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Samsung previews quad-core Exynos processor

Apart from Nvidia, chip giants remain cautious about multicore handsets, regarding battery life and integrated LTE as priorities


Published: 22 February, 2012

READ MORE: Processor | LTE

Superphone spotters will be looking out for quad-core handsets at Mobile World Congress next week, though any devices on show are likely to be concept offerings, with four-core processors mainly targeted at larger gadgets like tablets. Qualcomm may not even show quad-core phones based on its upcoming Snapdragon updates, though Nvidia will almost certainly have smartphones on display harnessing its Tegra3. Most processor makers are being more cautious about quad-core and choosing to major on power consumption improvements and integrated LTE, both likely to impact the consumer handset experience more immediately than multicore. But Samsung is set to unveil its long expected quad-core Exynos model in Barcelona, and provided a preview of the offering at this week's silicon gala, the ISSCC (International Solid State Circuits Conference) in San Francisco.

The chip is important to various aspects of Samsung's business. It will appear in the handset unit's next wave of superphones late this year, but will also be pitched to third party device makers. And it showcases the foundry arm's latest 32nm process, offering power and performance advantages over 45nm, for Samsung's customers as well as its own products. The Korean firm has invested significantly in this process, hoping to woo customers from larger foundry TSMC of Taiwan, which is reportedly taking some of Apple's business away from Samsung.

The latest Exynos offering runs on two or four ARM Cortex A9 cores running at rates from 200MHz to 1.5GHz along with a 64-bit ARM Neon media processing block. Unlike the most dangerous competitor, Qualcomm's Snapdragon family, there are no options with integrated basebands. Samsung has been stepping up its investment in LTE basebands and becoming less reliant on Qualcomm and others in this area, but remains behind the curve in fully integrating the elements of the handset system-on-chip. Broadcom and Qualcomm are famous for their integration skills and Nvidia acquired Icera last year to pursue an all-in-one platform of its own. Also included in the new Exynos is the latest version of Samsung's own graphic unit, which supports the OpenGL ES 2.0 API.

Samsung claims its process, and the resulting chip, address the key challenge of the mobile device world - boosting performance while keeping power consumption low. The new chip harnesses the 32nm process and several power and thermal management techniques to claim up to 26% more overall performance than the current 45nm Exynos, and 34% to 50% better battery life, depending on the application. The latter is achieved by introducing a complex system for turning off idle components. The chip has four independent power domains and several power sub-domains.

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