Earlier in 2015, Samsung introduced their Exynos 7420 mobile System-on-Chip, which was debuted with the Galaxy S6 family of devices. The Exynos 7420 is an octa-core design arranged around a big.LITTLE architecture, with the LITTLE tier consisting of a quad core cluster of ARM Cortex-A53 application processors and the big tier consisting of four ARM Cortex-A57 cores. Whilst this is a conventional System-on-Chip layout for 2015, what made the Exynos 7420 a little different is that Samsung manufactured the processor on a 14nm size, compared with Qualcomm’s 20nm for the Snapdragon 810 chipset. In processor terms, the smaller the process size, the less voltage that is required in order to drive the chip. Power consumption and waste heat output is proportional to the square of the voltage applied, which means that a relatively small reduction in voltage can have a disproportionately large impact on power and heat. The Exynos’ smaller process size contributed towards the chipset producing less heat compared with the Snapdragon 810 and the Galaxy S6 running into fewer heat issues compared with many competitor devices.
Whilst the Exynos 7420 has been a technically interesting mobile chipset, there are other businesses wishing to capture some of the smaller manufacturing market. Smaller processors bring the same power consumption and heat output advantages regardless of the platform they are housed in: the advantages might seem more obvious for smartphones, tablets, laptops and other mobile devices, but are just as relevant for desktops and servers. A reduction in power consumption for a server chip could equate to a considerable cost saving over the lifetime of a machine. We’ve heard today that AMD (Advanced Micro Devices), the desktop and notebook chip manufacturer, has tasked Samsung with building semiconductors in 2016 at the 14nm process size. A report cites that Samsung Electronics will start building both a CPU (central processor unit) and a GPU (graphics processing unit) for AMD via a joint venture between Samsung’s foundry and Globalfoundries.
Samsung are keen to expand upon their chipset manufacturing to capitalize on their 14nm process, but the business is either unwilling, or has priced its own Exynos chips too high, to sell the 7420 to many other manufacturers. This news may be the first of several joint ventures and collaborations, because Samsung will be keen to recoup the costs involved in engineering its smaller processor manufacturing capacities.