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Category Archives: SoC

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Qualcomm Snapdragon 845: Everything You Need To Know

Hubert Nguyen December 7, 2017

Like clockwork, Qualcomm has announced its Snapdragon 845 system on chip (SoC) and high-end Snapdragon platform which will power numerous high-end smartphones and possibly always-connected laptops throughout 2018.

As always, a major architecture change brings new performance, efficiency, and features. After a very comprehensive briefing at the Snapdragon Summit 2017, here is our overview of Snapdragon 845, split into different areas of interest: Camera, Performance, Battery life, Connectivity, Immersion, AI, and Security.

Camera

Let’s start with the best understood, most desirable feature for many users: the camera. With Snapdragon 845, camera performance will reach new levels, both in terms of raw capabilities, but also in image quality.

First, the camera will be capable of capturing 4K Ultra HD Premium HDR video. This is a mouthful, but it is similar to the feature-set used in Hollywood movies (1 Billion colors + HDR). Obviously, this is not exactly Cinema-quality, but in general, this is a huge improvement in video recording (16.7M colors, no HDR). Today’s best devices can “play” this kind of content, but Snapdragon 845 phones will be able to create that content.

“A HUGE IMPROVEMENT IN VIDEO RECORDING”

If you are unaware, Ultra HD Premium is not a technical standard, but rather a marketing umbrella that federates different TV makers around a certain quality level for 4K, HDR and color rendering. You will hear a lot about “Color Volume”. That is a 3D representation of the colors that devices can record (camera) and reproduce (display). The color volume can be visualized by using color gamut (reproducible colors) and luminance data (how bright tings are). The image below shows the larger color volume of Snapdragon 845 (Rec. 2020) vs, Snapdragon 835 (Rec. 709). This is leading-edge stuff.

Secondly, the camera ISP (Image Signal Processor) and overall subsystem are so fast that it is now possible to capture 720p video at 480 FPS. This will allow video creators to capture amazing slow-motion videos without having buffering limitations often encountered with this kind of extreme situations. For example, Sony has an extreme 960 FPS slow-motion recording, but only for a very short time. And yes, you can capture 1080p at 240FPS and 4K UHD HDR at 60FPS.

Still photos also benefit from the same resources allocated to image processing. Snapdragon 845 can process 16 Megapixel photos at a rate of 60 FPS (talk about bursting!). You might think of this as a video, but photos are treated differently because they are meant to be seen and saved as individual frames, while videos are an animated stream.

Performance

Snapdragon’s performance is due to various high-performance computing units, some with a distinct purpose such as the ISP (Image Signal Processor) or the GPU (graphics unit) and others with a slightly more general role such as the DSP (Digital Signal Processor) and of course the CPU cluster.

Snapdragon 845 is manufactured using Samsung’s second-generation 10nm process, which is an optimization of last year’s introductory 10nm semiconductor node. There are very small improvements in performance and efficiency derived from this.

Kryo 385 CPU

The CPU cluster is divided into two groups of four cores: four high-performance cores (ARM A75 derivatives, 2.8GHz max) to process workloads as fast as possible. There are also four other low-power cores (ARM A55 derivatives, 1.8 GHz max) to handle less intensive tasks with the best possible power-efficiency. You can read our article about ARM’s big-LITTLE architecture to understand more about heterogeneous CPU core clusters.

“DOUBLE-DIGITS CPU PERFORMANCE INCREASE: WORTHY OF ATTENTION”

Qualcomm did some custom work on the CPU cores and therefore named it Kryo 385. Qualcomm often tunes a specific core design or can build CPU cores from the ground up if necessary. This time, Qualcomm has done some custom work on the A75 and A55 designs from ARM but did not rebuild the cores from the ground up.

For Snapdragon 845, the engineers have added a 2MB L3 cache along with a 3MB “System Cache.” The main difference is that the L3 cache is only accessible to the CPU cluster, while the System Cache is accessible to other computing units as well (GPU, DSP, etc…). In both cases, the caches can drastically reduce the latency of getting information (from RAM) along with memory bus traffic.

With all of this, Qualcomm is expecting a ~25% CPU performance boost from last year’s Snapdragon 835 chip (see image above for details). I have to say, double-digits CPU performance increase: that is worthy of attention.

