Technology explained: inside the Exynos 7 Octa 7420, Samsung's best chipset yet

After months' worth of leaks, rumors, and speculations, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge roughly a fortnight ago, its flagship smartphones for 2015 and the first several months of 2016 (probably). We had heard that Samsung was about to use an Exynos chipset and not a Qualcomm-made one in these Android champs; eventually, it turned out that the rumors held water as both the Galaxy S6/S6 edge come with an Exynos 7420 chipset.

At this point, there's no doubt that the Exynos 7420 chip is a silicon beast that seems to go through benchmarks like hot knife through butter, leaving almost all of its chipset rivals behind. Indeed, Samsung has a winner in the shape of its first 14nm FinFET chipset, but what makes this vital hardware component that noteworthy? What's more important, does it have what it takes to stand the test of time and rival the upcoming chipsets of the major chip makers?

The CPU


Officially rolling under the Exynos 7 Octa 7420 name, Samsung's most advanced chip yet is shaping up to be a real powerhouse. Clicking and ticking inside the chipset is an octa-core 64-bit central processing unit that is swearing by the ARMv8 instruction set. It flaunts four Cortex-A57 cores that can go all the way up to 2.1GHz and another four Cortex-A53 ones that are clocked up to 1.5GHz. All of them sing in accordance to ARM's big.LITTLE architecture with GTS (Global Task Scheduling / Heterogeneous Multi-Processing), which dynamically switches between the two clusters of the processor cores in accordance to the intensity of the task that is at hand.

But there's something way more compelling and noteworthy about Samsung's Exynos 7420 SoC – its manufacturing process. The true highlight of the silicon chip and most probably the reason for its foreseeable superiority is the 14nm FinFET LPE (Low Power Enhanced) process that has been used for the powerful Exynos. 

In the ultra-miniature land of chipset transistors, "the smaller, the better" is an often-recurring mantra. That's why the 14nm FinFET technology that Samsung has collaborated with Global Foundries on is vastly superior to “larger” manufacturing processes, like 16nm, 20nm, or higher. In particular, Samsung said that the Exynos 7420 is 30 to 35% more energy-efficient than its previous 20nm chips, while bringing up to 20% better performance and 30% productivity spike, all at the same time. A win-win situation, isn't it?  

So far, so good, but what does FinFET mean and why is it that important? Since the dawn of the semiconductor industry, manufacturers have aimed to pack as many transistors as possible inside the processor. The rate of this increase was so fast that in 1970 Gordon E. Moore came up with his legendary law, which states that "processor speeds, or overall processing power for computers will double every two years". Packing more and more transistors inside the CPU is one of the ways to do this.


However, as transistors become smaller and smaller, the risk of current leakage and other undesired issues to occur becomes bigger. This problem is one of the main problems that endangers the evolution of regular, planar semiconductors. Fortunately, the relatively-new FinFET technology circumvents the short-channel effect drawbacks and current leakage thanks to its fin-like architecture design. FinFET does not only allow manufacturers to go below 14nm (thus bringing better performance and lower energy consumption), it also makes sure that Moore's Law will continue to be valid. For the time being.

This is among the main reasons for the performance improvement that the Exynos 7420 chip We've already had the chance to run some benchmarks on the Galaxy S6/S6 edge at MWC and see how the Exynos 7420 chip fares against its rivals. Have in mind that these are taken from pre-release units and do not necessarily show us the real deal. Therefore, take them with a grain of salt. 


Geekbench 3 single-core Higher is better
LG G3 950
HTC One (M8) 888
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 1112.67
Samsung Galaxy S5 944
Apple iPhone 6 Plus 1625
Apple iPhone 6 1630
Samsung Galaxy S6 1440
HTC One M9 1209
Geekbench 3 multi-core Higher is better
LG G3 2545
HTC One (M8) 2613
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 3259.67
Samsung Galaxy S5 2900
Apple iPhone 6 Plus 2918
Apple iPhone 6 2927
Samsung Galaxy S6 5127
HTC One M9 3738
AnTuTu Higher is better
LG G3 30634
HTC One (M8) 31075
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 41185.33
Samsung Galaxy S5 36603
Apple iPhone 6 50888
Samsung Galaxy S6 58382
HTC One M9 56896

The GPU


Responsible for the graphics-crunching tasks inside Samsung's Exynos 7420 chip is a Mali-T760 MP8 GPU unit, an improved variation of the chip that arrived with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4's Exynos 5433 chip, the Mali-T760 MP6. The new entrant seems to be based on a 14nm manufacturing process as well. 

Unlike the latter, which has a maximum clock speed of 700MHz, the Exynos 7420's Mali GPU unit can go all the way up to 772MHz, which should provide a rather big improvement in terms of performance in comparison with the Mali T-760 MP6 GPU that powers the Samsung Galaxy Note 4.It's certainly not the most impressive GPU in a mobile device, but those using their phones for games should be more than satisfied with the new Mali.

