Why the octo-core Galaxy 4 rumor is not as crazy as it sounds

by: Bogdan PetrovanDecember 19, 2012


Dual-core, quad-core, octo-core? Is this Samsung’s roadmap for the Galaxy S series? It might just be, if we are to trust a recent report from Korean media.

The Korea Times, a respected outlet that has provided inside scoops on Samsung before, has published a report on the business outlook of the two top-tier semiconductor manufacturers in South Korea, Samsung and SK hynix. Most of the report is quite bland, but buried at the bottom is this gem:

“The world’s largest electronics maker by revenue plans to unveil a new AP based on ARM’s big.LITTLE processing that will realize an octo-core processor to be used in the Galaxy SIV.”

Wow, let’s back up a little. What is big.LITTLE? How could Samsung fit eight cores into one slab of silicon? And, is it even remotely possible that we’ll see an octo-core chip on the Galaxy S4?

ARM’s big.LITTLE architecture

ARM revealed that the first devices featuring its new big.LITTLE architecture would come out in 2013 with early production runs scheduled for the end of 2012. ARM didn’t specify which chip manufacturer will break ground.

big.LITTLE chips bring together a set of fast Cortex A15 cores with a set of Cortex A7 cores running at lower speeds. Why this peculiar setup? To get the best of two worlds. The Cortex A15 cores are powerful, but they are demanding on the battery, while the slower Cortex A7 cores are much more energy efficient, so better suited for lightweight tasks that are common on mobile platforms.

Here’s the spiel: when the device requires substantial computing power, the A15 cores are throttled. As soon as the load eases, the energy-saving A7 cores take over. It’s like having a car with two engines – a big gas-guzzler for cruising down the highway, and a small 1-liter one for driving through city traffic.


In theory, you can have various configurations, like two power cores and four efficient cores, but it’s likely that the first generation big.LITTLE chips will feature symmetrical configurations (2+2 or 4+4).

If all this sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve seen the same approach on Nvidia’s Tegra 3 chips, which come with four “regular” cores, plus a slower one that kicks in when energy efficiency is more important than processing speed.

Samsung will present its first big.LITTLE design in February 2013

According to the industry publication EE Times, Samsung will present the very first big.LITTLE CPU at an industry conference in February.

The report says that the chip will feature an octo-core configuration composed of four Cortex A15 chips clocked at 1.8GHz with 2MB L2 cache, and four Cortex A7 cores running at 1.2GHz and tuned for energy consumption. Both clusters are built on 28nm technology.

Galaxy S4 likely to be launched at MWC at the end of February 2013

Most rumors that we’ve heard so far about the Galaxy S4 suggest that the device will be unveiled at the Mobile World Congress, which will take place in Barcelona at the end of February.

Samsung is supposedly trying to have its flagship product in stores earlier than next year, when the Galaxy S3 was announced at the beginning of May and launched at the beginning of June.

Are the planets aligning for an octo-core Galaxy S4?

It’s hard to say.

When Samsung or other semiconductor manufacturers reveal new technologies, it usually takes a few months before the first products based on those technologies hit the stores. For instance, the Koreans have revealed the Exynos 5 Dual in a technical paper last August, but the first devices to run on such a chip (Exynos 5250) were the Samsung Chromebook and Google Nexus 10, both released in November.

From this perspective, it’s a bit unlikely that Samsung would announce an octo-core device just days after the formal introduction of the technology.

Another factor to consider is the existence of another highly anticipated chip design from Samsung – Exynos 5 Quad. The 5 Quad chips should pair a Mali T604 GPU with a quad-core Cortex A15 CPU. It would make more sense for Samsung to use a tried and true design on the Galaxy S4, instead of rushing out with the new big.LITTLE chips.

It’s a bit more likely that the first device to rock an octo-core chip will be a tablet, like the Galaxy Note 10.1 2. The Galaxy Note 3, due in late summer 2013, would make another worthy candidate.

Still, we can’t rule out the possibility of seeing an octo-core Galaxy S4. Why? Because Samsung isn’t the same company it was last year. The Galaxy S3 has been hugely successful, so the pressure to deliver the next big thing is quite larger. Competitors, from HTC to ZTE, are lurking in the shadows, ready to capitalize on every misstep.

