Complex Processor Issues
Last year, prior to rolling out the Galaxy S6, Qualcomm was caught up in controversy over an overheating problem with the Snapdragon 810, which prevented the chip from being used in the new design. As an alternative, Samsung then used the company’s proprietary Exynos 7420 in the handset. The Snapdragon 810 chip was the first chipset developed by Qualcomm, with 64-bit computing on 8 CPU cores and graphics cores. However, the chip saw poor sales, as it used too much power and gave off too much heat, key points of mobile application processors. At that time, Qualcomm produced the product through Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing’s 20-nm process. Industry watchers said that there were problems with both Qualcomm’s design but also the production process.
Recently, Qualcomm unveiled the latest features of the Snapdragon 820, which includes download and upload speeds that measure up to 600 Mbps and 150 Mbps, respectively, 8 times faster than those of LTE. The Snapdragon 820 is also equipped with technology features like next-generation HD voice, LTE Wi-Fi video calls, and Quick Charge 3.0, a fast-charging technology. Using the Adreno 530 GPU, the Snapdragon 820 is 40 percent faster than the Snapdragon 810, which uses an Adreno 430 GPU. Produced at the Samsung Electronics’ Nano factory, the Snapdragon 820 will also sport a 64-bit CPU core and Kryo. The cooperation is attracting much attention in terms of whether Samsung will be successful in securing the stability of Qualcomm’s latest chip.
According to industry sources and media releases on Nov. 4, Samsung Electronics will roll out its new Galaxy S7, which is powered by the Snapdragon 820 and features the aforementioned new technologies, in February of next year. In order to do so, the company has recently completed the development of an “All-in-One” chip that integrates Samsung’s proprietary modem chip into the respective application processor of Exynos and the Snapdragon 820, and is set to begin mass production.
Samsung has so far relied entirely on foreign companies such as Qualcomm for chips integrating modem chips and APs. However, Samsung has recently developed an eight interlocking system-based integrated chip. Named the “Exynos 8890,” the integrated chip includes the world’s first modem using tri-band carrier aggregation (CA) and 256 quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) technologies, and supports a 600 Mbps downlink speed and Cat.11 LTE bandwidth. The previous Galaxy series, powered by 64 QAM and the Exynos 333, has a maximum download speed of 450 Mbps. Compared to modem 333, which is manufactured through a 28 nm finFET process, the Exynos 8890, manufactured through a 14 nm finFET process, also proved better at energy savings.
Accordingly, Samsung has reportedly conducted an in-house test of the Exynos 8890 and the integrated chip with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 to compare their individual competitiveness. In the meantime, in order to use the Snapdragon 820 on the Galaxy S7, Samsung has reportedly worked hard to solve the stability issue of the Qualcomm chip. As a solution, Samsung has been said to try to even modify microprocessor software.
Once the Snapdragon 820 issue is settled, Samsung will market the Galaxy S7 powered by the Snapdragon 820 and the same model powered by the Exynos 8890 to different regions. Namely, the Snapdragon 820-powered Galaxy S7 will be available in the U.S. and China, and the Galaxy S7 featuring the Exynos chip in Korea, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Industry sources suspect that the reason Samsung will concede the largest markets like the U.S. and China to Qualcomm has to do with its foundry contract. Samsung is probably affected by Qualcomm’s decision to use Samsung’s foundry to produce the latest AP.
The collaboration between Samsung and Qualcomm is derived from both companies’ urgent needs. On Samsung’s part, the production of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 will contribute to the company’s turnover in semiconductor business. Moreover, Samsung knows that stable performance of the Snapdragon 820 will increase the company’s sales of the flagship smartphone. For Qualcomm, the company’s fate is dependent on the Snapdragon 820. The slump in earnings from the Snapdragon 810 puts Qualcomm in a terrible predicament, which led the company to lay off 15 percent of its employees. In particular, the company is under pressure from shareholders who contend that the company should separate the chip and patent licensing businesses.
Meanwhile, Microsoft (MS) is currently conducting performance tests to use the Snapdragon 820 for at least 2 types of Lumina phones.