Naturally, the Mali GPU has a few power-saving techniques in its arsenal. One of them is ARM's FBC (Frame Buffer Compression), a lossless compression solution that helps in minimizing image data bandwidth on system level by up to 50%. 

Another one, Smart Composition, further helps by reducing texture bandwidth by roughly 50% as well. Needless to say, the GPU is compatible with a handful of graphics-oriented APIs, like OpenGL ES 3.1/3.0/2.0, Open CL 1.1, as well as Direct3D 11.1, among others.

All of these improvements have allowed the GPU to get under-volted by 200mV to 300mV at the secondary maximum state, 700MHz. At the maximum clock rate, 772MHz, the GPU receives 825mV. On paper, just as we mentioned above, it seems that the Mali-T760 MP8 is a pretty substantial improvement over its MP6 cousin that crunches graphics in the Note 4/Note Edge.

Take a look at some preliminary benchmarks that show us how the Galaxy S6/S6 edge fare against their rivals.

GFXBench T-Rex HD on-screen Higher is better
LG G3 20.7
HTC One (M8) 28.3
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 25.9
Samsung Galaxy S5 27.8
Apple iPhone 6 Plus 40.9
Apple iPhone 6 48.9
Samsung Galaxy S6 37
HTC One M9 49
GFXBench T-Rex HD off-screen Higher is better
Apple iPhone 6 42.3
Samsung Galaxy S6 46
HTC One M9 50
GFXBench Manhattan 3.1 on-screen Higher is better
LG G3 7.5
HTC One (M8) 11
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 11.2
Samsung Galaxy S5 11.7
Apple iPhone 6 Plus 18.4
Apple iPhone 6 25.8
Samsung Galaxy S6 16
HTC One M9 24
 

Exynos 7420 chip and battery life


We are yet to put the Galaxy S6/S6 edge to the test and see how they'll fare battery-wise, yet we are expecting the new flagships to surprise us. Why? Well, if you've read the paragraphs above, you've probably noticed that we used "power-efficient" a lot. Indeed, apart from the head-turning performance, the Exynos 7420 is aiming to be as energy-efficient as it gets - starting from the CPU of the SoC and moving on to the GPU, everything seems to be tailored with efficiency in mind, not to mention Samsung's extremely battery-friendly UFS 2.0 flash memory standard that we've already told you about.

Below, you'd find a comparative table between the battery life estimates of the Galaxy S6 and the iPhone 6/6 Plus, as per the respective manufacturers. 

Wi-Fi browsing LTE browsingVideo playbackMusic playback
Samsung Galaxy S612111349
Apple iPhone 6 11101150
Apple iPhone 6 Plus12121480

All things considered, we are quite curious to see whether the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge will live up to the expectations. As a refresher, the Samsung Galaxy S5 had a 2,800mAh powerbank at the rear, which lasted it for 7 hours and 38 minutes in our battery benchmark test. The Galaxy S6, on the other hand, has a 2,550mAh battery at the back (the S6 edge has a marginally bigger, 2,600mAh one) - how long will it keep the lights on? Only time will tell. 

reference: ARM (1), (2AnandTech, Samsung Tomorrow, Synopsis

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64 Comments

1. penguinbelly

Posts: 162; Member since: Dec 27, 2014

Does anyone know what modem is used in the S6 and S6 Edge?

3. Marlish337

Posts: 3; Member since: Mar 17, 2015

D-link xD

6. tech2

Posts: 3487; Member since: Oct 26, 2012

LOL......your first post and this is what you wrote :DD

13. Settings

Posts: 2943; Member since: Jul 02, 2014

Its worth the first blood. Lol!

44. j2001m

Posts: 3061; Member since: Apr 28, 2014

Crap, very good review for the s6 edge just gone up, they said"Verdict: Shut up and take my money" See.https://recombu.com/mobile/article/samsung-galaxy-s6-edge-review

23. alex3run

Posts: 715; Member since: May 18, 2014

Lol... If Mali T760MP8 isn't the most impressive GPU for mobile phones, what is better?

29. RandomUsername

Posts: 808; Member since: Oct 29, 2013

Tegra K1, maybe?

33. alex3run

Posts: 715; Member since: May 18, 2014

Mali T760MP8 has 85 to 90% of Tegra K1 performance according to GFXBench 3.0 if we talk about synthetic tests. But no smartphone ever had Tegra K1...

49. arch_angel

Posts: 1651; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

thats a tablet only soc tho

25. rd_nest

Posts: 1656; Member since: Jun 06, 2010

Probably Exynos 333 modem (SS333).

