Mar 23 AT 12:06 PM Taylor Wimberly 64 Comments

A closer look at Samsung’s killer 2 GHz Exynos 5250

samsung-exynos-5250

Two years ago ARM Holdings announced their new architecture that would replace the Cortex-A9 CPU core found in most of today’s Android phones and tablets. Codenamed Project Eagle, the new Cortex-A15 CPU was dubbed an “Intel killer” since it was designed for a wide range of devices, including low-power servers, and boasted speeds up to 2.5 GHz.

Eric Schorn, VP of Processor Marketing ARM, said that A15 is “The biggest thing ARM has ever done, the degree of commitment is truly phenomenal. It’s like taking a desktop and putting it in your pocket.”

As most Android fans know, new phones come out every other week and it’s a difficult choice knowing when to upgrade your device. However, we only see a new CPU architecture released every 2-3 years. For this very reason, many of us have been waiting to see who releases the first chip with an ARM Cortex-A15 CPU core.

NVIDIA, Samsung, ST Ericsson, Texas Instruments and a few smaller players have all confirmed or hinted at new parts based on Cortex-A15, so it’s been exciting to watch them compete and see who can come to market first.

Based on all the information we gathered at CES and Mobile World Congress earlier this year, it has become clear that Samsung will be the first company with a chip that includes Cortex-A15. The average consumer doesn’t care what processor is inside their phone, but if you do then read on to brush up on the latest details.

Enter the Exynos 5250

Regular readers of the site are probably familiar with Samsung’s Exynos 5250. It was first announced last year and processor nerds like me have been obsessed with it ever since.

Back in January we were the first to reveal some of the details about the Exynos 5250 when we interviewed an executive from Samsung LSI at CES. They told us that Exynos 5250 would feature dual-core 2 GHz Cortex-A15 CPUs (that we already knew), but they surprised us with the news that it would feature an ARM Mali-T604 GPU.

Some people doubted our info about the Mali-T604 GPU, but this week Charlie Demerjian of SemiAccurate confirmed the details with a leaked slide from the Common Platform technology forum. There wasn’t anything we didn’t already know in the slide, but we felt it was a good chance to take a closer look at the Exynos 5250.

Samsung’s 32nm HKMG process technology

The move from 45nm to 32nm reduces power consumption.

Samsung’s main advantage over the competition is that they own their own fabs where these processors are produced. Other companies like NVIDIA or Qualcomm are fabless and outsource their production to companies like TSMC or Global Foundries.

Most of Samsung’s mobile application processors are produced in Korea, but they just spent $3.6 billion to upgrade their fab in Austin, TX to boost capacity. Recent rumors suggest that the Austin fab is currently producing Apple’s A5 chip for the iPhone, but we believe they are also producing the Exynos 5250.

Since Samsung has their own fabs, they use a different process technology to produce their chips. Their latest process node is 32nm High-k Metal Gate (HKMG), which reduces power consumption. This is the industry’s first HKMG process.

I won’t pretend to know what all of this means, but the benefits of 32nm HKMG include:

  • 2x gate density increase (Superior area scaling with Gate-First HKMG)
  • >100x lower gate leakage
  • >40% delay improvement at fixed leakage
  • ~10x leakage reduction at fixed speed
The main takeaways here are that Samsung’s 32nm HKMG process allowed them to be first with Cortex-A15 and it reduces CPU/GPU power consumption by around 40-50% compared to their 45nm process technology.

ARM Cortex-A15 CPU core

“The ARM Cortex-A15 brings unparalleled performance to our Exynos processor family and the exploding mobile marketplace,” said Dojun Rhee, vice president of System LSI marketing, Device Solutions, Samsung Electronics. “Designers need an application processor platform that delivers full high definition multimedia capabilities, fast processing speed and high performance graphics to meet end users expectation for a connected life on the go. The advanced low-power, high-performance processor technology of the new Exynos 5250 continues to deliver an unprecedented level of performance for users to enjoy a completely new mobile experience.”

So how fast exactly is Cortex-A15? It is capable of processing 14 billion instructions per second (DMIPS, Dhrystone million instructions per second) at 2.0 GHz. That’s almost double the performance over a current Cortex-A9-based dual core processor running at 1.5 GHz, capable of 7,500 DMIPS. It also means it should be faster than Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon S4 and NVIDIA’s Tegra 3.

