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We might not see a proper Google chip until the Pixel 10, but there's good news
- Google’s first custom Tensor processor for Pixel phones has apparently been delayed.
- The company’s so-called Redondo SoC was poised to be the first custom Tensor chip.
- It’s believed Google has shelved this processor in favor of a new custom chip called Laguna.
Google teamed up with Samsung for the Tensor series of chipsets, currently powering all Pixel phones from the Pixel 6 series onwards. These processors are semi-custom designs, effectively being Samsung Exynos processors with some Google components (e.g. machine learning silicon) added to the mix.
Now, a new report by The Information (paywalled) has apparently detailed Google’s efforts to produce a fully custom chipset for its Pixel phones. And it sounds like it hasn’t been a smooth process.
Two sources told the outlet that Google has delayed the release of its first fully custom chipset by at least a year. It’s believed that the Pixel maker originally planned to release this first chipset — purportedly codenamed Redondo — next year to replace its semi-custom processors.
Google will apparently stick with Samsung’s semi-custom chipsets for another year as a result of this delay. The Information claims that Google will wait until 2025 to reveal a new custom processor codenamed Laguna. This chip is said to be built on a 3nm process and could be the Tensor G5. This means we might only see a custom Tensor chip inside the Pixel 10 series.
Hurdles in the way of a custom Tensor SoC
A former Google chip executive asserted that the delay in the custom chip’s development is partly due to challenges dividing the work between US and Indian teams. The outlet’s source also claimed that high staff turnover in the division is also to blame for the hampered development.
Interestingly, the executive told the outlet that Google had canceled the development of multiple Tensor chips in the past two years, resulting in frustration among team members.
A custom chip made redondont?
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about a Tensor processor dubbed Redondo, as our exclusive Pixel roadmap leak back in December 2022 pointed to the Tensor G4 being codenamed Redondo.
It sounds like this chipset won’t see the light of day at all. The Information‘s source claimed that the Tensor team was forced to cut features from Redondo, but still missed a 2022 deadline for trial production. The chip was only handed over to the chip producer earlier this year, which meant it would miss a mass production target for 2024.
It’s believed this chip will now only be manufactured as a test chip to help Google engineers as they switch development to the Laguna processor instead. So we’re guessing the semi-custom chipset produced next year will gain the Tensor G4 moniker instead.
A custom Tensor chipset would allow Google to tweak things as it sees fit, but it's easier said than done.
Nevertheless, switching from Redondo to Laguna would be a smart move, as an all-new design should theoretically be more modern, enabling performance and efficiency benefits.
There are plenty of benefits in general to developing a fully custom smartphone processor. A custom Tensor processor means Google has more freedom to design its smartphone chipsets, akin to Samsung Exynos and Apple’s A-series chips. That means Google can control almost every aspect of the chip’s design as it sees fit, tuning the silicon for its specific needs. However, the company would still be dependent on Arm-designed CPUs and GPUs for now.
Tensor: An even bigger change looming?
The Information also reports that Google will switch from Samsung Semiconductor to TSMC for the manufacturing of its custom chips. This has the potential to be a massive deal.
Google’s Tensor chipsets have been exclusively manufactured by Samsung Semiconductor, ostensibly being part of the Tensor deal with Samsung in the first place. But the fully custom approach seemingly gives Google an actual choice in the matter.
This could be big news because high-end smartphone chips produced by TSMC have delivered superior performance and efficiency for several generations now. Nowhere was this more evident than with the TSMC-made Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1. This was a mid-year upgrade over the Samsung-made Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 but enjoyed unprecedented performance and efficiency gains for a mid-year refresh.
Do you think Google should make a fully custom Tensor chip?
There’s no guarantee that TSMC-made chips will be superior come 2025, but Google would theoretically be free to switch between chip producers as it sees fit.
In saying so, creating a custom chipset takes plenty of time and resources. Google’s Pixel phones only account for a small proportion of global smartphone shipments, so it might not make short-term sense for a custom Pixel processor. But a custom SoC would allow the firm to offer differentiated features on its phones that could boost sales over time.
We’ve contacted Google representatives for comment and will update the article if/when they get back to us.