Samsung's Exynos 8 Octa Mobile Chip Will Feature a Custom ARM Core

Samsung is following the likes of Qualcomm and Apple in designing its own ARM-based cores to drive better performance and power efficiency.

Samsung SoC

Samsung Electronics later this year will begin mass producing its latest Exynos smartphone processor that will be the first in the vendor's lineup to feature a custom core of its own design, a move that is in line with other ARM-based chip makers like Qualcomm and Apple.

Samsung officials this week announced the 64-bit Exynos 8 Octa 8890, an eight-core processor that will continue to use ARM's big.Little architecture to drive performance and power efficiency. However, while the four "little" cores will still be ARM's Cortex-A53 CPUs, the four "big" cores will feature Samsung's first custom-designed CPU that reportedly has been in the works for two years at the company's R&D center in Austin, Texas.

The Exynos 8 Octa chip—which also will be the first for Samsung to include an integrated LTE modem—is the latest in a string of recent announcements by ARM-based mobile system-on-a-chip (SoC) vendors that are preparing to launch new processors for smartphones. Huawei Technologies, which has become a significant player in the global market, last week unveiled details around its upcoming Kirin 950 SoC, which will probably be used in the company's Mate 8 smartphone, which is due out later this year.

In addition, the Samsung announcement came out just after Qualcomm executives unveiled the Snapdragon 820, a much needed replacement for the current Snapdragon 810 that—while finding its way into dozens of smartphone designs—negatively impacted Qualcomm after Samsung rejected it for its Galaxy S6 devices, reportedly over heating issues. Reports surfaced last month that Samsung may use the Snapdragon 820 SoC in upcoming Galaxy S7 smartphones sold in the United States and China—while using its own Exynos chips for Galaxy S7s sold in other parts of the world—though the introduction of the Exynos 8 makes the future less clear.

The Galaxy S7 is due out early next year.

"The Exynos 8 Octa is a leading-edge application processor for next-generation mobile devices that incorporates Samsung's mobile technology leadership in CPU, ISP [image signaling processor] and modem as well as process technology," Kyushik Hong, vice president of System LSI marketing for Samsung, said in a statement. With our custom-designed CPU cores and the industry's most advanced LTE modem, consumers using mobile devices with the Exynos 8 Octa will experience a new level of mobile computing."

Some ARM chip makers are turning to making their own custom cores as a way of improving the chips' performance and differentiating their products. Others like MediaTek take another tack. MediaTek earlier this year introduced its 10-core Helio X20 chip, which uses a combination of ARM Cortex-A72 and Cortex-A53 cores.

Qualcomm in the past has designed its own cores for its processors, but to accelerate its entrance into the 64-bit space, officials turned to an off-the-shelf ARM CPU design for the Snapdragon 810. Soon after it became known that Samsung would not use it in its latest smartphones, Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf said the company was returning to a custom core design for the 820.

The Kyro CPU delivers speeds up to 2.2GHz and a FinFET transistor architecture for higher performance. It's integrated with the Adreno 530 GPU and Hexagon 680 digital signal processor (DSP) to facilitate the heterogeneous computing.

Samsung officials are saying that with its 14-nanometer FinFET design and custom CPU, the Exynos 8 Octa 8890 is showing a 30 percent performance boost and 10 percent more power efficiency than the Exynos 7 Octa. It is using a 14-nanometer FinFET design process, which also helps drive down power consumption, as well as the big.Little architecture, which uses a combination of high- and low-power cores on a single chip to improve performance and power efficiency by enabling workloads to run on the most efficient cores based on their needs.

Those big cores will now be the Exynos 8 Octa.

The SoC also will integrate an LTE Rel.12 Cat.12/13 modem that enables maximum download speeds of up to 600M bps and upload speeds of up to 150M bps, mirroring what Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 will deliver.

For graphics needs like 3D gaming and a graphic-intensive user interface, the new chip will use ARM's latest Mali-T880 GPU.