Memory bandwidth has been increased to a staggering 12.8 Gigabytes per second (GB/s). Once again, that is double the 6.4 GB/s maximum found in current dual-core Cortex-A9 processors.

For even more nerdy details, head over to ARM’s official documentation on Cortex-A15.

ARM Mali-T604 GPU core

No consumer devices have used the ARM Mali-T604 GPU, so we don’t have a lot to compare it with. However, Samsung says it will offer about a 400% improvement over the current Mali-400 GPU found in the current Galaxy S II models.

Massimiliano Villani, Senior Manager Mobile Marketing for Samsung, said “We benchmarked several GPUs and we found that the overall architecture of the Mali family provided by ARM is nowadays the best in class for GPU performance.”

One of the main benefits of the faster GPU is the ability to drive super high resolution displays. Exynos 5250 supports resolutions up to WQXGA (2560×1600), which is similar territory to the new iPad retina displays (produced by Samsung).

Exynos 5250 is also equipped with embedded Display Port (eDP) interface, compliant with panel self refresh (PSR) technology. This technology instructs the application processor not to send image data to the LCD panel when the set is displaying still image, reducing power consumption.

If you are a graphics freak, check out ARM’s official documentation on Mali-T604.

Coming to a tablet or smartphone near you?

Some may remember that I wrote Samsung would unveil the rumored Galaxy Tab 11.6 at Mobile World Congress, which didn’t happen. That prediction came from a prototype device I saw at CES, but the rumor actually goes back to last year. We don’t know exactly when it will happen, but we still believe Samsung will introduce a next-gen Galaxy Tab with a dual-core 2 GHz Exynos 5250 sometime this year.

I think the more interesting story is what happens with the Galaxy S III. This flagship device has long been rumored to use Samsung’s quad-core Exynos 4412, but I’m not so sure if that will happen. It doesn’t make much sense to me to use a chip that features the older Cortex-A9 CPU and Mali-400 GPU when Samsung is on the verge of releasing their first Cortex-A15 part.

In our recent Android Rumors Report, I said there was about a 50% chance the Galaxy S III would use Exynos 4412 and a 50% chance it would use Exynos 5250. Having thought about it some more, I’d say the odds are actually much greater that the Galaxy S III will feature Exynos 5250.

Samsung’s official Exynos 5250 documentation reveals that the part will initially come in two versions. One is clocked at 2 GHz (for tablets), and the other is clocked at 1.7 GHz (for smartphones).

In the Cortex-A15 video above, Yiwan Wong, VP SoC Marketing Group, Samsung Electronics, said “We believe this new core will be the enabler for many exciting next-generation mobile products, such as smartphones and mobile computing devices.”

Earlier this year I wrote, “One not so far off possibility for the Galaxy S III could be the Exynos 5250. This part is slated for the second-half of 2012, but Samsung could leap-frog the competition with the first mobile device to feature the next-generation ARM Cortex-A15 CPU and ARM Mali-T604 GPU. This would require a delay of the Galaxy S III from its normal summer release schedule, but it’s the choice I’d make if I was in charge.”

We now know from a recent earnings call that Samsung’s Exynos 5250 will enter mass production in Q2, so I’m not really sure they would need to delay the Galaxy S III that much. This is the same company that re-engineered the original Galaxy Tab 10.1 in one month, to make it thinner than the iPad 2.

Seeing that Apple went with their A5X chip (dual-core A9) in their new iPad, it makes even more sense that Samsung would make an effort to one up their rival. Now every time a month passes and we hear nothing official about the Galaxy S III, it increases the chances they are going with Exynos 5250.

If that turns out to be true, then I wouldn’t want to purchase a smartphone right now that could be virtually obsolete within a couple months.

Taylor is the founder of Android and Me. He resides in Dallas and carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One as his daily devices. Ask him a question on Twitter or Google+ and he is likely to respond. | Ethics statement

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  • redraider133

    Can’t wait to see this in smartphones and tablets.

    • Kye

      Everybody knows that BGR are persistently claiming that the GS3 has a 1080p screen. They are the only site on the web claiming this.

      For a long time Ive been thinking they were trying to create a ‘disappointment campaign’. so that on release people thought it wasnt as good as they hoped for, but Ive been thinking there is actually an outside chance heres how.

