Samsung to Build Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 SoC

Samsung will use its second-generation FinFET process to make Qualcomm's mobile chip, though it's unclear if Samsung will use it in its own devices.

Qualcomm chip

Samsung got Qualcomm's 2015 off on a bad note last year when the company rejected Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 processor for its new Galaxy S6 smartphone, reportedly over heat issues. Now Samsung's chip manufacturing business will be building Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 820 chip.

Samsung Electronics officials on Jan. 14 announced the second generation of its 14-nanometer FinFET manufacturing process technology, which the company will use for its Exynos 8 Octa processor and other foundry customers. Among those other customers is Qualcomm and its Snapdragon 820 ARM-based system-on-a-chip (SoC), which company officials unveiled in November 2015. The processor is expected to begin appearing in premium smartphones starting in the first half of this year.

Qualcomm, the world's largest mobile chip maker, in the past has had most of its products produced by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. (TSMC).

For Samsung, having Qualcomm's chip business come on board is a boon for its manufacturing business and will help protect the company against any softening of the smartphone and tablet markets.

"We are pleased to start production of our industry-leading, second-generation 14nm FinFET process technology that delivers the highest level of performance and power efficiency," Charlie Bae, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Samsung's System LSI business.

The FInFET process includes a 3D transistor architecture that offers significant performance and energy-efficiency gains in processors. It's similar to Intel's 3D Tri-Gate architecture. Samsung officials said the new 14nm LPP (Low-Power Plus) process will provide up to 15 percent higher speeds and 15 percent less power consumption than the company's first-generation 14nm FinFET process, which was announced a year ago. It also will help Samsung overcome scaling issues, they said.

Qualcomm officials are expecting their Snapdragon 820 to push aside any issues the 810 had. For the 810, Qualcomm had used ARM's standard SoC architecture to accelerate the delivery of its first 64-bit mobile chip. However, Samsung reportedly had concerns over the heat generated by the chip and opted instead to go with its own Exynos chips. Qualcomm still got the Snapdragon 810 into a wide array of devices, but the loss of Samsung's business hurt it.

With the Snapdragon 820, Qualcomm is including the 64-bit Kyro custom CPU core and a range of other components, including the Adreno 530 GPU and Hexagon 680 DSP to facilitate heterogeneous computing, as well as support for X12 LTE—which is faster than the current X10—and for both 802.11ad and 802.11ac 2x2 MU-MIMO (multi-user multiple input, multiple output).

While Samsung officials announced they would manufacture the Snapdragon 820, they didn't comment on prior reports that the company will use the chip in some of its upcoming Galaxy S7 smartphone.

That would be good news for Qualcomm, which went through a rocky 2015 that included not only Samsung's rejection of the 810, but also declining revenues and a painful streamlining of the company that included cutting the workforce by 15 percent. Qualcomm is looking to navigate its way through a market that includes Apple and Samsung dominating the premium smartphone space. It also is pushing to extend the reach of its technologies into new growth markets, including drones, autonomous cars and Internet of things (IoT) devices.