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What's the holdup with Samsung Galaxy S4's Exynos 5 Octa version?

What's the holdup with Samsung Galaxy S4's Exynos 5 Octa version?
There's no doubt Samsung came up with a pretty fine chip developing the so-called octo-core Exynos 5 Octa mobile processor. It was announced at the CES expo back in January, at a presentation, which, while not an off-Broadway show like the S4 unveiling, was pretty high up their in visuals and celebs, and where even former President Bill Clinton took the stage to endorse Samsung's efforts in making the world a better place, one gadget at a time.

Exynos 5 Octa also turned out to be a rather powerful piece of silicon, besting every mobile processor currently on the market in synthetic benchmark tests, even the new Snapdragon generation by Qualcomm, which is powering phones like the HTC One or LG Optimus G Pro. Then why is Samsung not using it in its flagship Galaxy S4 more, despite that there is clearly a version of it with Exynos 5 Octa making the rounds in benchmarks and that will be sold in certain markets?

What's the holdup with Samsung Galaxy S4's Exynos 5 Octa version?

At first we thought it might be because of LTE compatibility. Qualcomm's processor are a veritable system-on-a-chip (SoC) endeavor, as they have the broadband radios built into the chipset, instead of tacked on later, like with the Exynos series. It is not easy to develop a compact and frugal LTE chip with all the filters to avoid band interference, and make it play well with the other elements of a mobile processor without affecting battery life more than needed. Qualcomm has mastered this process, making it a breeze for manufacturers to just leave the Texans take care of everything related to processing and connectivity, and focus on design and added features.

Samsung's mobile chip department, however, stated on Twitter last week that "the Exynos 5 Octa supports LTE and all 20 bands," nixing the 4G connectivity doubts in the bud. What we are left with after this statement is the previous speculation that Samsung just can't make enough Exynos 5 Octa processors to power all the tens of millions of Galaxy S4 sales that are expected to be realized, simple as that.

What's the holdup with Samsung Galaxy S4's Exynos 5 Octa version?

What's the holdup? Well, it turns out that Samsung went with the simpler and cheaper way to design 28nm chips like the Exynos 5 Octa, called gate-first, while the competing foundry TSMC designed its production capacity with the harder to implement gate-last process, developed by Intel. The problem stems from the fact that gate-first might be easier to transition to, but gives yield problems later on, especially with complex SoCs, and that's exactly what seems to be happening with Exynos 5 Octa. 

What's the holdup with Samsung Galaxy S4's Exynos 5 Octa version?

Here's the more scientific citation, eventually explained by one of Samsung's chip customers in the Silicon Valley:

Gate-first HKMG is easier to implement as a transition from a traditional poly/SION structure. The construction of the gate and transistor remain the same, though the materials are different (i.e., a high-k gate oxide instead of oxynitride); a metal gate is inserted, and then poly on top of that—and the rest of the flow is "basically the same as previous generation structures." 

Gate-first also is "much simpler" to implement from a process migration standpoint in terms of IP implementation, and fewer restrictive design rules (gate-last requires CMP around the gate structure). "We can maintain 50% shrink from 45nm to 32nm because there's not as many restrictive design rules," Ana Hunter (VP foundry at Samsung Semiconductors) said. This makes the process particularly good for mobile applications, as it's cost-effective and "very good on gate leakage—a >100× improvement from 45nm to 32nm."

Long story short, it might be a while before Samsung ramps up enough 28nm yield for Exynos 5 Octa to be implemented on a broader scale throughout its portfolio of mobile gadgets. Granted, only performance geeks would care about the benchmark difference between the Snapdragon 600 and Exynos 5 Octa chips, as today's mobile processors are already more powerful than Android needs, but this little episode might be a hint that the touted 14nm and even 20nm chips that Samsung says it has tapped out already, might remain in the labs longer than we thought, of which the main beneficiary will likely be TSMC, exactly where Apple is heading to build its proprietary A6 and A7 chipsets.

source: DanielNenny (SemiWiki), CPUBoss & Maltiel-consulting

17 Comments
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posted on 01 Apr 2013, 05:18 4

1. _Bone_ (Posts: 2103; Member since: 29 Oct 2012)


Samsung did very well to get top notch performance out of the SD600 variant yet improve battery life at the same time, so I'm not too worried about the version differences. With the SD800 and Tegra 4 only coming out in the 2nd half of the year, whatever Galaxy SIV you get will lead the performance race, but more importantly, lead the endurance test in 5"-ers.

posted on 01 Apr 2013, 05:32

4. Berzerk000 (Posts: 3865; Member since: 26 Jun 2011)


I'm just wondering how the endurance tests will differ between the Exynos and Snapdragon variants. I want to see what big.Little is really all about. I know Samsung said that the Octa uses 70% less power than the Exynos 5 Dual, but I want to see real life performance.

