last year. Saving money on procuring the SoC from providers like Qualcomm, can be utilized for optimization in core functioning of the device for a better user experience.

No competition for A14 Bionic, Snapdragon 888

One thing to keep in mind here is that the Whitechapel processor is not purely in-house; Samsung’s System Large-scale Integration (SLSI) division will be developing the chip in conjunction with Google. The core processing components will be more or less similar to the ARM Cortex and Mali GPU. While Exynos has made huge progress in its development program, it still lags behind the prowess of the A14 Bionic chip and the Snapdragon 888 SoC.

Expecting any game-changing performance from Google’s Whitechapel chip will be asking a bit too much for starters. We can, however, expect Google to better on things and develop a chip that is going to compete against the likes of Qualcomm or Apple in the coming years. That’s if their adventurous leap goes as planned.

The bottom line

It is one thing to put hefty resources into developing a 5nm process-based chip, and completely another extracting the maximum performance out of it. It takes years of millimeter refining to get things in tune, and Google should be prepared for the long haul. They have laid the foundation of bigger things to come and patience and perseverance will be the key.

Building the smartphone processor that will be able to rub shoulders with Apple and Qualcomm will require something remarkable. Both these giants have been doing a lot over the last few years to make the chips work to their true potential. Don’t be surprised if the Whitechapel chip takes a few generations to fine-tune things for the Pixel devices, and then eventually for Chromebooks. Building a chip ground up and putting it in sync with its software will arguably give Google an extensive advantage in the coming years if it’s pulled off as planned.

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Tech News

Pixel 6 will reportedly debut Google’s Apple-inspired Whitechapel chip

Google’s new Pixel phone is expected to switch to a homegrown processor chip known as Whitechapel, sources claim, as what’s expected to be the Pixel 6 takes a page out of Apple’s successful iPhone strategy playbook. So far, Google’s phones have followed the same hardware approach as most Android devices, using chipsets from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon series.

Over at Cupertino, however, Apple has long designed its own processors. These chips – which have most recently spread from iPhone and iPad to Apple’s Mac line-up, as part of its broader Apple Silicon endeavor – have allowed the company to better tailor software and hardware performance, as well as build in dedicated chips for task-specific processing like AI.

It’s something Google has been rumored to be weighing itself for some time now. Back in early 2020, the company was said to have finally received a working sample of an in-house design for a mobile SoC from manufacturing partner Samsung. Codenamed Whitechapel, or GS101, it was built on the same 5nm processes that Samsung uses for its own Exynos chipsets.

At the time, the expectation was that a switch away from Snapdragon chipsets was still some way out, and indeed the Pixel 5 continued to rely upon Qualcomm SoCs. Now, 9to5Google reports, that transition could be close at hand. Its sources say that Whitechapel will be used in Google’s 2021 Pixel phones, expected to be unveiled this fall.

The announcement is believed to focus on two handsets that Google’s hardware teams are readying. “Raven” and “Oriole” are known Pixel codenames, using what’s said to be a “Slider” platform that Google has co-developed with Samsung. “From the references, it seems that Whitechapel is being developed with Samsung Semiconductor’s system large-scale integration (SLSI) division,” the site reports, “meaning the Google chips will have some commonalities with Samsung Exynos, including software components.”

While there’s undoubtedly no small degree of challenge in designing a chipset rather than using a comparatively off-the-shelf design from Qualcomm, there are advantages too. As Apple has shown, taking control over things like power management and how processor and graphics cores are implemented can have significant upsides for battery life and performance. Given criticisms in recent years for some of Google’s Pixel phones, and how long their batteries last – with the Pixel 4 singled out for particular complaint – that might be an appealing benefit.

At the same time, in-house designs can also make pricing strategy more flexible. Apple, for example, was able to use its cutting-edge chipset for the sub-$400 iPhone SE (2nd generation) last year, something it’s generally acknowledged would’ve been impossible had it been buying third-party SoCs.

While Google’s sales are only a fraction of the overall smartphone market, it’s still not great news for Qualcomm. While the chipset firm is a mainstay in the Android space, it’s not without rivals, and losing a high-profile client like Google would be a hit on its reputation. Meanwhile, though the current iPhone 12 family relies on Qualcomm’s 5G modems, Apple is known to be working on its own cellular technology – building, on part, on the Intel modem business it bought a couple of years ago – so that it can further oust its long-time legal foe from future iPhone models.

Meanwhile, Google’s reported plans to use Whitechapel chips – or similar – for future Chromebooks also has implications for Intel. The current Pixelbook Go, for example, uses Intel Core processors, but the Apple Silicon model and the highly-successful new MacBook Air suggest there could potentially be a big improvement in battery life and performance through switching to Arm-based chipsets instead.

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