Adreno 630 GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)

As its name implies, this is the unit responsible for 3D gaming and VR performance. A GPU can also be used for artificial intelligence and other non-graphics workloads, but it’s fair to say that 3D graphics is the main purpose here.

At the moment, Qualcomm has not revealed the inner-workings of the GPU, so we don’t know exactly how many GPU cores there are, texture units, etc.… however a 30% graphics performance improvement should come out of this new design.

Additionally, Qualcomm also claims a 30% power-efficiency increase, which means that Snapdragon 845 can perform the same rendering while using 30% less energy as its predecessor. That is a rather large increase in both efficiency and speed.

Snapdragon 845 can support 2K per eyes in VR applications to improve one of VR’s pain point: the blockiness of the in-headset graphics. Incidentally, Qualcomm has also developed a Foveated rendering framework to help developers boost performance. I’m not 100% clear on what engines are supported, but the principle is sound can significantly accelerate pixel-level rendering. I previously explained how Foveated rendering works on Desktop PC, and this is the same principle, but in one sentence, Foveated rendering consists in reducing the detail away from your gaze point.

“THESE ARE CUTTING EDGE RENDERING TECHNIQUES”

To accelerate rendering, Qualcomm has added “multiview rendering,” a very effective technique that can reduce geometric (per-vertex) operations by nearly 50% in VR apps. The principle is simple: to achieve stereo rendering, the same scene is being rendered TWICE from slightly different points of views (LEFT+RIGHT eyes). Multiview rendering allows some computation to be shared between the LEFT/RIGHT frames because they are extremely similar (although not identical). There are other applications of similar multi-projection techniques, and they have proven to be highly efficient.

The graphics and extended reality framework of Snapdragon 845 allow it to support 6 Degrees of Freedom (DoF) and SLAM (Simultaneous Location And Mapping). SLAM is used to sense where you are in the room and track your motion in space by looking at your position relative to the environment. This is the foundational technology for 6 Degrees of Freedom without wires. Although some of this was available before, it is now fully baked into the Snapdragon platform and will be available to more OEMs.

The compound optimizations offer a very high potential for boosting VR (and AR) performance. These are cutting edge rendering techniques previously available only on desktop computers, or in a small number of engines. Qualcomm could democratize this further by supporting them in the Snapdragon Platform.

Hexagon 685 DSP

The DSP (Digital Signal Processor) is a specialized computing unit that can perform vector math on large quantities of data with extreme power-efficiency. It can be used for a vast array of things such as, but not limited to 2D image processing/effects, depth sensing for face-recognition, artificial intelligence inference and more.

People often think of the GPU when it comes to massive math workloads, and it is not a bad reflex. However, the DSP and the GPU are complementary tools that serve different situations. It is impossible to generalize completely, but DSPs are often more appropriate to use when you need to quickly process relatively small quantities of data. GPUs can be great at churning super-massive quantities of data, but they also require more setup and have more overhead. In reality, it’s not DSP vs. GPU — both can be extremely useful depending on the app.

Hexagon 685 is 3X faster than last year’s Hexagon 682. Without a doubt, Qualcomm must have increased the number of math units but hasn’t yet revealed the implementation details. This kind of performance increase matches the arrival of Google’s Neural API for Android 8.1+.

Battery Life

With battery life being the #1 concern for users, Power optimizations are always at the top of the list for mobile chip engineers. There are several ways to increase the power efficiency, and without a major manufacturing node change, it had to come from the architectural and software efforts.

The software can be optimized to offload work (when possible) to the most efficient sub-systems we discussed previously.

The addition of multiple cache layers reduces RAM access by as much as 75%, thus helping save power as well. The hardware has multiple clock domains and voltage domains, which means that the chip has several power islands that can use the most optimum amount of power at any given time. This leads to continuous savings if the tuning is done properly.

Snapdragon 835 was 50% more power-efficient as Snapdragon 821. A large chunk of this was due to the manufacturing node change. This time, the delta is not as large, but Eliane Fiolet checked power draw tests comparing Snapdragon 845, 835 and 660 and for the exact same task (4K video playback, 30FPS) Snapdragon 835 uses ~8% more power while Snapdragon 660 draws ~15% more power as Snapdragon 845. Not bad at all!

