Samsung to follow Qualcomm and start using custom ARM cores in its Exynos processors

July 29, 2013
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ExynosAccording to reports coming out of Asia, Samsung is working to replace the ARM designed Cortex-A15 and Cortex-A7 processor cores in its next generation of Exynos processors. Until now Samsung has used a variety of ARM designed processing cores in its SoCs starting with the Cortex-A8 based Exynos 3 back in 2010. In 2011 it used Cortex-A9 cores in its Exynos 4 range and in 2012/2013 it moved to the Cortex-A15 for its dual-core Exynos 5 and the  Cortex-A15 /Cortex-A7 combination for its big.LITTLE eight core Exynos 5 Octa chips.

Many SoC manufacturers, including Samsung, take the standard ARM cores and combine them with a GPU, plus the other necessary bits, to produce a fairly standard ARM based processor. The manufacturer can tweak things like the number of cores, the amount of cache, clock speeds and the manufacturing process to produce processors according to their needs. However others like Qualcomm and Apple use these standard cores as starting points and redesign the internals of the processor to tweak the performance. Qualcomm’s core is called the Krait and has different iterations with the latest Snapdragon 800 processors using four Krait 400 cores running at up to 2.3 GHz. Apple’s custom core is known as Swift and is found in the A6 and A6X processors. Unlike Qualcomm, Apple also adds new instructions to the processors making them incompatible with the standard ARMv7 instruction set. However for Apple this isn’t an issue as it doesn’t sell the A6 or A6X to anyone else and controls all the low level software on its devices.

It now looks like Samsung will use its engineering might to start creating its own custom ARMv7 based cores. This isn’t surprising as although Samsung’s relatively boilerplate designs have fared well and the Exynos chips have shown themselves to be among top industry performers – there are increasing signs that the Exynos 5 Octa may have some problems. Samsung’s Galaxy S4 smartphone was launched with two processor variations, some devices used the Exynos processor and others a Qualcomm processor. The majority of Galaxy S4 units sold by Samsung use a Qualcomm processor rather than Samsung’s own chip. There are also rumors that the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Note 3 will use a Snapdragon 800. Also the latest variant of the S4, the LTE-A enabled Samsung Galaxy S4 SHV-E330S, also comes with the Snapdragon 800.

The question is, how quickly can Samsung develop a custom ARM core? According to the reports the new custom core Exynos SoCs will available sometime in the second half of 2014.

What do you think, is this is a good move by Samsung or should it stick with ARM designed cores?

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