      They could run with either a matrix 720p screen, or a 1080p pentile. (before you start screaming about pentile being bad, think about this…)

      Look at the maths and think about the logic…

      1280 x 720 x 3 (matrix) = 2764800 sub pixels
      1920 x 1080 x 2 (pentile) = 4147200 sub pixels

      about 40% more clarity and no way will you notice pentile at over 400 dpi !!!

      also, only the Exynos 5250 would realistically be able to drive this resolution well.

      Also, dont you think that if Samsung were only running with specs that were only inline with all other 720p / quad devices ala MWC they wouldn’t bother waiting until May. As the longer they wait, the more disappointed people will actually be. (we are expecting something better at this stage)

      if the Exynos 5250 really is in the GS3 and samsung used a pentile 1080p screen rather than a 720p screen they would have a product worth waiting for and will be able to differentiate themselves in a way that would not be possible with the currently projected specs

      Could there be TWO versions of the GS3 like was rumoured with the Galaxy Nexus but for real this time?

      Too many questions, I cant wait for this device.

      !! :-)

  • YellowDucati

    Soon we can all say.

    “I have a server in my pants”

    • uzunoff

      I say that now…….

  • amgala

    *jawdrop*

  • oddball

    Want it. I would rather have the dual core with better graphics and power consumption than a quad core that will not be up to the same standards.

  • http://www.jaxidian.org/update/ jaxidian

    And where are the upgrade kits to this CPU? ;-)

  • Trinhbo

    Those are some ridiculously awesome specs for the Exynos 5250! It’s like geek pr0n!

    • oddball

      What do you mean LIKE it is geek pr0n

  • spazby

    wow

  • thekaz

    The power in these things is just getting insane!

  • Steve Barry

    I’ll admit, until I read this post, as soon as phone specs started talking about ARM 9/15, GPUs, etc. I basically tuned it out because it might as well have been written in Russian (which I don’t speak). I simply didn’t understand it in the least bit. After reading this article, which is well written for an above average geek (but not uber geek) like myself, I feel like I have a better idea of what’s actually going on. I’ve had my eye on that SGSIII for quite sometime, and if it is in fact released with the A9 quad, I may just pass. However, if it’s released with the dual A15, I’ll be all over it. It sounds like it’s a significant upgrade, and I’m a fan of that.

    • http://androidandme.com Taylor Wimberly

      Yeah sorry about being so technical, but the hardcore audience still enjoys this stuff. We have plenty more content coming down the pipe that is geared towards a wider audience.

      • Steve Barry

        Hey, phone specs should be technical for the most part. My lack of understanding was simply because I never took the time to understand what was what. I thought this article was very well written and I understood it…so I think anyway ;). Keep up the good work, this is my first site to visit when it comes to anything Android related! The articles are informative, and the userbase (commenters at least) haven’t taken that pluge off the deep end where you think you just walked into, well, I’ll just leave it there.

      • txbluesman

        This was a great article. Keep ‘em coming Taylor and Crew. Great Job on this site.

  • Sturoid

    You could say that last line about buying something and it being obsolete about every phone every 2 weeks so that is a non-starter. Also a non-starter is Samsung playing the spec pissing contest in tablets against Apple. The hardware doesn’t really matter if they have higher res screen, faster processor, thinner, lighter. You know why? The reason is that the product will cost a small fortune. Look at the 7.7, that is the best of the small tablets available and that costs more than the new iPad….even worse the iPad 2 is now $100 cheaper and with the eco-system just crushes any of the Android offerings. It hurts to say these things cos I’m a huge Android fan and want a 7.7 so bad but will little to no good tablet apps it is a hard choice fr more money. And please don’t come back and say all the games count to the tablet quota cos those are games, not apps.

    • http://androidandme.com Taylor Wimberly

      I mostly agree. The specs don’t really matter. It’s more about the new experiences that the newer hardware can deliver.

    • mercado79

      Yes, while we often see new phones announced in quick succession, what Taylor mentioned was the fact that this isn’t just a new better faster launch, but rather a new chip architecture. That does not happen every other week. So, no… you can’t really say that about ever phone. I had originally planned on picking up the Galaxy Nexus once it launched on Sprint, but this 5250 chip sounds worth the wait, assuming they put it in the SGS3.