Earbuds battery savings

This time, Bluetooth (BT) will have the ability to broadcast to multiple devices at once under the Qualcomm TrueWireless name. You may not know, but BT wireless earbuds are currently set up to have one of them as the “master” that will orchestrate the communication with the phone, and with the other earbud. The master essentially does 2X more work as the other earbud, causing an imbalance in power consumption between the pair. That situation can be fixed by having the phone talk to both at the same time.

Connectivity

Cellular

Last year’s world-class X16 LTE modem is replaced by a more advanced X20 model that can reach 1200 Mbps in theoretical peak speed (vs. 1000 before). That is of course if your wireless carrier supports it locally.

Even without an advanced network, Qualcomm uses MIMO (multiple inputs multiple output) techniques with up to four antennas that lead to large performance increases due to sheer parallelism on existing networks.

WiFi

Qualcomm has added support for 60 GHz WiFi AD (802.11ad) which is a 4.6 Gbps short range WiFi connection ideal for large data transfer from within your network. Today many people still use wired Ethernet which is considered to be faster and more reliable. However, this technology could, in theory, replace wires within a 30-feet range. Keep in mind that the range is typically a distance without any physical obstacles that could disturb the signal.

Immersion

Extended Reality tasks such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are two of the most challenging tasks that the GPU can handle. In both cases, there are other units at play. Typically, the GPU would render the 3D scene or 3D overlay.

At the same time, the Hexagon 685 DSP could treat signals coming from the real world such as the room’s environment while the Spectra 280 ISP processes incoming data from the cameras, maybe to spot AR beacons. Qualcomm’s real technique for peak performance and power efficiency is to offload work to the best-suited, most power-efficient, unit – sometimes at the same time. If you think of it, game console programming is sometimes exactly like that. It’s about maximizing your hardware utilization.

Artificial Intelligence (A.I)

As of late, several silicon vendors have announced their flavor of “Neural Processors” with various marketing claims. However, the same OEMs have been dodgy when asked for details about the specs and capabilities of said neural computing units. To Qualcomm’s point, “neural processors” for mobile are almost always “DSP” units being re-marketed.

“A WIDE ARRAY OF AI TOOLS”

As we have seen earlier, the Qualcomm Hexagon 685 DSP is the 3rd generation that has been used in an AI context. The 300% performance increase from last year’s model shows that Qualcomm’s customers are taking AI very seriously and demanding more horsepower for that kind of workload.

However, Qualcomm’s AI effort doesn’t rely on a single unit. The DSP is surely the central nexus, but the embedded Adreno GPU supports FP16 numbers, and the CPU has been optimized to support 8-bit operations that are commonly used in AI. With these changes, developers have a wide array of AI tools at their disposal to optimize different types of workload.

Security

Maybe the most obscure but important aspect of Snapdragon chips is security. First, it is important to know that security is not equal for all chips and that standards can be pretty loose (if there are any outside of payment). Not so long ago, some phones stored the fingerprint sensor data in the public area of the phone’s storage!

Previous generations of Qualcomm Snapdragon chips as a trusted execution zone which was secure. However, with the recent apparition of hacks for that kind of trusted environment, Snapdragon 845 has a new “Secure Processing Unit” which is more isolated from the rest of the SoC’s sub-system.

It is an island that has its memory, CPU and power gates. It can also generate random numbers internally (this is the base of all encryption) and its cryptographic engine. Services that need a very high level of security will go through this unit. Things like biometric data, for example, should transit through this unit to be processed so that only some kind of digital key (or Hash) is accessible by apps and services. A 3rd party should never see the biometric data.

Biometric data is not like a password. You cannot change your biometric data, and once stolen, you can never take it back, so it’s best to protect it as much as possible.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 845: Everything You Need To Know , original content from Ubergizmo. Read our Copyrights and terms of use.

