Samsung on Wednesday announced the long-rumored Exynos 9820, its latest high-end system-on-chip that’s almost certainly going to power select variants of the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Note 10-series devices set to be released next year. The launch of the new silicon marks the start of Samsung’s contemporary artificial intelligence push as the Exynos 9820 has been specifically designed for on-device AI computing, much like the Kirin 980 and Kirin 970 chips from Huawei’s subsidiary HiSilicon. The new module is hence equipped with a neural processing unit, a processor that exists independently of the SoC’s main CPU and is solely dedicated to AI applications. The Exynos 9820 will enter mass production by the end of the year and should be commercialized in early 2019, presumably with the Galaxy S10 lineup, as well as Samsung’s first series of foldable Android handsets.
Samsung says the new NPU and the fourth-generation custom CPU that accompanies it will deliver “a new dimension of performance” in the smart device segment. Compared to the Exynos 9810 found inside the international variants of the Galaxy S9, Galaxy S9 Plus, and the Galaxy Note 9, the Exynos 9820 can handle AI tasks approximately seven times faster. As a result, all devices utilizing the chip should be much more capable of managing on-device AI and be less reliant on the cloud when it comes to powering technologies such as machine learning. Solutions like Google’s federated learning ought to benefit from the newly added NPU in a substantial manner as well. Besides improving performance, on-device AI also has the advantage of being inherently more secure as there are less potential attack vectors in its processing equation by virtue of the fact that cloud-based computing isn’t part of the solution.
Samsung already outlined a number of use cases that it’s likely to commercialize in the near future, pointing to intelligent camera systems that can automatically detect scenes and adjust their shooting parameters accordingly as one potential application of the NPU found inside the Exynos 9820. The CPU itself is faster than the one used by the Exynos 9820 in both single- and multi-core performance by approximately 20- and 15-percent, respectively. Likewise, single- and multi-core processing efficiency has been improved by some 40- and 35-percent, Samsung said.
While some industry watchers expected more substantial upgrades in terms of sheer power, those are missing primarily because the Exynos 9820 is based on a new 8nm Low Power Plus FinFET process which by itself is only some 10-percent more efficient than the 10nm LLP one used for the creation of the Exynos 9810. Samsung already completed the development of an even more advanced 7nm Extreme Ultraviolet process but appears to be saving it for future chips. The new chip supports WQUXGA (3840 x 2400) and 4K UHD (4096 x 2160) resolutions, UFS 3.0 storage, LPDDR4x RAM, and sports eight cores – a dual-core (custom CPU) system, another two-core (Cortex-A75) one, and a quad-core (Cortex-A55) configuration. Samsung has yet to disclose factory clock speeds of its newest SoC.
Security is another big selling point of the Exynos 9820, with the chip relying on a physically unclonable function to manage sensitive data in complete isolation using a unique key and a key manager with support for a broad range of modern security protocols. The Exynos 9820 isn’t a 5G-enabled chip but is the best 4G LTE silicon Samsung’s foundry business ever created, offering support for download speeds up to 2Gbps thanks to the inclusion of a new LTE Advanced Pro modem. 8x carrier aggregation and peak upload speeds of 316Mbps are also supported, as is 4×4 MIMO and 256-WAM compatibility.
The silicon is also equipped with Mali-G76 GPU cores that are some 40-percent faster or 35-percent more energy-efficient than the graphics processor used by the previous chip. As a result, AR and VR applications, as well as traditional games should all perform significantly better. In terms of other content, the Exynos 9820 also supports a multi-format codec (MFC) that can encode and decode 4K UHD videos at up to 150 frames per second and handle 10-bit colors which are more accurate, varied, and lifelike than the majority of today’s rendering solutions. In terms of filmmaking, the Exynos 9820 can do 8K videos at 30fps or 4K UHD ones at 150fps. The chip can manage 22-megapixel front and rear cameras or 16-megapixel dual-camera setups, Samsung confirmed, though that’s only an illustration as the chip’s image signal processor can actually handle up to five sensors in total and supports infrared modules.
Background: Samsung has been actively developing the Exynos 9820 since at least late 2017 but the chip was widely expected to utilize the company’s 7nm EUV FinFET process. It’s currently unclear what prompted the firm to opt for a less advanced solution and just skip the 8nm step altogether, especially given how Huawei’s HiSilicon already uses a 7nm process node for its latest Kirin 980, albeit without EUV (it relies on the older and less efficient optical lithography instead). Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 successor — believed to be called the Snapdragon 8150 — is also rumored to be based on a 7nm process from TSMC and may hence offer more efficient processing.
Impact: The capabilities of the Exynos 9820 are in line with recent rumors about the Galaxy S10 lineup, with numerous insiders claiming at least the top member of the lineup will feature a triple-camera setup on the back, a two-sensor system on the front, and place a large focus on AI technologies. The fact that the chip supports 4K displays still doesn’t mean the Galaxy S10 series will feature one as its predecessor was also capable of handling such panels in theory but that ability was never used for a consumer-grade product.
The DRAM compatibility od the Exynos 9820 also confirms the Galaxy S10 line won’t be using LPDDR5 memory even though Samsung is already capable of producing it and that improvement apparently won’t be commercialized before 2020. The fact that the new chip peaks with 4G LTE in terms of network performance means that the rumored 5G variant of the Galaxy S10 Plus that’s expected to launch in South Korea will use Qualcomm’s next-gen silicon instead, with the San Diego-based company already confirming the Snapdragon 845 successor will offer 5G support as an optional functionality.