2. twens

Posts: 1172; Member since: Feb 25, 2012

As long as it can keep up with the new touch wiz whiles running cooler than my iPhone 6 plus then I'm sold. Those numbers don't matter to me, either ways I don't see any power efficient chip besting this cheap around. The galaxy S series will rain supreme this year.

63. DareDevil01

Posts: 65; Member since: Jan 15, 2012

TouchWiz has reportedly had an overhaul, stricking a lot of the bloat, making it easier on resources so I'm sure it should run great :-) We'll see. I use Nova Launcher on my Note 3, maybe I won't need to this time?

4. vuyonc

Posts: 1089; Member since: Feb 24, 2014

If only Samsung managed to fit the Mali T880. The Adreno 330 in the One M8 is considerably close in benchmarks.

9. Lodix

Posts: 9; Member since: Mar 17, 2015

Take in mind that the benchmarks were done with "on-screen" resolution. The M8 has a 1080p display. And this scores are very low for the S6, you can check official scores in their official web "gfxbench".

12. Felix_Gatto

Posts: 942; Member since: Jul 03, 2013

PA doesn't know how to properly benchmark the GPU, they should've include the offscreen benchmarks. Here some more reliable benchmarks:http://www.gsmarena.com/samsung_galaxy_s6-review-1227p5.php

28. Niva.

Posts: 440; Member since: Jan 05, 2015

The offscreen score should be done at what resolution then? I honestly think offscreen scores are pointless for phones. I have a desktop computer which can drive my mmonitors and makes for a much better gaming device than my phone. I agree that offscreen might be a good equilizer, and will indeed show the true gfx processing power of a chip, but not really relevant to the mode of use for phones.

35. Macready

Posts: 1817; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

It can be very relevant because it gives better insight in the relative GPU power. And that is good information for those who run their 3D intensive programs at their preferred resolution (to balance performance and display quality to their own liking), like myself. If I want higher framerates on my Note 4 screen, I run them at 1080P instead, which gives similar performance to running them on a native 1080P screen, ceteris paribus.

57. TylerGrunter

Posts: 1544; Member since: Feb 16, 2012

It's not that they should be done at one resoution or the other. Felix is right because if you want to measure: a) GPU performance: you should use off-screen benchmarks, so differences in resolution of devices doesn't interfere the scores. b) Device performance: you should use on-screen benchmarks, to take into account the device screen resolution. The problem here is that PA talks about a SoC but posts the ON-SCREEN benchmark, which is clearly the wrong approach.

15. Ruturaj

Posts: 1484; Member since: Oct 16, 2014

Hoping to see Mali T880 in note 5 with Quad A72 + Quad A53 processed in 14 nm LPP.

52. Seattletech

Posts: 54; Member since: May 14, 2014

More likely than not

59. Ruturaj

Posts: 1484; Member since: Oct 16, 2014

Mediatek is getting it's SOC out 2H 2015 with A72 on it and huawei with A72 and T880 this year Q4. And samsungs LPP will be ready by end of this year. So why not?

26. alex3run

Posts: 715; Member since: May 18, 2014

And what? How do benchmarks explain real gaming performance?

5. bodzio1809

Posts: 407; Member since: Aug 28, 2013

Considering last news about 810 it's broken. So if you want to buy new Android flagship only S6 is good choice in this year (until Note 5), but that glass back and small battery with QHD screen. I will wait for PhoneArena test to check battery life and loudspeaker. Still S6 Edge look so great. Maybe 50 mAh more battery will make a little difference? :D

40. sachouba

Posts: 266; Member since: Jun 08, 2014

Or you could wait for the S6 Active, which is expected to come with a 3500 mAh battery and IP67.

42. bodzio1809

Posts: 407; Member since: Aug 28, 2013

I will wait for it, but it will have a little bigger bezels and also different design. I don't care so much about bezels with that huge battery, but I want good design. Let's hope that Active will be too more premium or at least good looking.

53. tech2

Posts: 3487; Member since: Oct 26, 2012

Also its worth keeping in mind that further down the line active won't get as frequent update as the regular s6 as it won't be their flagship device. Also you'll have a bit of difficulty finding it's accessories then you would with s6.

56. bodzio1809

Posts: 407; Member since: Aug 28, 2013

Thanks for info. I am not using any accessories. I think that after Lollipop there won't be soon any important update.

7. Felix_Gatto

Posts: 942; Member since: Jul 03, 2013

If Samsung can make a flawless high end chipset, then why not for the entry level one? Spreadtrum, Broadcomm and Marvell are not the best choice in entry level segment.

8. penguinbelly

Posts: 162; Member since: Dec 27, 2014

Will other OEMs try to buy this chip instead of S810? S810 looks DOA.

10. kaikuheadhunterz

Posts: 1157; Member since: Jul 18, 2013

Spoiler: GSMArena already made a review http://m.gsmarena.com/samsung_galaxy_s6-review-1227.php

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