Conclusion & End Remarks

Google’s newest Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are definitely most interesting devices, as in many ways they represent Google most competitive and value-rich phones the company has been able to make in years. While today’s article isn’t focusing on the device itself – more on that in a later review, including more in-depth camera coverage, what we did have a deeper look today was at the new chip powering the phones, the new Google Tensor.

The company notes that the primary reason they saw the need to go with a customized silicon approach, was that current merchant silicon solutions didn’t allow for the performance and efficiency for machine learning tasks that the company was aiming for in their devices. This performance and efficiency is used to enable new use-cases and experiences, such as the many ML features we see shipped and demonstrated in the Pixel 6 series, such live transcribing, live translation, and image processing tricks, all that run on the Tensor’s TPU.

While Google doesn’t appear to want to talk about it, the chip very clearly has provenance as a collaboration between Google and Samsung, and has a large amount of its roots in Samsung Exynos SoC architectures. While yes, it’s a customised design based on Google’s blueprints, the foundation means that some of the defining characteristics of Exynos chips is still found on the Tensor, particularly power efficiency is one area of the SoCs that are very much alike in, and that also means that the Tensor falls behind, much like the Exynos, against Qualcomm’s Snapdragon solutions when it comes to battery life or efficiency.

Google’s CPU setup is a bit different than other SoCs out there – a 2+2+4 setup with X1 cores, A76 cores and A55 cores is unusual. The two X1 cores are fine, and generally they end up where we expected them, even if there’s a few quirks. The A76 cores, ever since we heard those rumours months ago that the chip would feature them, made no sense to us, and even with the chip in our hands now, they still don’t make any sense, as they clearly fall behind the competition in both performance and efficiency. Who knows what the design process looked like, but it’s just one aspect of the chip that doesn’t work well.

GPU performance of the Tensor seems also lacklustre – while it’s hard to pinpoint wrong-doings to the actual SoC here, Google’s choice of going with a giant GPU doesn’t end up with practical advantages in gaming, as the phones themselves have quite bad thermal solutions for the chip, not able to properly dissipate the heat from the chip to the full body of the phones. Maybe Google makes more use of the GPU for burst compute workloads, but so far those were hard to identify.

So that leads us back to the core aspect of the Tensor, the TPU. It’s the one area where the SoC does shine, and very clearly has large performance, and likely also efficiency advantages over the competition. The metrics here are extremely hard to quantify, and one does pose the question if the use-cases and features the Pixel 6 comes with were really impossible to achieve, on say a Snapdragon chip. At least natural language processing seems to be Google’s and the Tensor’s forte, where it does have an inarguably large lead.

One further aspect that isn’t discussed as much is not related to the performance of the chip, but rather the supply chain side of things. We of course have no idea what Google’s deal with Samsung looks like, however both new Pixel 6 phones are devices that seemingly are priced much more aggressively than anything we’ve seen before from the company. If this is related to the SoC bill of materials is just pure speculation, but it is a possibility in my mind.

In general, I do think Google has achieved its goals with the Tensor SoC. The one thing it promises to do, it does indeed do quite well, and while the other aspects of the chip aren’t fantastic, they’re not outright deal-breakers either. I still think energy efficiency and battery life are goals of highest priority in a design, and there we just absolutely need to see better improvements in the next generation Tensor. We don’t know what path Google is taking for future designs, but it’ll be interesting to see.

We’ll be following up with a more in-depth review of the actual Pixel 6 phones, starting with a camera-focused article – stay tuned.

Phone Efficiency & Battery Life
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  • Wrs - Wednesday, November 3, 2021 - link

    It’s Double data rate Reply
  • NaturalViolence - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    So you're saying the data rate is actually 6400MHz? LPDDR5 doesn't support that. Only regular DDR5 does. Reply
  • Eifel234 - Wednesday, November 3, 2021 - link

    I've had the pixel 6 pro for a week now and I have to say it's amazing. I don't care what the synthetic benchmarks say about the chip. It's crazy responsive and I get through a day easily with heavy usage on the battery. At a certain point extra CPU/gpu power doesn't get you anywhere unless your an extreme phone gamer or trying to edit/render videos both of which you should really just do on a computer anyway. What I care mostly about is how fast my apps are opening and how fast the UI is. Theres a video comparison on YouTube of the same apps opening on the iPhone 13 max and the p6 pro and you know what the p6 pro wins handily at loading up many commonly used apps and even some games. Regarding the battery life, I expect to charge my phone nightly so I really don't care if another phone can get me a few more hours of usage after an entire day. I can get 6 hours of SOT and 18 hours unplugged on the battery. More than enough. Reply
  • Lavkesh - Thursday, November 11, 2021 - link

    Well that would be true if iOS apps were the same as Android apps. In the review of A15, it was called out how Android AAA games such as Genshin Impact were missing visual effects altogether which were basically present in iOS. These app opening tests are pretty obtuse in my opinion and it checks out as well. For a more meaningful comparison, have a look at this and how badly this so called google soc is spanked by A15!

    Here's Exynos 2100 vs Google Pixel 6

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDjzPPtC4kU&t=...

    Here's Exynos 2100 vs iPhone

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9A91bnVBU4
    Reply
  • Arbie - Friday, November 5, 2021 - link

    No earphone jack, no sale. Reply
  • JoeDuarte - Saturday, November 6, 2021 - link

    This piece has been up for three days, and there are still tons of typos and errors on every page? How is this happening? Why doesn't AnandTech maintain normal standards for publishers? I can't imagine publishing this piece without reading it. And after publishing it, I'd read it again – there's no way I wouldn't catch the typos and errors here. Word would catch many of them, so this is just annoying.

    "...however it’s only 21% faster than the Exynos 2100, not exactly what we’d expect from 21% more cores."

    The error above is substantive, and undercuts the meaning of the sentence. Readers will immediately know something is wrong, and will have to go back to find the correct figure, assuming anything at AnandTech is correct.

    "...would would hope this to be the case."

    That's great. How do they not notice an error like that? It's practically flashing at you. This is just so unprofessional and junky. And there are a lot more of these. It was too annoying to keep reading, so I quit.
    Reply
  • ChrisGX - Monday, November 8, 2021 - link

    Has Vulkan performance improved with Android 12? That is a serious question. There has been some strange reporting and punditry about the place that seems intent on strongly promoting the idea that the Tensor Mali GPU is endowed with oodles and oodles of usable GPU compute performance.

    In order to make their case these pundits offer construals of reported benchmark scores of Tensor that appear to muddle fact and fiction. A recent update of Geekbench (5.4.3), for instance, in the view of these pundits, corrects a problem with Geekbench that caused it to understate Vulkan scores on Tensor. So far as I can tell, Primate Labs hasn't made any admission about such a basic flaw in their benchmark software, that needed to be (and has been) corrected, however. The changes in Geekbench 5.4.3, on the contrary, seem to be to improve stability.

    I am hoping that there is a more sober explanation for the recent jump in Vulkan scores (assuming they aren't fakes) than these odd accounts that seem intent on defending Tensor from all criticism including criticism supported by careful benchmarking.

    Of course, if Vulkan performance has indeed improved on ARM SoCs, then that improvement will also show up in benchmarks other than Geekbench. So, this is something that benchmarks can confirm or disprove.
    Reply
  • ChrisGX - Monday, November 8, 2021 - link

    The odd accounts that I believe have muddled fact and fiction are linked here:
    https://chromeunboxed.com/update-geekbench-pixel-6...
    https://mobile.twitter.com/SomeGadgetGuy/status/14...
    Reply

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