Samsung previews quad-core Exynos for tablets

Samsung previewed its quad-core Exynos 4 for tablets and high-end smartphones at a chip conference this week and could make it official as soon as next week at Mobile World Congress.
Written by John Morris, Contributor

Samsung is set to release a quad-core version of its latest Exynos processor designed for tablets and high-end smartphones. The company gave a preview of the quad-core Exynos 4 this week at ISSCC, a chip conference, and could make it official as soon as next week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The processor has four Arm Cortex-A9 cores running at 200MHz to 1.5GHz, quad-core ARM Mali graphics, a 64-bit NEON media engine and dual-channel controller that supports LP-DDR2, DDR2 and DDR3 memory. Rumors of a quad-core Exynos 4412 have been circulating since Samsung announced the dual-core version, the Exynos 4212, back in September. Both are manufactured on Samsung's latest 32nm process with transistors using high-k materials and metal gates (HKMG), which provides better performance scaling and lower power than the conventional poly-Si/SiON used at 45nm and earlier nodes.

Unlike Nvidia's Tegra 3 quad-core processor (or ARM's big.Little architecture), the Exynos 4 does not employ a companion low-power core to preserve battery life. Instead Samsung is relying on power management features such as multiple power domains, dynamic voltage and frequency scaling, a technique called body-biasing, and thermal management control.

Samsung claims that in comparison with the 45nm Exynos 4210-the chip use in the Samsung Galaxy S II-the Exynos 4 with 32nm HKMG delivered 35-50 percent better performance. It also had a fraction of the gate leakage. More interesting, Samsung said that by shifting to HKMG they can deliver 40 percent better transistor performance at the same power or one-tenth the total leakage at the same level of performance in comparison with using Poly-Si/SiON technology at 32nm.

In November, Samsung announced that it had begun sampling the 32nm Exynos 5250, which has two Cortex-A15 cores running at speeds up to 2GHz. The company said it will nearly double the performance of the Exynos 4212 (14 billion Dhrystone million instructions per second versus 7,500 DMIPS). That chip is slated to go into production in the second quarter.

Samsung is in a race with other chipmakers to increase the performance and capabilities of application processors for mobile devices. TI is also expected to release a processor based on the Cortex-A15, the OMAP5, this year. The first test results Qualcomm's MSM8960, part of the Snapdragon S4 family, surfaced this week. And Nvidia is promising several announcements of Tegra 3-based tablets and super-phones in Barcelona next week.

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