AH Samsung Exynos Logo 1.2

Can Samsung Shake-Up The Mobile Microprocessor Market?

November 21, 2015 - Written By Kishalaya Kundu

Over the years, Samsung Electronics has released many a smartphone with processing chips made in-house as part of its massive semiconductor business. That includes the current generation flagships, the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+ and the Note 5. Multiple reports have also indicated that the company’s upcoming flagships, the Galaxy S7 and the S7 Edge, will also come in Exynos-powered avatars, although, unlike this year’s models, they’ll also have Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered variants. Samsung’s semiconductor business is one of the largest in the world, and while its logic chip business is the second largest after Intel, it happens to be the largest maker of memory chips ahead of fellow South Korean semiconductor chipmaker SK Hynix. The company is also one of the largest suppliers of memory chips to global technology giants like Apple and Nvidia.

The company’s semiconductor business has been growing from strength to strength and while it has reportedly been the world’s largest memory chip maker since 1993, recent reports have indicated that it is now prepping to enter the dogfight that’s already raging in the mobile SoC market that is currently dominated by players like Qualcomm and MediaTek for the most part. While Samsung has been making processing chips in-house for the better part of a decade now – first under the ‘Hummingbird’ brand and now dubbed as ‘Exynos’ – it hasn’t really been able to make up its mind whether to jump headlong into the battle for mobile chipset supremacy. Most mobile devices carrying Samsung’s chips mostly come from the South Korean giant itself, with very few exceptions like the Lenovo LePhone K860, the Meizu M9 and the Meizu Pro 5, along with a few other devices on and off. The point however, is such devices have been few and far between, mostly because Samsung has put its mobile handset business ahead of its microprocessor business for years.

Now however, things could well be changing, as per the ubiquitous chatter along those lines in large sections of the media. With average smartphone selling prices falling with every passing year, and the Exynos chips looking more powerful and feature-filled than they’ve ever been, Samsung has reasons to believe it might be able to generate enough of a demand for the chips to offset whatever perceived losses it might incur because of the non-exclusivity of its chips. If reports from multiple sources are to be believed, it might not be long before Exynos-powered handsets start popping up all over the place, competing against offerings from the likes of Qualcomm and MediaTek for mindshare and market share.

Samsung has already announced its intention to expand its microprocessor business aggressively. According to a prior report carried by Android Headlines in September this year, “the head of the company’s (Samsung’s) logic chip business, Mr. Kim Gi Nam, has let it be known in no uncertain terms that he believes the company could aggressively expand its logic chip business further, especially as demand has been soaring in recent times. Remarkably, Samsung plans to do that by putting all its customers – including Samsung Electronics – on an equal footing. Meaning, Samsung’s consumer electronics unit might not get any preferential treatment“. According to Mr. Kim, “We believe we have plenty of room to grow. If you have a fab to operate, it doesn’t matter whether your customer is internal or on the outside. Whoever buys our capacity is the primary customer“.

If Samsung does indeed go through with its stated plan to open up its Exynos chips to third-party OEMs in large enough numbers to attain critical mass, its upcoming Exynos 8890 with custom ‘Mongoose’ cores might well be the very first one to go up against Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 SoC, which has its own custom ‘Kryo’ cores. Ironically enough, those chips too are being manufactured by Samsung using its 14 nm FinFET process, having taken over the manufacturing duties from TSMC, the Taiwan-based company in charge of manufacturing the current-generation Snapdragon 810 SoC. Samsung however, has only recently started ramping up its semiconductor business, and towards that end, is reportedly in the process of investing as much as $23 billion in a new production facility in Pyeongtaek, near Seoul, South Korea.