      Still, I agree with you on the Galaxy Tab 7.7 front. I would’ve loved to buy one but they priced it right out the market. I don’t know if it’s because of the components though since Asus has done pretty well pricing their high end tablets to sell (though producing enough of them is another story).

    • txbluesman

      The funny thing about you saying that Samsung is in a pissing match is, Samsung made the screen for the new ipad. You think that Samsung gave Apple the best they had? I don’t think so, they surely left a little on the table for their next tablet. Now, that is some funny stuff, I don’t care who you are. LOL!!!!

  • haz

    Hook-line and sinker. If this is what the next GSIII will have in it then they got me for sure. Can’t wait

  • Paul Salvatore

    Taylor, I love all of your prediction and hope soooo badly that they are correct

  • east of eastside

    Awesome! Great insight. Samsung appears to be on the rise as a leading force in ARM SoC.

    • honourbound68

      i gotta give it to sammy. first hummingbird with it’s awesome graphics for the galaxy s line and now exynos with what will be their world-beating soc performance.

  • Raptor

    “This is the same company that re-engineered the original Galaxy Tab 10.1 in one month, to make it thinner than the iPad 2.”

    It took 10 years to make Ipad and just 1 month to steal.

    • Tuberculous

      Who’s the smart one now? Hahahaha!

      • Raptor

        most probably not America which has up to 20% actual unemployment while Korea 4%. And based on mass downvotes of again most probably domestic moronery I’ll give little probability this ratio will change.

        • John

          You can thank Obama for the 20% employment

  • CJ LaFleur

    Oh hell yeah! the GS3 will be THE BEST phone to come out in 2012 and into 2013 easily!

  • jerkyjones

    Wow. I think I am still going with a Galaxy Nexus when it launches on Sprint. But, wow.

    • walt*

      was thinking the same, but I think i’ll hold out to see what comes out

  • http://www.jeffkibuule.com Jeff

    I’m wondering why Samsung is going to have what looks like a 6-9 month jump on the Cortex A15 CPU when TI was the lead partner co-developing it with ARM…

    • BeatRoot

      It was mentioned in the article.

      Samsung own the fabrication plants to produce this, most others rely on third parties to produce chips.

      Simples

  • triangle

    Great article. I agree with your conclusion that waiting for this next gen processor will be the best thing to do. The biggest impact should be the combination of better processing power with lower energy consumption, so I think it will be a very big deal. This should spur a rapid upgrade cycle and accelerate ICS penetration in the market. Hopefully, they can bring the Galaxy SIII with the Exynos 5250 sooner than later. I can’t wait.

  • WlfHart

    Really wish Sammy would stop teasing us so much and give some official word. Too much more of this and I might not be able to wait any longer to pick up a tablet.

  • jeff donuts

    i got a boner reading that but its probably cuz i was thinking of my wifes ass lol

    but damn this is why i looooooooooove samsung cuz there the best with hardware. y u get me all excited samsung? cant wait for this.

    • Sean Daily

      I’m thinking of your wife’s ass too.

      • slurms mckenzie

        thats cool shes posted on whale tail if u wanna have a look. shes pretty hott. shes 24 so yea

  • Orion78

    Awesome article Taylor! I’m patiently waiting for the GS3. After reading this, it made me hold on to that statement even more. I don’t care if I have to hold on to the EVO a bit longer. If all pans out, this could be a phone that will dominate for a very long time.

  • txbluesman

    I can’t wait for the day that we can purchase our own parts and build our own phones to the specs we want. Just as I do my own computers. Now, that would be sweet!!!!

  • jeff donuts

    i really really enjoyed the article (damn sooo much power) this is why i visit here for the geek tech talk. the other stuff is meh since most other sites cover the same things. but really good article

  • nobara

    I so much keep my fingers crossed Samsung will go with the 5250 in SIII. And I cannot wait longer for the launch…

  • Raptor

    Interesting to know what are the sources of income for this site and what % are from big G, big S and say big green N?

  • Joel

    Soooo much technological progression in such a short period of time! makes me proud to be the owner of a Samsung device. I <3 Exynos

  • Nathan D.