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LG Could Be Attempting To Make Its Own Chipsets Again

Tyler Lee October 4, 2017

When it comes to mobile chipsets, it’s safe to say that Qualcomm has the market cornered. However this hasn’t stopped other companies from trying to make their own, like what Apple, Samsung, and Huawei have done. In fact a while ago, LG also attempted to make their own chipsets but it never quite gained much momentum.

However according to reports, recent trademark filings have suggested that LG could be interested in reviving their chipsets again. The company has reportedly filed for two trademarks for the “LG KROMAX Processor” and the “LG EPIK Processor”. Given their names and that they are both classified as “Chips [integrated circuits]; Multiprocessor chips”, it’s not that hard to imagine what they could be.

However whether or not these chipsets are designed for smartphones or for other applications, like IoT devices is unclear, although it does seem like a possibility because a report from Recode last year points out the fact that Intel confirmed that they will be manufacturing LG’s ARM chipsets in their factories.

Whether or not LG plans for these chipsets to be mainstream remains to be seen, or alternatively they could be like Samsung where their mobile chipsets could be used exclusively for their own products. Either way take it with a grain of salt and hopefully we’ll have more details in the future.

LG Could Be Attempting To Make Its Own Chipsets Again , original content from Ubergizmo. Read our Copyrights and terms of use.

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Apple’s A11 Bionic Chipset Was 3 Years In The Making

Tyler Lee September 15, 2017

With the launch of the new iPhone X, iPhone 8 and 8 Plus handsets, Apple introduced a new chipset in the form of the A11 Bionic. This chipset represents a first for Apple in the sense that it is the first A-series chipset to sport six cores, but it is also the first A-series chipset to feature a dedicated neural engine (for use with Face ID).

In a recent interview with Mashable, Apple’s SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller and SVP of Hardware Technology Johny Srouji revealed that the A11 Bionic was a chipset that was three years in the making. It seems that work was being done on the chipset when the iPhone 6 was shipping out, which was back in 2014, and this was well before was speaking publicly about AI or machine learning. According to Srouji, “The neural engine embed, it’s a bet we made three years ahead.”

In fact it seems that Apple’s work has paid off, as there have been some Geekbench sightings in which it has been suggested that the A11 Bionic chipset performs on par with some of Apple’s MacBook Pros, although to be fair last year’s A10 Fusion was also reported to have performed just as well.

Unsurprisingly when asked if Apple was already looking towards the future as far as their next-gen of silicon solutions are concerned, Srouji was quoted as saying, “We’re thinking ahead, I’ll tell you that, and I don’t think we’ll be limited. It’s getting harder.”

Apple’s A11 Bionic Chipset Was 3 Years In The Making , original content from Ubergizmo. Read our Copyrights and terms of use.

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Apple’s A11 Bionic Chipset Seemingly On Par With The 13-inch MacBook Pro

Tyler Lee September 14, 2017

Mobile technology has come a long way where these days there are phones that feature deca-core processors. That being said, it is also why it doesn’t really come as a complete surprise to learn that our smartphones these days could be as powerful as laptops, which is what appears to be the case with Apple’s new iPhones.

With the new iPhone 8, 8 Plus and the iPhone X, Apple has introduced a new A11 Bionic chipset which for the first time ever in Apple’s A-series of chipsets will come with 6 cores, versus the quad-core in the A10 Fusion, and the dual-core processors found in earlier iPhone models, and recent Geekbench sightings have revealed that the A11 Bionic seems to be on par in terms of performance with the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro models.

According to the Geekbench scores, the A11 saw an average single-core score of 4169 which not only beats the previous A10 and A10X, but also puts it almost on par with the 13-inch MacBook Pro that scored 4592 on single-core tests. This is actually not the first time that we’re seeing Apple’s mobile chipsets start to perform as well as their laptops, as was the case with last year’s A10 Fusion.

Now there might be some who doubt the legitimacy of these tests since benchmarks can be faked/manipulated, but MacRumors has since spoken to Geekbench’s John Poole who believes that the benchmarks are the real deal, so make what you will of them.

Apple’s A11 Bionic Chipset Seemingly On Par With The 13-inch MacBook Pro , original content from Ubergizmo. Read our Copyrights and terms of use.

