Samsung's new Exynos 5433 processor, which is found in the Samsung Galaxy Alpha, Galaxy Note 4 and is about to find its way into the Galaxy Tab S is notable for a few things. Firstly, it's a second generation dual quad core design, using big.LITTLE technology. This pairs up a high performance quad core processor with a high efficiency quad core processor. The idea is that when the hardware is working hard, it uses the powerful quad core processor but when the device is working less hard, the processor switches to the power efficient part. Secondly, current Exynos 5433 processors appear to be 64-bit capable but locked to run in 32-bit only mode. And thirdly, the processor is fabricated on a 20nm die process. It's this third point that I wish to talk about tonight; the die size is the size of the processor. It determines how many processors can be manufactured on a silicon wafer, so the smaller the process, all being equal the more that may be made for a given amount of wafer. Shrinking the die size also reduces the current required by individual processor components for a given frequency, which reduces power consumption and heat production. This is important for all processors, but more so for those that run on battery power in thin chassis designs. High battery consumption and hot processors are the enemy of our mobiles!
The processor inside my Dell Streak was constructed using a 65nm die process. The processor in my HTC One (M8) was built using a 28nm die process. Samsung have introduced 20nm die processors and now ARM (chip designer) and TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) have announced a multi-year agreement to push mobile processors down to the 10nm die size. Because these are new generation processors, this means the new 64-bit ARMv8 instruction set, which is already improving performance and reducing power consumption. Oh and the timeframe for this? It's to get the new 10nm processor designs finalised by the end of 2015. There's a technical improvement in the designs, too; the new processors will be of a FinFET design (fin as in shark, FET as in Field Effect Transistor), which is a three dimensional shaped gate designed to reduce voltage and therefore power consumption.
If, or when, this plays out it means that the resulting devices will be smaller, cooler, faster and use less power all at the same time. We've already seen huge improvements in mobile processor technology in just a few short years. Intel has barely advanced its desktop processor performance but has worked hard to reduce power consumption, whilst mobile processors have kept their low power consumption but are approaching desktop performance levels. At some point the two will converge and when that happens, things are going to get really exciting indeed.