Samsung has to deliver something dazzling in the Galaxy S4 and an octo-core SoC would certainly look good on the spec sheet, along with a full HD AMOLED display and a 13MP camera. One thing’s sure – early 2013 shapes out to be very exciting.

  • I don’t think octo-core is crazy since many customers has been cheated by mobile phone companies. They only focus on the CPU cores. But my question is that why should we always focus on hardware specifications? I do think if we can optimize the OS well, we can get better experience even we uses dual core CPU.

    • mjolnir

      I’ll have to disagree with you. There is no reason for hardware innovation to be held back because of potential software pitfalls. Actually I would argue with Jelly Bean OS is pretty damn slick; Android sure came a long way since my G1

      • I don’t mean that hardware innovation is not right. In my opinion, higher CPU performance always mean bigger energy consumption and I thinks it is a waste of limited battery power. If the software can do better, maybe we don’t need to use such a good CPU and it also means customers don’t need to pay more for higher hardware specs. That’s my idea.

        • Thankfully, your opinion is wrong. Smaller transistors, more efficient circuits, and less time spent at fulll CPU utilization all add up to better battery life for newer and faster processors.

        • Seth Forbus

          My Galaxy Note 2 has a quad core overclocked to 1.8ghz. I get 3 days of battery life EASY.

    • I’m a believer in optimizing your hard ware and software. I think this chipset
      is a step in the right direction. But I feel the fact that Samsung build their systems in house is the key to optimization in their products. It was the deciding factor for me to buy my GN2.

  • not crazy at all.this beast will crush competition

  • I am looking forward for the Samsung galaxy 4 announcement. I am sure Samsung has some hidden weapon in his arsenal that will side kick other Android manufacturers like LG, HTC.

    • Jared Persinger

      In my opinion the top 2 best phone makers are Motorola and Samsung, and they both always produce some awesome stuff!!

  • kascollet

    The 5250 Exynos SOCs found in the Chromebook and the Nexus 10 are DUAL core !

  • Dezza

    The Bugatti Veyron super sport of hyper phones, 2013 and beyond will be insane

    Galaxy S5/Note 4= Ultra Phone

    Galaxy S4= Hyper Phone

    Galaxy Note 2/overclocked S3= Super Phone

    Galaxy S3= Smartphone

    IPhone/Galaxy Ace= Mobile Phone

    • M H Maun

      dude, that was awesome!

  • praveen

    where the hell is this going everyone focussing on hardware……do phones really need that much?????????????

    • Freddy

      It’s hard to actually call them phones anymore, especially for the 5-6 inch class of giants we will be seeing next year. We’ve stopped calling them phones since 2006 with the original N95 being referred to as a smartphone and then the IPhone (although not really classed as a smartphone at the time). Dumb Phones like the Nokia Asha series can still be called phones as their primary function is phone and games with the social networking/basic browsing aimed at the 300 series.

      As far as high end Super-phones go, by 2015-6 Phablets will slowly be amalgamated into tablets with phone functions, it’s certainly going that way anyway. What Samsung did with the original note was bridge that gap and more OEMs will close the gap until Samsung decides to just change the note into a full fledged flexible tablet/phone hybrid.

  • Sign me up for an identically specced GS4 mini with a 4.3″ screen with the same DPI as the big one and on-screen buttons.

  • I would prefer they focus on improving battery capacity.
    I use a phone with 1GHz dual core MTK6577 CPU and with all the tons of apps installed, there’s no lag whatsoever. Maybe because it doesn’t come with any laid on themes like touchwiz.
    Samsung needs 8 or even 12 cores cost they keep on overlaying Android with touchwiz, and also have to put carrier bloatware into consideration.

    • Freddy

      Sorry, but that is the most illogical and generalised argument to date. If you ain’t used the latest touchwiz and are basing your opinion of a pre 2011 device, you are talking out of your backside, sir.

  • using “sir” for me yet saying I’m talking “out of my backside”?

    • Eric

      Makes sense, what we call irony and sarcasm.

    • Isn’t that exactly how someone who referred to you as sir would say that? If he wasn’t a gentleman he would say “Hey bro you’re talking out of your ass. “