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Apple’s A11 Fusion Chipset Will Apparently Sport 6 Cores

Tyler Lee September 10, 2017

When Apple launched the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus last year, they also introduced a brand new chipset in the form of the A10 Fusion which is Apple’s first quad-core chipset to debut in an iPhone. Prior to that Apple’s chipsets have typically been of the dual-core variety, so the step up to quad-core was a huge shift.

However that will apparently be changing with this year’s iPhones. Developer Steve Troughton-Smith recently tweeted (via AppleInsider) that with the A11 Fusion chipset expected to debut on this year’s iPhones, Apple is rumored to introduce a 6 core chipset which is said to consist of four high-powered “Mistral” cores and two “Monsoon” cores.

A11 Fusion is a 4+2 core device https://t.co/mqtIKcjBmG

— Steve T-S (@stroughtonsmith) September 10, 2017

In a way this is similar to the big.LITTLE architecture whereby chipsets will sport multiple cores, but with some cores being dedicated for more powerful/intensive applications, while the other cores will be used for less intensive applications or processes. The idea is that this will improve efficiency, and also at the same time help conserve battery life since the less powerful cores will be utilized for more mundane tasks.

It should be noted that the A11 Fusion will not be Apple’s first hexa-core chipset. That honor actually belongs to the A10X Fusion that debuted in this year’s 12.9-inch and 10.5-inch iPad Pros, but it will mark the first time that the iPhones will be getting a hexa-core chipset, although at this point it is unclear if the A11 Fusion will be exclusive to the iPhone X, or if it will be available across Apple’s 2017 iPhone lineup.

Apple’s A11 Fusion Chipset Will Apparently Sport 6 Cores , original content from Ubergizmo. Read our Copyrights and terms of use.

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Intel Accuses Qualcomm Of Trying To Kill The Competition

Tyler Lee July 23, 2017

Apple and Qualcomm are currently engaged in a rather bitter lawsuit, but it seems that Apple won’t be fighting this battle alone as recently some pretty major tech companies have thrown their support behind the Cupertino company, claiming that Qualcomm’s lawsuit against Apple will have dire consequences on the rest of the industry should they be successful.

Intel is one of those companies that is part of a lobbying group that represents those companies, and have since recently come forward with a statement of their own on the matter. According to the statement issued by Intel, “Qualcomm did not initiate this investigation to stop the alleged infringement of its patent rights; rather, its complaint is a transparent effort to stave off lawful competition from Qualcomm’s only remaining rival.”

“This twisted use of the Commission’s process is just the latest in a long line of anticompetitive strategies that Qualcomm has used to quash incipient and potential competitors and avoid competition on the merits.” However like we said, these tech companies aren’t 100% altruistic since clearly this will affect their business as well.

Let’s not forget that Intel had at one point in time also tried to compete against Qualcomm and the ARM architecture with their own mobile chipsets, but that didn’t exactly work out.

Intel Accuses Qualcomm Of Trying To Kill The Competition , original content from Ubergizmo. Read our Copyrights and terms of use.

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TSMC Could Be The Sole Supplier Of Apple’s 2018 A-Series Chips

Tyler Lee July 21, 2017

A recent report out of Korea has suggested that in 2018, Samsung could be brought back into the fold by Apple as being one of their suppliers for their 2018 A-series chipsets that will be used in the iPhone 9 (or whatever it will be called). This means that once again it will be both TSMC and Samsung supplying Apple with the chipsets.

However according to a new report from DigiTimes (via MacRumors), that might not necessarily be the case. The report claims that TSMC is still expected to hold the exclusive rights to supply Apple with the 2018 chipsets. Apparently the company’s integrated fan-out wafer-level packaging technology used in its 7nm FinFET chip fabrication process is seen as more “superior” compared to what Samsung can do.

Samsung is said to be aggressively trying to vye for Apple’s business, but there is a chance that despite Samsung’s close ties to OLED production, which Apple could use in the iPhone 8 and future iPhones, it might not be enough to convince Apple to go with them as a chipset manufacturer for 2018’s iOS devices.

However even they were to be chosen, we guess at the end of the day Apple usually tries to even out the experience, meaning that end-users shouldn’t be able to tell if a chipset has come from Samsung or TSMC, but either way take it with a grain of salt for now.

