Samsung Exynos chip held on finger

Samsung doesn’t kick up much fuss when it launches a new mobile processor, but chip development is a major part of the company’s business — especially given the number of smartphones it sells every year. Samsung’s mobile processors, released under the Samsung Exynos brand, cater to handset budgets across the market, from its flagship Galaxy S phones to budget J series handsets.

Here’s what you need to know about Samsung’s current range of SoCs.

Meet the Exynos flagships

You’ll always find two variants of each high-end Samsung smartphone, one packing a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor for the U.S. market and another equipped with the company’s latest high-end Samsung Exynos chip for the global market.

In a first for Samsung, there is dedicated AI silicon in the company’s brand-new Exynos 9820, meant to power its 2019 flagships. The Exynos 9820 offers a neural processing unit (NPU) for machine learning tasks, with Samsung claiming it’ll handle AI-related tasks seven times faster than the Exynos 9810. But there’s more to the 2019 flagship chipset than AI smarts…

The Exynos 9820 offers a tri-cluster CPU arrangement for the first time, as opposed to the dual-cluster arrangement of previous Samsung flagship chips. That means two fourth-generation custom cores for demanding use-cases, two Arm Cortex-A75 cores for medium lifting, and four Cortex-A55 cores for lightweight tasks. We’ll need to wait and see if this provides a big boost to power and battery life, but the two big cores certainly look much more powerful than anything its competitors are using. The choice of two A75s rather than A76 for the middle cluster is interesting, as they aren’t as powerful but do have a smaller silicon footprint.

This three-tier performance idea isn’t dissimilar to Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 855 or Huawei’s Kirin 980, although the CPU configurations are different will give different performance/energy trade-offs. The deciding factor is how well these cores balance power consumption and task scheduling.

 Snapdragon 855Exynos 9820Kirin 980
CPU CoreSemi-custom ARM Cortex - Kryo 485Fully-custom ARM CortexARM Cortex
CPU Config1x Cortex A76 @ 2.84GHz
3x Cortex-A76 @ 2.42GHz
4x Cortex-A55 @ 1.8GHz
2x 4th gen custom
2x Cortex-A75
4x Cortex-A55
2x Cortex-A76 @ 2.6GHz
2x Cortex-A76 @ 1.92GHz
4x Cortex-A55 @ 1.8GHz
GPUAdreno 640Mali-G76 MP12Mali-G76 MP10
AIHexagon 690NPUDual NPU
MemoryUFS 3.0UFS 3.0UFS 2.1
Process7nm FinFET8nm FinFET7nm FinFET
Video capture4K UHD, HDR @ 60fps8K @ 30fps or 4K @ 150fps4K @ 30fps
Video playback8K UHD, 360 degree, up to 120fps,
10-bit, H.265 and VP9 video decoder
8K 30fps or 4K 150fps,
10-bit HEVC(H.265), H.264, VP9
4K @ 60fps
ModemX24 LTE
2000 Mbps down
316 Mbps up
Cat 20 LTE modem
2000 Mbps down
316 Mbps up
Cat 21 LTE modem
1400 Mbps down
200 Mbps up

Otherwise, Samsung’s 2019 chip also offers the latest Arm Mali GPU (Mali G-76 MP12), support for up to five cameras, 8K/30fps or 4K/150fps video recording, and compatibility with the latest UFS 3.0 storage standard. But the chip is poised to deliver better battery life in theory too, as it’s built on an 8nm manufacturing process. However, this isn’t quite as advanced as TSMC’s 7nm processed used by Qualcomm and Huawei.

Samsung Galaxy S10 display

The new Samsung Exynos 9820 chip is currently available in the company’s new Galaxy S10 phones outside of North America, where those phones use the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855.

samsung phone running on equinox

Credit: David Imel / Android Authority

The Exynos 9810 is Samsung’s previous flagship SoC. It powers the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy Note 9, and is the company’s equivalent of the more common high-performance Qualcomm Snapdragon 845. The slightly older Exynos 8895 can be found in the Galaxy Note 8 and Galaxy S8 handsets.

Samsung is the only Android chip manufacturer still working on a fully custom in-house CPU design for its flagship products, known as Mongoose or M cores. The Exynos 9810 features the third generation of this design.

Samsung’s Mongoose boasts a wider throughput design than Arm’s Cortex cores and comes paired with significantly more cache than other chips in the Android ecosystem. This is a similar approach to Apple’s custom CPU design. Jargon aside, this makes the Samsung M cores considerably bigger than their Arm Cortex counterparts and higher performing too, but there have been some issues with performance and efficiency as a result.

 Exynos 9810Exynos 8895Snapdragon 845
CPU4x Mongoose M3 @ 2.9GHz
4x Cortex-A55 @ 1.9GHz
4x Mongoose M2 @ 2.3GHz
4x Cortex-A53 @ 1.7GHz
4x Kryo 835 (Cortex-A75) @ 2.8 GHz
4x Kryo 835 (Cortex-A55) @ 1.7 GHz
GPUMali-G72 MP18Mali-G71 MP20Adreno 630
Modem1.2Gbps down, Cat18 6CA
200Mbps upload, Cat18 2CA
1.0Gbps down, Cat16 5CA
150Mbps upload, Cat13 2CA
1.2Gbps down, Cat18 5CA
150Mbps upload, Cat13 2CA
Cameras24MP single, 16+16MP dual28MP single, 16+16MP dual32MP single, 16+16 dual
Process10nm FinFet10nm FinFet10nm FinFet

Samsung was one of the first to adopt Arm’s big.LITTLE CPU core design ethos and this remains in place in 2018. Unfortunately, the use of a custom CPU core prevents Samsung from utilizing Arm’s DynamIQ core cluster technology, although the company is reported to have its own alternative technology in place for its upcoming flagship. On the GPU side, you’ll find a large group of Arm’s latest Mali GPU cores for fast gaming performance.

