Samsung counters Qualcomm with Exynos SoC launch

Samsung Electronics has unveiled its latest flagship mobile SoC – the Exynos 8 Octa 8890 – in the same week that Qualcomm had its big Snapdragon 820 reveal.

The timing may be coincidental, but is nonetheless ominous for Qualcomm, which must be hoping to win back Samsung’s flagship smartphone business. The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge both featured the predecessor to this new chip – the Exynos 7 Octa 7420, having moved away from the Snapdragons used in the Galaxy S5.

Samsung seems pretty happy with its new SoC, which features 8 CPU cores based on the ARM big.LITTLE model, which pairs powerful cores with more energy-efficient ones and dynamically switches depending on the task, to try to minimise power drain. The more powerful cores represent the first time Samsung has designed its own, rather than using ARM designs, but the ‘little’ cores are standard ARM Cortex-A53s. It also uses ARM Mali T880 GPU cores.

Other than that, and potentially even more damaging to Qualcomm’s hopes of getting the Galaxy S7 gig, the Exynos 8 also supports LTE cat 12 and is also manufactured on the 14 nanometer FinFET process, so it’s not clear what competitive advantage Qualcomm will be able to point to.

“The Exynos 8 Octa is a leading-edge application processor for next-generation mobile devices that incorporates Samsung’s mobile technology leadership in CPU, ISP, and modem as well as process technology,” said Dr. Kyushik Hong, VP of System LSI marketing at Samsung Electronics. “With our custom designed CPU cores and the industry’s most advanced LTE modem, consumers using mobile devices with the Exynos 8 Octa will experience a new level of mobile computing.”

With many of the leading smartphone makers, including Apple, already designing their own SoCs, the third party mobile chip game is looking increasingly challenging. There’s still lots of business to be had from the makers of cheaper devices, where buying off-the-shelf chips remains the best option, but even there Qualcomm faces stiff competition from the likes of Mediatek, so continued diversification is probably the way forward.

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