The big picture: The custom silicon race is on, and smartphone companies are now using self-designed chips as a new way to differentiate their offerings at a time when many Android phones sport a generic look and similar feature sets. Like Google's Tensor SoC, Oppo's first custom chipset is one designed to accelerate machine learning tasks, and the company says it won't be long before we see it in action.

Oppo is joining the custom silicon train with its first self-designed imaging chipset. The company calls it "MariSilicon X," and the announcement was made at the Oppo Inno Day 2021 event alongside a pair of "assisted reality" glasses called Air Glass.

The new chipset is a neural processing unit (NPU) designed to greatly accelerate machine learning tasks such as those used in image and video processing for modern smartphone camera features. The company says the chip is manufactured using TSMC's 6 nm process node, which is a relatively mature technology that also yields some energy efficiency gains when compared to the hardware used in existing Oppo phone designs.

For reference, Oppo says MariSilicon X is 20 times faster and has only half the power consumption of the chipset used in the Oppo Find X3 Pro, the company's current flagship smartphone. Apparently, that's enough to allow real-time RAW processing as well as 4K AI Night Video with live preview. Theoretical performance tops out at 18 trillion operation per second, which is even better than Apple's Neural Engine found in the A15 SoC, which is capable of performing up to 15.8 trillion operations per second.

Oppo founder and CEO Chen Mingyong said "we won't stop and we will continue to invest resources into chips, with a team of thousands of people. It will be a long journey, with many challenges ahead, but we will persevere." These promises come only months after Vivo announced a custom chip of its own --- the V1 image signal processor. Google went in a similar direction with its Tensor SoC for the Pixel 6, which is used to accelerate various camera-related features like 4K HDR video capture and Live Translate.

The MariSilicon X is impressive on paper, but we'll have to wait and see how that translates into practice. Oppo says the new chip will debut in the upcoming Find X phone lineup which will be unveiled in Q1 2022.