Samsung Unveils 8-Core Exynos5 Octa Mobile Chip at CES

Samsung's powerful chip will compete with upcoming offerings from the likes of Qualcomm, Nvidia and Intel in smartphones and tablets.

Samsung Electronics joined other chip makers, including Intel and Qualcomm, at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in unveiling upcoming products for mobile devices. In Samsung's case, it was the Exynos5 Octa, an eight-core processor designed to give devices the right balance between performance and energy efficiency.

The chip, introduced Jan. 9 during the final keynote presentation of CES, leverages ARM Holdings' big.Little architecture that was first talked about in 2011. In the case of Samsung's chip, the Exynos5 Octa will have four cores based on ARM's Cortex-A15 CPU, which can handle the more compute-intensive workloads. At the same time, the chip also will house four cores based on the lower-power Cortex-A7 ARM architecture, which will handle lighter workloads and boost the chips' energy efficiency.

The Exynos5 Octa will be the first chip to include the big.Little design, according to Stephen Woo, president of Samsung's Device Solutions Division. Speaking during the final keynote at the CES event in Las Vegas, Woo said the Exynos5 Octa will give end users the right processing capabilities they need for whatever workload they're running.

The new chip will offer better performance and as much as 70 percent better energy efficiency than the current quad-core version of the Exynos chip. In the booming tablet and smartphone chip market, energy efficiency is a key metric.

"The new Exynos 5 Octa introduces a whole new concept in processing architecture … designed for high-end smartphones and tablets," said Woo, who reportedly was joined onstage at CES by ARM CEO Warren East. "When you want multiple applications to perform at their best, you want the best application processor currently available."

During his keynote, Woo reportedly did not say when the chip would start appearing in devices, though he did show off a demo device—a Samsung tablet—which he used to illustrate how the chip would work when making a restaurant reservation and when playing a three-dimensional video game.

The Exynos 5 Octa comes as Samsung, which currently makes chips for Apple's popular iPhones and iPads, looks to expand its reach in the highly competitive mobile chip market. The company is growing its Exynos product line; the dual core version of the chip can be found inside Google's Nexus 10 tablet and Chromebook systems.

However, Apple—which has been battling Samsung in courtrooms throughout the world over patent issues concerning mobile devices—reportedly is considering other chip suppliers for its iPhones and iPads, and rival chip makers continue to expand their offerings.

That could be seen during CES, where Intel and Advanced Micro Devices unveiled upcoming versions of their x86-based processors aimed at smartphones and tablets. Both chip makers have been hurt by the declining sales of PCs worldwide, and are looking at growth areas to find new businesses and reduce their reliance on PC sales. Intel introduced new Core processors that consume as little as 7 watts of power, as well as upcoming Atom systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) and Core chips that will help drive up energy efficiency in everything, from smartphones, to tablets, to Ultrabooks (very thin and light notebooks).

AMD officials showed off upcoming quad-core accelerated processing units (APUs) dubbed "Temash" and "Kabini" that will be aimed at tablets and ultrathin notebooks.

Also during the show, Qualcomm and Nvidia—both rivals of Samsung who also leverage ARM chip designs—introduced low-power mobile chips that will begin appearing in devices later this year. Qualcomm officials said the company has begun sampling the Snapdragon 600 and 800 ARM-based processors. The Snapdragon 800 chips in particular will compete with Samsung's Exynos5 Octa in high-end mobile computing devices.

Meanwhile, Nvidia officials talked about the Tegra 4, a quad-core ARM-based chip that will come with 72 Nvidia GeForce GPUs and will be based on ARM's Cortex-A15 design.