Samsung Bolsters AI, Energy Efficiency in Its Exynos Mobile Processors

The company's latest Exynos 9 Series CPUs get eight cores, improved facial recognition capabilities and increased performance.

Samsung

Samsung has unveiled its latest Exynos mobile processor series, which promises longer battery life, expanded facial recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) features, and other performance improvements in some models of the company's smartphones and other devices.

The new Exynos 9 Series 9810 processor, which includes an eight-core architecture, is built on Samsung's second-generation 10-nanometer FinFET process. It also includes a faster gigabit LTE modem and sophisticated image processing with deep learning-based software. Four of the cores on the new chips are third-generation custom cores that can each reach 2.9GHz, while the remaining four cores are optimized for power efficiency.

With an architecture that widens the pipeline and improves cache memory, single-core performance is enhanced twofold and multicore performance is increased by around 40 percent compared with its predecessor, according to Samsung.

The 1.2G-bps LTE modem used with the processor supports up to six times carrier aggregation (CA) for 1.2G-bps downlink and 200M-bps uplink, delivering more stable data transfers compared with previous modems. 

Also featured in the latest Exynos chips are dedicated image processing and upgraded multi-format codec (MFC) capabilities, which provide faster and more energy-efficient image and visual processing.

"The Exynos 9 Series 9810 is our most innovative mobile processor yet, with our third-generation custom CPU, ultra-fast gigabit LTE modem and deep learning-enhanced image processing," Ben Hur, vice president of System LSI marketing at Samsung Electronics, said in a statement. "The Exynos 9810 will be a key catalyst for innovation in smart platforms such as smartphones, personal computing and automotive for the coming AI era."

A key benefit of the updated processors is their enhanced neural network-based deep learning and stronger security, which will allow them to accurately recognize people or items in photos for fast image searching or categorization, as well as faster and more accurate facial scans in 3D for hybrid face detection. The improved system uses hardware and software and provides stronger security when unlocking a device with one's face, according to Samsung.

For added security, the processor has a separate security processing unit to safeguard vital personal data such as facial, iris and fingerprint information.

Several IT analysts, asked by eWEEK about their views on the updated Exynos processors, had mixed views of the development.

Gartner analyst Werner Goertz said the announcement didn't provide enough details on how the updated chips will add expanded AI and facial recognition capabilities to future Samsung devices, calling it a "me too" announcement to keep up with competing chips from Qualcomm and Apple.

More importantly, he said, Samsung does not give any direction on whether these improved chips will ever be available in the company's devices within the United States, where Samsung devices have long used Qualcomm chips. Samsung did not detail in its Jan. 4 press release which regions will get the new Exynos chips in future Samsung devices.

That means the company will offer different features in different markets, which could cause conflicts and divisions with consumers, he said.

Samsung's AI product, Bixby, is not the killer app the company needs to take a bigger stake in the AI market, said Goetz. "It is something, but it is not as comprehensive as Amazon or Google in the AI market. They need a killer app within AI to beat the others."

Samsung's Exynos processor series was created for cost reasons in price-sensitive areas of the globe, said Goetz. "That is the primary driver for the Exynos line."

Another analyst, Avi Greengart of GlobalData, said he views the power efficiency gains in the latest Exynos processors as more notable than any purported AI improvements.

"Everyone is going to focus on AI," said Greengart. "But AI and facial recognition are almost table stakes in flagship phones today."

In comparison, "a phone with 40 percent more power efficiency, if that leads to measurable improvements in battery life, that is something consumers will feel every single day," he said.

Greengart agreed that by offering different chips in different devices around the world, Samsung could begin to cause more testy marketing issues for the company in the future.

"Depending on how the features will be implemented going forward, there is certainly a possibility that there will be a schism going forward," he said.

Another analyst, Rob Enderle of Enderle Group, told eWEEK that Samsung's processor announcement comes at a time when a key rival, Apple, is a bit on the ropes. Investing in advanced features is a good strategy for Samsung today, he added.

"Apple is vulnerable, their Halo product—the iPhone X—hasn't been selling that well, getting caught throttling older phones damaged trust, and their inability to bring out the HomePod make them look incredibly vulnerable," he said. "Samsung is moving aggressively both in marketing and product to assure Apple's growth remains stalled, and they are increasingly moving to try to get Apple users to defect, though that has proven more difficult than I think they anticipated."