The Pixel 6’s Tensor processor promises to put Google’s machine learning smarts in your pocket

The Verge - Tue Oct 19 17:44

Google’s Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are officially here, and with them, the debut of Google’s new Tensor chip. Google has finally revealed more information on what the new SoC can actually do, for the fastest Pixel phones ever.

The initial reveal of the Pixel 6 and the Tensor chip was largely centered on its AI-focused TPU (Tensor processing unit) and how the custom hardware would help Google differentiate itself from competitors.

That’s still the big focus of Google’s announcement today: the company calls Tensor a “milestone for machine learning” that was co-designed alongside Google Research to allow it to easily translate AI and machine learning advances into actual consumer products. For example, Google says that the Tensor chip will have “the most accurate Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR)” that it’s offered, for both quick Google Assistant queries and longer audio tasks like live captions or the Recorder app.

Tensor also enables new Pixel 6 features like Motion Mode, more accurate face detection, and live translations that can convert text to a different language as quickly as you can type it. Google also says that the Tensor chip will handle dedicated machine learning tasks with far more power efficiency than previous Pixel phones.

But there’s a lot more to a smartphone chip than its AI chops, and with the reveal of the Pixel 6, we finally have more details on the rest of the chip, including the CPU, GPU, modem, and the major components that make Tensor tick.

As rumored, the Tensor chip uses a unique combination of CPU cores. There’s the custom TPU (Tensor Processing Unit) for AI, two high-power Cortex-X1 cores, two midrange (rumored to be older Cortex-A76 cores), and then four low power efficiency cores (likely Arm’s usual Cortex-55 designs). Graphics are offered by a 20-core GPU, in addition to a context hub that powers ambient experiences like the always-on display, a private computer core, and a new Titan M2 chip for security. There’s also a dedicated image processing core to help with the Pixel’s hallmark photography.

It’s not entirely clear why Google would choose to use the Cortex-A76 cores instead of the more modern Cortex-A78 (which are both more powerful and more power efficient). But it is worth noting that the Pixel 5’s Snapdragon 765G also used two Cortex-A76 cores for its main CPU cores, so it’s possible Google is sticking with what it knows.

The new phones should still be the fastest Pixel phones yet, with Google promising 80 percent faster CPU performance compared to the Pixel 5, and 370 percent faster GPU performance.

The real question, though, is how the Pixel 6 and its Tensor chip hold up compared to other traditional Android flagships. Google’s CPU configuration is a unique one, compared to the more traditional four high-performance and four efficiency cores used by major Qualcomm and Samsung chips.

In theory, Google is offering double the number of X1 performance cores — the most powerful Arm design — than the Snapdragon 888 or Exynos 2100, which both use a single Cortex-X1, three Cortex-A78, and four Cortex-A55 cores. But Google is also swapping out the two high-end cores with midrange ones, which may help battery life and performance... or may just result in a weaker overall device. We’ll find out soon once we’ve had the chance to put the Pixel 6 and Tensor through their paces.


Related: