Most high-end smartphones launching in 2020 will have the Snapdragon 865 inside, but that might not include Google’s upcoming Pixel 5. A new report claims Google and Samsung are working on a new custom system-on-a-chip (SoC) more advanced than the 865. However, the chip would not include Samsung’s Exynos branding — this would be a “Google” ARM chip.
A few weeks ago, several reports claimed that smartphone makers were distressed by the high cost of Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 865 chip, which requires a separate 5G modem. LG allegedly plans to use a cheaper SoC in an upcoming flagship phone. Similarly, Google was rumored to be looking at other SoC options like the Snapdragon 765.
The new report claims Google will skip Qualcomm’s chips altogether this year, opting for a custom chip built on Samsung’s 5nm LPE node. That would put it in the same class as Samsung’s next-gen 2021 chips. The source claims this unnamed chip will feature eight CPU cores: two A78, two A76, and four A55. Most SoCs use a single core design for the high-power cluster, but this chip allegedly merges the A76 and A78 cores. The slower A55s would provide more efficient processing for background tasks.
On the GPU side, the chip will have the as-yet-unannounced Mali MP20. Google will use its own image signal processor (ISP), which we already know as the Pixel Visual Core. The report also claims Google will contribute a neural processing unit (NPU), possibly based on its Tensor architecture.
If this report is accurate, the project has probably been ongoing for some time. It’s not plausible to decide six months out that you want to use a different SoC in a device as complex as a smartphone. However, we know Qualcomm released details on the 865 to partners months ahead of the public announcement. That might have given Google a chance to kick its long-rumored custom ARM chip project into high-gear.
We don’t know anything about the network setup for this alleged Pixel processor. Qualcomm is pushing 5G hard with the 865, as are wireless carriers. However, the benefit to users is essentially zero right now. Going with the new Samsung design might allow Google to avoid the cost and power consumption of 5G for one more year. The modems and networks would be vastly more mature in another year.
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