GSM Arena claimed the Snapdragon GS4 could pull 3 days of use if you managed it right, I wonder if the Exynos variant would do better.

posted on 01 Apr 2013, 05:40 3

6. _Bone_ (Posts: 2103; Member since: 29 Oct 2012)


Well a Russian test said video playback does 12.5 hours on the Octa (GSMA measured 10 on the SD600) but results differ on brightness level and the actual video that is being looped so it should not be taken like a fact.

The Exynos 5 SHOULD be a bit easier on the battery, but most of the drainage still comes from screen and radios, so the SoC cannot do miracles; if you are a very heavy user, you'll charge whatever version at the end of the day (unlike the One, Z, S3, 920 or iP5 on the afternoon).

posted on 01 Apr 2013, 06:15 2

7. CanYouSeeTheLight (Posts: 715; Member since: 05 Jul 2012)


I don't know if you remember but both the One and the iP5 last longer than the SIV on web browsing, the iP5 loses a lot on talk time but other than that both phones last the same during heavy usage as the SIV losing only in stand by time, which won't be relevant on a single day of use.

posted on 01 Apr 2013, 10:08

15. _Bone_ (Posts: 2103; Member since: 29 Oct 2012)


Standby time is absolutely crucial cause between your browsing and multimedia and talk, one drains the battery heavily while the other not very noticeably, hence the huge gap in endurance score. You will never do just web browsing from 100% charge until 0% non-stop, so the iP5 and One going a few minutes longer matters not in real life use where all-around usage falls back considerably. That's why we have these tests to give us a good look what is real and what's hype.

posted on 01 Apr 2013, 12:54

16. CanYouSeeTheLight (Posts: 715; Member since: 05 Jul 2012)


The One and the iP5 don't go a few minutes longer, they go over an HOUR longer, don't come and tell me the One and iP5 will drain their batteries while sitting 1 hour on deep sleep because that is simply not true, the One got an 48 hour endurance with 3 hours of use each day, most of the stand by drain is at night, which defeats your logic by itself of them not lasting a day.

posted on 02 Apr 2013, 19:09

17. ph00ny (Posts: 582; Member since: 26 May 2011)


web site usage usually taxes GSIV more due to the white color usage which is AMOLED screen's weakest point since it's using the most power. Now if the websites featured, dark themed pages, it would have done much much better

posted on 01 Apr 2013, 05:21 1

2. Phullofphil (Posts: 800; Member since: 10 Feb 2009)


I can see Intel sneaking in there and taking some market share if they build up there smaller nanometer chips and finaly puting out there quad core chips. Intel has the potential to dominate this area. I hope an american company finaly starts ttaking advantage of the smartphone revolution well besides apple but I mean hardware manufacturer not what ever apple does

posted on 01 Apr 2013, 05:35

5. TechBizJP08 (Posts: 494; Member since: 25 Mar 2013)


In due time Intel will be there,as of now they are testing the chips slowly. Now bringing in the dual core with hyper threading. Next will be the quad core for sure. ;)

posted on 01 Apr 2013, 05:21

3. Droid_X_Doug (Posts: 5523; Member since: 22 Dec 2010)


Can't make a 100 million sales objective with supply constraints on a critical component. Better to stockpile the Exynos 5 chips for the Note III.

posted on 01 Apr 2013, 06:53 1

8. darac (Posts: 2156; Member since: 17 Oct 2011)


Well, at least they will surely have more than enough of these chips for the Note 3.
And with a 3500mah of stock battery I'm pretty sure it will be clocked at 1.8-2.0ghz.
At 2Ghz, it will probably be about as powerful as SD800 although early suspicions about the Adreno 330 indicate a superior GPU

posted on 01 Apr 2013, 07:31

9. darkkjedii (Posts: 10071; Member since: 05 Feb 2011)


I'm getting one of these beauties, Qualcomm or Octa, doesn't matter. The white one comes home the minute AT&T rings it up. Already got a buyer for my note 2.

posted on 01 Apr 2013, 07:56

10. PapaSmurf (Posts: 7291; Member since: 14 May 2012)


I'm opting for the Octa version to run on T-Mo LTE. I may not get it the day it comes out like I did with my S3, but I'll definitely be happy once I do get it.

How's AT&T where you're at?

posted on 01 Apr 2013, 09:03

12. darkkjedii (Posts: 10071; Member since: 05 Feb 2011)


Honestly smurf AT&T has come from horrible to very good out here in vegas. Very few dropped calls now, and great LTE coverage pretty much all over. How bout T-Mobile in your neck of the woods?

posted on 01 Apr 2013, 08:04

11. haseebzahid (Posts: 1800; Member since: 22 Feb 2012)


what now PA want to teach electronics to us well its complex febrication process they should not explain here

posted on 01 Apr 2013, 10:07 3

14. SleepingOz (unregistered)


This is a well written article and I encourage all the writers of PA to do the same. I bet this article wouldn't annoy you if it was about nokia, right?!
Anyway, if you're not happy with the articles here, then GTFO you nokia troll!

posted on 01 Apr 2013, 09:08 5

13. kingdtg (Posts: 9; Member since: 17 Feb 2013)


HTC One KILLER

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