We know quite a bit about the upcoming Google Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro, but the chipset powering these phones remains a bit of a mystery. Whether it was a benefit or a curse, Google is sticking to its custom chips, and the Pixel 7 should debut a new incarnation of Tensor with the GS201. And like last year, what little we know is pretty unusual.
So far, leaks for the upcoming GS201 Tensor have not appeared with the same frequency as for the original Tensor chipset. It wasn’t until April 2021 that we knew quite a bit about the original GS101, but Google has managed to keep a tighter ship this year by limiting our numbers and stuffing the spec table with lots of “unknown” labels.
For those who just want a table, here it is:
|Codename of the development board||cloud ripper|
|cores||2x “super large”, 2x large, 4x small Cortex-A55|
|Crafting Node||4nm Samsung PLP|
The second generation Tensor GS201 is manufactured by Samsung on its 4nm node using what is known as panel-level packaging. This is a complicated way of saying the chips are carved from a square wafer rather than a round one, reducing waste. This probably won’t have a huge impact on the chip’s performance in actual devices, but it’s nifty and could reduce costs – potentially useful if we’re still in the middle of a chip shortage.
According to some recent insights into the boot logs of a Pixel 7 Pro prototype, the GS201 Tensor may still retain the 2+2+4 core cluster configuration that the original Tensor GS101 used, with two “super large” cores, two more typically large cores and four small cores. Details in the logs indicate that the small cores in the GS201 can still be Cortex A55s, as the log notes a workaround implemented specifically for them. These are the same small cores used in the original GS101 Tensor chipset and a design that dates back to 2017.
It is unclear what design the other cores in the GS201 might have. The last generation Tensor used ARM Cortex-X1s for its “super large” cores and A76s for its large cores. Since the chipset competitors have since moved on to the X2, we have could see X2s for the big cores in the GS201, although this hasn’t been confirmed, and there are multiple generations of core designs that Google or Samsung could choose to replace the A76 if they so choose.
Unsurprisingly, the GS201 will once again be paired with a Samsung-made modem, according to previous teardowns. The specific model discovered this time is the g5300b. If Samsung follows the same naming conventions as the previous tensor, it could be tied to an Exnyos Modem 5300 variant that hasn’t been officially announced yet.
According to a report, mass production for the chipset is scheduled to begin in June 2022.
Smartphone chipsets aren’t just a list of cores; Other details included in it may affect performance. One of the main reasons Google decided to develop its own chipset using the original Tensor was for improved machine learning applications. With the advent of ambient computing, so-called heterogeneous computing — meaning pushing specialized workloads onto dissimilar or customized hardware rather than just general-purpose CPUs — arguably has a bigger impact on perceived device performance than large single-threaded gains. It’s not just about a big benchmark or two, it’s about how we actually use our phones. This is increasingly true for things like voice recognition, translation, fancy camera features, AR/VR, and other highly specialized workflows. And for that you need more than a handful of current ARM cores and a GPU.
The original Tensor included parts of Google’s HDRNet image processing pipeline in hardware, providing more specialization and direct performance for Google’s workloads than a general-purpose ISP. Google also gave it a dedicated security core (paired with a separate Titan M2 chip running “Trusty OS”). While details like these haven’t been leaked for GS201, you can probably bet Google will keep adding these kinds of highly specialized changes. After all, features like this are the only reason a company would choose to develop a custom smartphone chipset. Otherwise, like in the past, Google would have simply used something from Qualcomm.
Details are yet to be leaked, the GS201 will almost certainly feature further tweaks and improvements in Google’s heterogeneous computing strategy, implementing other new camera and machine learning capabilities in hardware where they can be performed faster and more efficiently. At I/O, Google only said of the upcoming chipset that it will “bring even more AI-heavy breakthroughs and helpful personalized experiences to voice, photography, video, and security.” And while the original GS101 Tensor was heavily based on Samsung’s Exynos designs, future models like the GS201 could deviate from that base over time and as Google’s needs change.
It’s also worth noting that Google’s 2+2+4 core configuration is unique. So far, other chipset manufacturers have not followed in Google’s footsteps by including more than one “super large” core. In an interview with Ars Technica’s Ron Amadeo, Google’s Phil Carmack (VP and GM of Google Silicon) said that this specific configuration was chosen to increase efficiency on “medium” workloads by allowing more resources to be dedicated to a task fast, return to a low-power state faster:
“If it’s a stationary issue where, for example, the CPU has a lighter load but is still of modest importance, you’re going to run the dual X1s, and at that level of performance that’s the most efficient… You could use those.” Both X1s are down-tuned in frequency to be ultra-efficient, but they still have a pretty heavy workload. A workload that you would normally have done with two A76s at max power is now barely on the gas with two X1s.”
The GS201 Tensor is expected to debut with the Pixel 7 line of phones, which includes the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro. If history is any indication, we could see a future A-series Pixel coming too (likely the Pixel 7a in 2023). Google has plans to release a Tensor-powered tablet as well, although it’s not clear if that will use the GS201 or some other chip, as it’s expected to land in 2023.
Another hardware codename was tied to the GS201, but based on the name itself – Ravenclaw, a portmanteau of “Raven” (Pixel 6) and “Claw” for the big cat names of the Pixel 7 series (Cheeta and Panther) – that could be a test device meant to house the Pixel 7 hardware in a Pixel 6 body. Google used a similar naming scheme for a Pixel 5 that had Pixel 6 internals.
Manufactured by Google
With the GS201 slated to go into production from June 2022, the rate of leaks regarding the upcoming chip is likely to increase soon, and Google has also taken responsibility during leak season in the past to spread its own feature highlights . Chances are we’ll know more very soon. Either way, the longest we’ll have to wait is until the expected Made by Google event in the fall, when the Pixel 7 series is expected to launch.