    I’m just waiting for them to officially announce what device will have this processor then I’m going to buy it with a hd super amoled plus screen then I’ll be set :-)

  • perlowin

    I really hope the 11.6 comes out soon, I’ve been waiting too long to purchase a tablet. When I do, I’m thinking about trading in my smartphone for a regular phone and saving $70/month on my cell phone bill. But of course I’ll probably end up getting a 4g plan for the tablet (if it comes out with cellular capability).

    For those of you who have been using tablets for at least a few months, do you find yourself using your smart phones less? Could you live without a smartphone?

  • aranea

    Thank you! Great compilation of information in understandable language (for geeks). After reading about all these innovations and what Samsung does on marketing front I’ll be disappointed if Samsung falls short of delivering anything spectacular. In the end, it’s their hardware from cpu to the screen that makes ipad an ipad (+some mombo jumbo from apple to make it look good). So they should be able to beat ipad again. And we all know how awesome Android is anyway.

  • Monkey

    Wouldn’t Qualcomm be the first to market with a Cortex-A15? It only runs at 1.5GHz, but isn’t the S4 Krait based on the new Cortex-A15? I thought that was the reason the S4 could hold its own against the Tegra 3. I would like to see Exynos 5 with Mali T604 vs S4 pro with the Adreno 320 GPU. Any phones with either of those will be beasts.

  • Tom

    I expect the S4 with its “A15 like” cores, async clocks and 28nm will have something like 95% of the performance on significantly less power then the 5250.

  • Rifsha

    Give me this in the second generation note with Tmobile bands. /drool

  • classic_hero

    cant wait to see what that chip can do. Definitely interested in the galaxy s III but now I am also intrigued about the new galaxy tab.

  • cb2000a

    Phones and tablets will come into their own with this cpu/gpu combo. It will be interesting…

  • h0ruza

    This would be excellent if it turned out to be true. My fingers are crossed.

    I’m sure this niggling thought I have isn’t a popular one but what would they do with their New 4412 quad core?
    Its a flagship chip ready and waiting for a device but to make it a chip for mid range devices would be over kill.

    More importantly where would the profit be made?

    Samsung could leap frog and be the first with the A15 but do they need to?

    I’m not even due for upgrade and I can’t wait for the GSIII, its going to sell hundreds of millions.

    I will say that if the iPhone 5 rocks an A15 architecture then the GSIII will too.

    Successful multi national businesses don’t waste money. They make money.

    P.s. Father Christmas isn’t real and the Easter bunny makes a great pie well before it picks out a brush to paint chicken eggs with pretty colours.

  • MoSDeeb

    I hope to see this in the next Nexus as well

  • Leo Young

    One other reason to prefer the dual core A15 over the quad core A9 is that the software is still not optimized for multiple cores. On a dual core machine, the crudest implementation has the OS on one core and the app running on another core. This would do well on the dual core. The programmers and developers are hard at work to make multiple core computing in Android (and every other OS) work better on the hardware. Apple’s implementation is particularly good in OSX but I don’t know if it has been implemented on the iPhone or iPad yet.
    As a stop gap, the dual core solution works now. On super fast hardware like this, it may be the best compromise of quality and speed – for now.

  • Jeffroid

    am looking forward to the day when I can finally throw away my portable charger

  • William Perez-Arguello

    You were wrong when you thought the GS3 would bring a 5250! lol right now I think the GS4 will pack a 5450 with Mali T658, but Samsung might dissapoint with it’s 5250 on the GS4. I want the 5450 because tt’s overkill and it will destroy anything out there….

    Galaxy S4 specs (I wish I had it)

    Exynos 5450 Processor clocked at 2Ghz
    Mali T658 (http://androidandme.com/2012/02/news/samsung-demos-quad-core-exynos-processors-we-drool/)

    2GB DDR3 RAM (http://www.engadget.com/2011/02/22/samsung-develops-mobile-dram-capable-of-12-8gb-sec-data-transfer/)

  • http://androidandme.com Taylor Wimberly

    Interesting whitepaper. Kind of backs up what NVIDIA has been saying that synchronous is better than asynchronous that Qualcomm uses.

  • txbluesman

    I know. Then we would all be comparing benchmarks, bragging, and drinking beer!!!!! LOL! I can honestly say that I love being a part of this site. Thanks Taylor!

  • txbluesman

    You got that right! +1 to you too.