Sunday, March 1, 2015

Samsung announces Galaxy S6 with Exynos 7420 SoC manufactured on "14nm" FinFET process

At the Mobile World Congress today (Sunday 1 March), Samsung announced the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, featuring a numerous improvements over the previous generation Galaxy S5, including a SoC manufactured on Samsung's 14 nm FinFET-based process. The Galaxy S6 is planned to available in 20 countries starting on April 10th, 2015.

New model implement several improvements

The improvements in the new model include the following:
  • Exynos 7420 SoC manufactured on 14 nm FinFET process with 20 nm interconnects. The CPU is a big.LITTLE configuration with four Cortex-A57 and four Cortex-A53 cores, similar to Exynos 5433. The maximum clock speeds are 2.1 GHz and 1.5 GHz, respectively. Samsung claims 20% better performance and 35% better efficiency for the new chip when compared to Exynos 5433, which is manufactured using Samsung's 20 nm HKMG process.
  • The GPU has been rumoured to be a faster version of the Exynos 5433's Mali-T760 MP6 (either a higher clock rate or an MP8 configuration).
  • Early benchmarks indicate a significant increase in CPU and memory performance combined with a measurable increase in GPU performance (which is required because of the higher screen resolution).
  • Runs in 64-bit AArch64 mode, which has several advantages, as well as some disadvantages.
  • Uses new LPDDR4 SDRAM (3 GB), which has higher memory bandwidth at a given memory bus width due to higher effective clock speeds.
  • The cameras have been improved, including greater light gathering capability.
  • The 5.1" AMOLED screen's resolution is QHD (2560x1440), which is 77% more pixels than the FullHD (1920x1080) screen in Galaxy S5. The higher CPU, GPU and memory performance are essential to keep pace with increased demands caused by the higher resolution.
  • Utilizes the new UFS 2.0 interface for embedded flash memory, providing SSD-like performance according to Samsung.
  • Cat 6 LTE mode.
  • Touchwiz user-interface on top of 64-bit Android 5.0 is said to be more intuitive and less demanding in terms of processing requirements.
At the same time,  Samsung has dropped the MicroSD slot and the battery is non-removable. The battery capacity is also slightly smaller that of the Galaxy S5.

The Galaxy S6 Edge, like the Galaxy Note 4 Edge, features a screen that curves around the edges. It is priced significantly higher than the Galaxy S6, which will not be cheap either.

Quick ramp of 14nm FinFET process brings challenges to Samsung

The initial 14 nm FinFET process used by Samsung has been reported to use 20 nm interconnects with a 14 nm features size. As such it is more of an evolutionary step from 20 nm than full-blooded 14 nm FinFET would be, comparable to some degree with TSMC's 16FF process.

Still, Samsung will face a huge challenge ramping up the process in sufficient volume and acceptable yield rates to equip the high volume of Galaxy S6's expected. Rumours have mentioned low yield for the process in the recent past as Samsung started ramping up (test) production. Given the massive investment in the new process and non-optimal yield rates, it is unlikely that Samsung will significantly benefit financially from production of the chip in the near-term in terms of gross margin and other chip production-related metrics.

However, the performance lead of the Galaxy S6 made possible by the new chip could have significant positive implications for the sales and financial performance of Samsung's smartphone division, allowing Samsung to recoup some of its investment.

A few months ago, Samsung already signed an agreement with Apple whereby Samsung would supply part of the production capacity for future Apple processors. If this bears fruit it would allow Samsung to recoup more of its investment in 14 nm FinFET technology in the future.

Early benchmark performance impressive

In early benchmarks scores reported in Geekbench's result database, a device that probably is the Galaxy S6 shows impressive performance, well ahead of most existing SoCs and devices. In a direct comparison with an Exynos 5433-equipped Galaxy Note 4, the performance gain is fairly significant for most benchmarks (up to 30% for integer tests, higher for floating point), with a few negative outliers such as SHA2 and the Dijkstra integer subtest. The Dijkstra subtest also scores lower on other 64-bit AArch64 platforms, suggesting it suffers from particular AArch64 features such as the doubled size for pointer storage.

Memory performance is also significantly higher, aided by high clock rate and high amount of bandwidth delivered by the LPDDR4 memory interface, which unlike Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 does not seem to have serious flaws.

Sources: AnandTech (Samsung annnounces the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge), AnandTech (Samsung Unpacked, MWC 2015 Live Blog), Geekbench Browser (Samsung SM-G925F)

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