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3 Key Frontiers for Samsung’s Next Mobile SoC

3 Key Frontiers for Samsung’s Next Mobile SoC
by Majeed Ahmad on 07-08-2015 at 4:00 pm

Samsung’s Exynos 7420 system-on-chip (SoC) is now at the top of the world when it comes to performance and power efficiency benchmarks. It’s also won accolades as the first mobile chipset manufactured using the 14nm FinFET fabrication process.

However, the mobile chipsets landscape is hypercompetitive, and there are other giants like Apple, Intel, MediaTek and Qualcomm relentlessly working to create powerful mobile SoCs. And that means Samsung isn’t sitting on its laurels either.

Exynos 7420: A major breakthrough in power efficiency

So what’s next for Samsung’s mobile SoC juggernaut? The blog identifies three major areas where the Korean chipmaker might be focusing its efforts right now.

The Baseband Puzzle

So far, Samsung hasn’t been able to compete with Qualcomm’s LTE baseband products, and that severely limits Samsung’s ability to deliver SoCs with integrated mobile connectivity. According to media reports, some Galaxy S6 handsets have incorporated the in-house baseband chip called Shannon while some other S6 phone units are using Qualcomm’s baseband IC.

That clearly shows two things. First, Samsung is fully aware of the strategic importance of baseband socket being integrated into the mobile application processor. Second, the Korean electronics giant is testing the waters before taking Qualcomm out of its mobile BOM altogether.

Baseband is strategic to Samsung’s SoC ambitions

There is hardly any doubt about Samsung’s seriousness about stitching the baseband building block in mobile SoCs. In 2014, Samsung unveiled the quad-core Exynos ModAP chipset that integrated baseband socket with the application processor and supported multimode LTE devices. Next, it announced the Exynos 300 modem chip that would also support LTE-A devices. Both LTE modems were based on CEVA’s DSP cores.

New CPU Design?

Next, Samsung seems to be at the mercy of other players for real improvements to its chips, and its reliance on factors like ARM CPU cores has become a roadblock for its ability to quickly improve the Exynos family of SoCs. So there is a lot of speculation in the trade media about Samsung following Apple in designing its own CPU based on an architecture license from ARM.

An in-house CPU allows quicker SoC improvements

The media reports also provide a few details about Samsung’s custom CPU cores touted as “Mongoose” that are going to be based on ARMv8 instruction set and clocked at 2.3 GHz. A CPU design seems to be a logical next step in the evolution of Exynos mobile SoCs.

However, on the GPU side, Samsung has recently announced a long-term graphics technology agreement with ARM. The license covers the latest Mali graphic processing units with more immersive visual experience. The scope of the deal suggests that the Korean chipmaker would continue using ARM’s Mali graphic cores in its future mobile SoCs.

IoT: The Next Logical Step

Artik is another key building block of Samsung’s future SoC roadmap. It’s a new chip family that powers the Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Artik comes in the form of three modules that bundle CPUs, GPUs, memory, and storage along with wireless network, sensors, video decoding and other components.

Artik modules come in three sizes for addressing a variety of IoT apps

Artik is aimed at makers of robots, drones, and other IoT devices. The Artik SoC lineup is going to be different from Exynos because it’s targeted at a range of hardware developers, both large and small, not just large smartphone OEMs.

Samsung is betting that its Artik SoC will be more attractive to hardware developers because buying off-the-shelf SoCs from Samsung is far easier than bringing together and optimizing four or five different components like a Bluetooth chip, sensor pack and memory and encryption component onto a PCB.

Majeed Ahmad is the author of Nokia’s Smartphone Problem: The End of an Icon?