Last week, we exclusively reported that Google’s two phones for fall 2021 would run on a Google-made chip. Here’s everything we know about the Whitechapel GS101 chip that will be used in the Google Pixel 6.
First reported last year, “Whitechapel” is the codename for Google’s efforts to develop their own chips for smartphones, Chromebooks, and possibly more. Per our report last week, Google’s Whitechapel chips are set to make a debut later this year on the device we believe to be the Pixel 6. More specifically, this first chip is internally referred to as the “GS101,” but what do we actually know about the chip?
Designed with Samsung
For starters, we know that Google has turned to Samsung’s system large-scale integration (SLSI) division for assistance with the design and manufacture of the GS101 and Whitechapel in general. As the SLSI division is also responsible for the Exynos chips used in Samsung phones outside of the US, we can assume that the Samsung Exynos and Google Whitechapel lines will have a lot in common at the beginning.
In the earliest rumors of Google’s Whitechapel, it was reported that the chip we now know as the GS101 would feature a three-cluster design with two Cortex-A78 cores, two Cortex-A76 cores, and four Cortex-A55 cores. Despite Whitechapel’s strong relationship to Exynos, there aren’t any Exynos chips that match this design.
Until recently, most smartphone chips followed the two-cluster “big.LITTLE” design, where a “cluster” of high-power processing cores are paired with a cluster of low-power ones. One of the goals of this design is to conserve power by running less demanding work on the low-power cores, thus increasing the battery life.
With the Exynos 2100 and Snapdragon 888, three-cluster designs have become the norm. For comparison, though, both of those flagship-level chips use a single Cortex-X1 core as their third cluster, to give better performance to applications not optimized for multiple processor cores. Instead, we’re more likely looking at upper-mid-range performance on the GS101, in the same ballpark as the Snapdragon 765 used in the Pixel 5.
On the graphics side of things, according to documentation viewed by 9to5Google, the GS101 chip will use a GPU based on Arm’s “Valhall” architecture. So far, only a handful of GPUs have been announced with the Valhall design, including the high-end Mali-G77 and Mali-G78, as well as the new mid-range Mali-G68.
This would make for a significant shift from the norm in the US, as phones built on Snapdragon chips, including Google’s Pixel series, use Qualcomm’s Adreno GPUs. And they do so with good reason, as the Adreno series typically has better performance than its Mali alternatives.
However, this is no longer as true as it once was. As shown by benchmarks comparing the Exynos and Snapdragon versions of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Snapdragon 888’s Adreno 660 and the Exynos 2100’s Mali-G78 offer almost identical performance.
AI and security chips
For the past few years, Google has included additional specialized hardware inside of their phones. With the Whitechapel project, it should be possible for Google to more deeply integrate that hardware into the GS101 chip, allowing better performance and power usage.
With the Pixel 2 series, Google introduced the “Pixel Visual Core,” a specialized “image signal processor” (ISP) co-developed with Intel. Simply put, the Pixel Visual Core was a dedicated chip that made the Pixel’s software-based camera enhancements faster, putting less time between the tap of your shutter button and your picture being ready to show off.
For the Pixel 4, this chip was upgraded to the “Pixel Neural Core,” expanding its functionality with a “Tensor Processing Unit” or TPU. “Tensor” here refers to “TensorFlow,” Google’s open source machine learning — or neural networking — library, used for many, many things that Google’s software does today.
In last year’s rumors about Whitechapel, it was said that the first chip would be equipped with a Pixel Visual Core and an “NPU” or “Neural Processing Unit.” If those rumors hold true, the Google Pixel 6 powered by the Whitechapel GS101 could mark the return of the Pixel Neural Core — which was notably missing from the Pixel 5 — integrated into the hardware rather than as a separate chip.
Another chip now commonly found on Pixel phones is the Titan-M security chip, first introduced on the Pixel 3. As explained by Google, the Titan-M chip keeps your phone from booting an unsafe version of Android, protects your data from being decrypted while locked, and much more.
XDA’s Mishaal Rahman, in corroborating our Whitechapel report, confirmed that the GS101 chip would feature a new security chip called “Dauntless.” From what we can gather from Chromium source code, Dauntless is a chip that can work on both Android and Chrome OS devices, and is a successor to an earlier chip called “Haven” that is often referred to as a “Google Security Chip.” It’s possible that Dauntless is a successor to the Titan-M chips of past Pixels, but in the Pixel 6’s case it should be integrated directly into the GS101 chip.
One question many had about the Whitechapel project is what sort of modem the GS101 chip would use. The modem is the bit of hardware that handles a smartphone’s connection to your cellular carrier. Without a 5G capable modem, your phone can’t connect to a 5G network, and so on.
Interestingly, a modem can be a fully separate component from the base smartphone chip. The best-known recent example of this is last year’s Snapdragon 865, which did not have an integrated 5G modem. Because of this, some have wondered if the next Pixel would still have at least this one Qualcomm part.
9to5Google can confirm — based on internal documentation and assistance from renowned Google Camera modder cstark27 — that the Pixel 6 is set to use the same style of modem as used in Samsung Exynos chips, codenamed Shannon. For now, though, we can’t be certain if this will only be the case in non-US markets.
Header image is from a teardown of the Google Pixel 5, courtesy of iFixit
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