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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  • Silver5urfer - Tuesday, November 2, 2021 - link

    You said you do Kernels but "As someone who was rather hopeful that google would take control and bring us android users a true apple chip equivalent some day, this is definitely not the case with google silicon."

    What is Android lacking from needing that so called A series processor onto the platform ? I already see Android modding has been drained a lot now. It's there on XDA but less than 1% of user base uses mods, maybe root but it's still niche.

    Android has been on a downhill since a long time. With Android v9 Pie to be specific. Google started to mimic iOS on superficial level with starting from OS level information density loss now on 12 it's insane, you get 4 QS toggles. It's worst. People love it somehow because new coat of trash paint is good.

    On HW side, except for OnePlus phones no phones have proper mod ecosystem. Pixels had but due to the crappy policies they implemented on the HW side like AB system, Read only filesystem copied from Huawei horrible fusing of filesystems and then enforcing all these at CTS level, they added the worst of all - Scoped Storage which ruined all the user use cases of having a pocket computer to a silly iOS like trash device. Now on Android any photo you download goes into that Application specific folder and you cannot change it, due to API level block on Playstore for targeting Android v11 which comes with Scoped Storage by default. Next year big thing is coming, all 32bit applications will be obsoleted because ARM is going to remove the 32bit IP from the Silicon designs. That makes 888 the last 32bit capable CPU.

    Again what do you expect ? Apple A series shines in these Anandtech SPEC scores but when It comes to real life Application work done performance, they do not show the same level of difference. Which is basically Application launch speed and performance of the said application now Android 12 adds a splash screen BS to all apps globally. Making it even worse.

    There's nothing that Google is going to provide you or anyone to have something that doesn't exist, Android needs freedom and that is being eroded away every year with more and more Apple inspired crap. The only reason Google did this is to experiment on those billions of dollars and millions for their R&D, Pixel division has been in loss since 2016, less than 3% North American marketshare. Only became 3 from 2 due to A series budget Pixels. And they do not even sell overseas on many markets. In fact they imitate Apple so much that now they want the stupid HW exclusive joke processors for their lineup imitating Apple for no reason. Qcomm provides all the blobs and baseband packages, If Google can make them deliver support for 6 years they can do it, but they won't because sales. All that no charger because environment, no 3.5mm jack because no space, no SD slot is all a big fat LIE.

    Their GS101 is a joke, a shame to CPU engineering, trash thermal design, useless A7x cores and the bloated X1 x2 cores for nothing, except for their ISP nothing is useful and even the Pixel camera can be ported to other phones, Magic Eraser for eg works on old Pixels, soon other phones due to Camera API2 and Modding.

    Google's vision of Android was dead since v9 and since the death of Nexus series. Now it's more of a former shell with trash people running for their agenda of yearly consumerism and a social media tool rather than the old era of computer in your pocket, to make it worse the PR of Pixel is horrible and more political screaming than anything else.
    Reply
  • Zoolook - Saturday, November 6, 2021 - link

    Apple silicon shines in part due to being on a superior process, and a much better memory subsystem, Samsung process is far behind TSMC in regards to efficiency unfortunately. Reply
  • Zoolook - Saturday, November 6, 2021 - link

    Small nitpick, A8X GPU was a PowerVR licence, A11 had the first Apple inhouse GPU. Reply
  • iphonebestgamephone - Sunday, November 14, 2021 - link

    "cut power consumption in half WITHOUT increasing performance"

    Make a custom kernel and uc/uv it and there you go. Should be easy for a pro kernel dev like you.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, November 2, 2021 - link

    Thanks for this analysis, it's great.

    I'm still left wondering what the point of Tensor is after all this. It doesn't seem better than what was on market even for Android. I guess the extra security updates are nice but still not extra OS updates even though it's theirs. And the NPU doesn't seem to outperform either despite them talking about that the most.

    And boy do these charts just make A15 look even more above and beyond their efforts, but even A4 started with Cortex cores, maybe in 2-3 spins Google will go more custom.
    Reply
  • Blastdoor - Tuesday, November 2, 2021 - link

    I wonder if we will now see a similar pattern play out in the laptop space, with Macs moving well beyond the competition in CPU and GPU performance/watt, and landing at similar marketshare (it would be a big deal for the Mac to achieve the same share of the laptop market that the iPhone has of the smartphone market). Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, November 2, 2021 - link

    Well I'm definitely going to hold my Apple stocks for years and that's one part of the reason. M1 Pro and Max are absolute slam dunks on the industry, and their chipmaking was part of what won me over on their phones. Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Tuesday, November 2, 2021 - link

    When did apple manage that? I can easily recall the M1 pulling notably more power then the 4700u in order to beat it in benchmarks despite having 5nm to play with. The M1X max pulls close to 100W at full tilt, and is completely unsustainable. Reply
  • Spleter - Tuesday, November 2, 2021 - link

    I think you are confusing temperature in degrees and not the amount of watts. Reply
  • Alistair - Wednesday, November 3, 2021 - link

    when it is drawing 100 watts it is competing against windows laptops that are drawing 200 watts, i'm not sure what the problem is Reply

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