TSMC Could Be The Sole Supplier Of Apple’s 2018 A-Series Chips , original content from Ubergizmo. Read our Copyrights and terms of use.

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Samsung Rumored To Product Apple’s 2018 iPhone Chipsets

Tyler Lee July 18, 2017

For a while Samsung was chosen by Apple to be one of their manufacturers for their A-series chipsets used in their iPhones and iPads. However the legal dispute between both companies as well as Apple’s desire to not be over-reliant on one supplier has led to Apple working with both Samsung and TSMC.

However in recent times, it seems that TSMC has scored an exclusive manufacturing agreement with Apple, but apparently that is set to change in 2018. According to a report from The Investor, Samsung will apparently be joining TSMC in manufacturing the chipsets for 2018’s iPhones.

That being said, we doubt that this will have an impact on the end results of the phone. In the past Apple has used Samsung and TSMC and apart from some slight discrepancies in battery life, which admittedly is probably more felt on paper than in real-life usage, there were no perceivable differences in performance.

However the upside is that given that how many iPhones that Apple tends to manufacture, an with analysts predicting a super-cycle, it will be good business for Samsung, but take it with a grain of salt for now since we haven’t heard anything official from Apple or Samsung yet.

Samsung Rumored To Product Apple’s 2018 iPhone Chipsets , original content from Ubergizmo. Read our Copyrights and terms of use.

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Does The Samsung Exynos 9 Ad Hint At The Note 8’s Design?

Tyler Lee July 13, 2017

The Samsung Galaxy S8 is a stunning and sleek piece of hardware, which means that expectations are pretty high as to what we might be able to expect from the Galaxy Note 8 which is scheduled for a release later this year. Now it seems that there is a slight possibility that Samsung might have given it away.

Samsung’s Exynos Twitter account has recently posted an image (via PhoneArena) of the Exynos 9 mobile processor, and accompanying the image is a smartphone. At first glance it could totally pass as the Galaxy S8, but it has been pointed out that the upper bezel on the phone appears to be much thinner than that of the Galaxy S8.

Do what you want. #Exynos will get things done. Learn more about #Exynos8895: https://t.co/xjBw74E39o pic.twitter.com/zzxH7NE3QU

— Samsung Exynos (@SamsungExynos) July 13, 2017

However an alternative could be that it is the way the rendering is angled that might give off the illusion that the bezel is thinner. After all we doubt Samsung would give away the design of the Note 8 so soon, not to mention we’re sure if it was by accident, they would have taken the post down already, right?

Other than that, there are no identifiable features in the rendering to suggest that this is the Note 8 other than the thinner bezels, so take it with a grain of salt for now. The latest rumors are suggesting that the Note 8’s launch could be taking place on the 23rd of August with a possible release in September.

Does The Samsung Exynos 9 Ad Hint At The Note 8’s Design? , original content from Ubergizmo. Read our Copyrights and terms of use.

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Apple’s Chipset Architect Is Now Leading Google’s SoC Efforts

Tyler Lee June 13, 2017

Apple has never been one to shy away from trying to make their own hardware, presumably because this cuts down on being dependent on third-party companies, as well as allowing them a greater degree of control on how their hardware and software works with each other. This has resulted in the A-series of chipsets found in iPhones and iPads.

However it seems that Apple could have lost one of their key architects in the form of Manu Gulati, who in a report from Variety has apparently left Apple to work for Google and will now be leading Google’s own SoC efforts. This was confirmed by Gulati’s public LinkedIn profile in which his new job listed is for the lead SoC architect at Google.

This also highlights how it appears that Google is interested in making their own chipsets. Google has been relying on third-party chipsets for the longest time ever, such as Qualcomm in which quite a few Google Nexus and Pixel products are found to be powered by Qualcomm’s technology.

We’re not sure when Google will ever debut a device that will be powered by their own chipsets, but perhaps the shift from the Nexus to Pixel branding, as well as certain Pixel-exclusive features, could be a sign of things to come, but either way it’s just something we’ll have to wait and see if it comes to fruition.

Apple’s Chipset Architect Is Now Leading Google’s SoC Efforts , original content from Ubergizmo. Read our Copyrights and terms of use.