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Exynos 4412 - what's in store with the quad-core processor in the Samsung Galaxy S3

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Exynos 4412 - what's in store with the quad-core processor in the Samsung Galaxy S3
This week marks the most anticipated event this smartphone season - the announcement of the Samsung Galaxy S3 on Thursday - the Android phone a lot of buyers are waiting to see before they pull the trigger on any other Android phone.

Let's play a bit of a spec preview game what will the phone offer, starting off with the new quad-core processor in it, which all hints point to be the first mobile chip with four cores made with the 32nm process - the Samsung Exynos 4412. Some US versions of the Galaxy S3 will likely come with the dual-core Snapdragon S4, which is still made with the similar 28nm process, and shows pretty stellar benchmarks in itself. With the die shrinkage you can fit more transistors on the same space, increasing performance, or opt for similar performance and smaller footprint - the end result is usually a combination of both, optimized for the smartphone realities. 

Yet the word "quad" sells, no doubt about it - even normal users who don't care what silicon is inside, register subconsciously that "quad" is more than "dual". We'd wager to say that this might be one reason Samsung stuck with Exynos 4412, instead of the Exynos 5250 dual-core, which is an entirely different generation of processor, as it is based on ARM's Cortex-A15 platform. The other reason is that the 5-series 5250 chip is built from the ground-up for tablets, as Samsung explicitly states, meaning the packaging and graphics oomph of the ARM Mali T-604 GPU inside would be an overkill for the relatively small screen of a phone. 

Exynos 5250 is made to power those 2560x1600 pixels of an eventual high-res Android tablet from Samsung, as the Koreans demonstrated to us at the CES show in January this year, or a Windows 8 slate, and that's that for now. We will eventually see a Cortex-A15 Exynos in a phone, but wouldn't be holding our breath for it this year, so let's focus on the quad-core 4412 now, shall we?

Another first for Samsung, except the production method for the quad-core 4412 beast, is that it has resisted the temptation to just slap a low-frequency core for the mundane tasks like standby and UI browsing, but used intelligent power management solutions instead. The advantage of having four cores is in multitasking and applications like web browsing, video editing and 3D games, where a lot of processes can now be run at parallel, instead of waiting for the core(s) to free up. Samsung has graced the Exynos 4412 with hot-plug functionality to turn on or off each core, as needed, and adopted a "per-core dynamic voltage and frequency scaling (DVFS)" technology. All this simply means that each core can work at any frequency in its range at any time, depending on the workload, which greatly reduces power consumption.

45nm Exynos compared to the new 32nm method
Samsung showed us the power consumption measurements of the Exynos 4210 in the Galaxy S II made with the 45nm process, compared to the next-gen 4212 made with 32nm. Both 4-series Exynos chipsets are based on the same ARM Cortex-A9 architecture, so there is no generation bias, as it would have been if compared to the Cortex-A15 Exynos 5-series next to it.

The charts on the right show about 40% less power consumption on average, despite the 32nm Exynos CPU being clocked higher. This is more than the 20% power draw reduction Samsung claims in the official description of Exynos 4412, but let's not forget the ARM-Mali 400 GPU inside is probably being clocked much higher for the Samsung Galaxy S3, judging from its record preliminary benchmarks.

Exynos 4412 - what's in store with the quad-core processor in the Samsung Galaxy S3
Granted, Samsung is taking full advantage of the 32nm wafers the chip is built on to up the MHz speed on both the CPU and GPU, since it is a proven way to bring significant performance increases, while the die shrink leaves plenty of room for decreased power consumption still. 

As we saw with the leaked AnTuTu and GLBenchmark scores we are enclosing here, the end result will likely be the most powerful Android device out there, that will be gentler on the battery than the previous Samsung flagship, all else being equal.

Exynos 4412 - what's in store with the quad-core processor in the Samsung Galaxy S3
Exynos 4412 - what's in store with the quad-core processor in the Samsung Galaxy S3
Exynos 4412 - what's in store with the quad-core processor in the Samsung Galaxy S3

It is not just overclocking that Samsung has done with the 4412, though, which was the reason for disappointment in some when it became clear Cortex-A9 instead of Cortex-A15 processor cores will be used. Those four cores support up to 128-bit instruction internally, double what the previous Exynos supports. The chipset also has other potential advantages like USB-on-the-go, USB-host and -device regimes, as well as a number of other options, including the ability to connect up to four memory cards. Which of those features will be unlocked in the retail Galaxy S3 is anyone's guess, though.

Exynos 4412 - what's in store with the quad-core processor in the Samsung Galaxy S3
Still, the most overlooked feature of the quad-core Exynos 4412 has to be the new dedicated Image Signal Processor (ISP) Samsung has integrated in it. HTC made a proprietary ImageChip of its own for the One trio of handsets, instead of using the ho-hum standard ones supplied with Snapdragon or Tegra, and immediately went from mediocre in the camera department, to rivaling phones like the Xperia S or the iPhone 4S in the speed of use and quality of smartphone photos.

Given that Samsung already has a great phone camera in the Galaxy S II, we can't wait to see what it has done with the proprietary image chip in the Galaxy S3. On paper the silicon still supports 1080p video capture at 30fps, but the difference in picture quality, camera speeds and extra features could be night and day. As for the resolution - it really doesn't matter whether an 8MP or 12MP module will be used, unless you intend to print billboards of your smartphone pics.


To recap our preview of the quad-core Exynos 4412 that will more than likely power the Samsung Galaxy S3, we'd say that based on information from Samsung and some preliminary benchmark leaks, it could turn the phone in the most powerful Android handset to date with top-notch camera abilities, while the power optimizations and die shrink could make it the most frugal for its class. Thursday can't come soon enough.

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