As you would expect from a flagship series, the 2017 and 2018 Exynos 9 range includes all the bells and whistles. These chips are built on Samsung Semiconductors’ manufacturing processes, the latest being its second generation 10nm node. Samsung also packs in its fastest 4G LTE modems, high resolution, and dual camera support, LPDDR4X RAM and UFS memory compatibility, and the usual assortment of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity options.

There’s no dedicated AI hardware in the 2017 and 2018 chips, though Samsung supports machine learning acceleration on its high-end chips. It uses a Vision Processing Unit (VPU) for object detection, as well as GPU math optimizations.

Mid-tier options

Samsung has made big strides in its mid-tier options lately, and the latest products have helped to bridge the gap with the company’s flagship tier. These products fall under the company’s Exynos 7 series branding, although the latest Exynos 9610 throws a spanner in the works.

The Exynos 9610 hasn’t appeared in any smartphones yet, but it’s essentially an iterative improvement over the Exynos 7885, which powered 2018’s Galaxy A smartphones. It’s a very similar chip, boasting a high performance big.LITTLE Cortex-A73 and A53 combination, which would have passed for a high-end design just over a year ago. The GPU department is definitely cut down compared to the Exynos 9 series, but still plenty powerful for some casual gaming.

 Exynos 9610Exynos 7885Exynos 7880Snapdragon 660
CPU4x Cortex-A73 @ 2.3GHz
4x Cortex-A53 @ 1.6GHz
4x Cortex-A73 @ 2.2GHz
4x Cortex-A53 @ 1.6GHz
8x Cortex-A53 @ 1.9GHz4x Kryo 260 @ 2.2GHz
4x Kryo 260 @ 1.8GHz
GPUMali-G72 MP3Mali-G71 MP2Mali-T830 MP3Adreno 512
Modem600Mbps down, Cat12 3CA
150Mbps upload, Cat13 2CA
600Mbps down, Cat12 3CA
150Mbps upload, Cat13 2CA
300Mbps down, Cat7 3CA
100Mbps upload, Cat7 2CA
600Mbps down, Cat12 3CA
150Mbps upload, Cat13 2CA
Cameras24MP single, 16+16MP dual21.7MP single, 16+16MP dual21.7MP single25MP single, 16+16 dual
Process10nm FinFet14nm FinFet14nm FinFet14nm FinFet

Older entries in the Exynos 7 series weren’t as powerful in the CPU department, utilizing an octa-core Cortex-A53 design rather than a more powerful dual cluster topology, like Exynos 7880 which powered 2017’s Galaxy A7 and A5.

If you’re after a comparison to Qualcomm, the Exynos 7 series goes up against the Snapdragon 710 and 600 series of chips. Although matching up the exact models depends on the performance point, as there’s quite a bit of variation in these mid-range products. Even so, Samsung leverages its foundries to offer small manufacturing nodes, as well as including competitive modem packages for fast LTE speeds and support for dual cameras.

Budget processors

The Exynos 5 series and older 7 series models make up Samsung’s budget tier SoCs. You’ll find both octa-core and even quad-core Cortex-A53 CPUs here, slower LPDDR3 memory, and display support for just 720p rather than 1080p panels and above. Handsets powered by this tier of Samsung’s chips include last year’s Galaxy A3, J3, and Xcover 4.

Samsung doesn’t cheap out on all of the extra features though. The modems in this category still support carrier aggregation for faster 4G downloads, and some chips even support dual and higher resolution camera sensors. Samsung Semiconductor’s industry-leading technologies are still utilized in manufacturing to keep the chips cool and power efficient, as these chips are still built on a rather fancy 14nm FinFET node.

 Exynos 7872Exynos 7870Exynos 7570Snapdragon 450
CPU2x Cortex-A73 @ 2.0GHz
4x Cortex-A53 @ 1.6GHz
8x Cortex-A53 @ 1.6GHz4x Cortex-A53 @ 1.4GHz8x Cortex-A53 @ 1.8GHz
GPUMali-G71 MP1Mali-T830 MP1Mali-T720 MP1Adreno 506
Modem300Mbps down, Cat7 2CA
150Mbps upload, Cat13 2CA
300Mbps down, Cat6 2CA
50Mbps up
150Mbps down, Cat4 2CA
50Mbps up
300Mbps down, Cat7 2CA
150Mbps upload, Cat13 2CA
Cameras21.7MP single16MP single, 8+8MP dual13MP single21MP single, 13+13 dual
Process14nm FinFet14nm FinFet14nm FinFet14nm FinFet

They’re not all boring chips, either. The latest Exynos 7822 introduces a two-by-four big.LITTLE CPU core combination. The addition of two Cortex-A73 cores will offer some notable performance improvements for lower cost handsets, which have traditionally been based solely on power-efficient Cortex-A53 cores. The SoC also benefits from a new Mali-G72 GPU, but the single-core implementation keeps this firmly in the low-end market. Overall, this model breaches into what the mid-tier is typically capable of and should make for some snappy low-cost handsets.

In addition to the above, there are rumors Samsung is working on a custom GPU design. With a custom CPU already under its belt, this is certainly within the company’s wheelhouse and it could want its own graphics chip for a number of reasons. However, if such a design exists, it will likely be a low-end product first, and it may not even be ready for a number of years.

Samsung has already announced its Exynos 9820 processor for 2019’s flagships, but will it be a huge leap in performance? We have already compared the speed of the chip to the Snapdragon 855 and you can check out the results in our recent video speedtest.


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