Samsung takes up the gauntlet and develops its own CPU cores for smartphones…or even more?


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After once again throwing in the towel, Samsung is once again assembling a CPU core design team. The goal: to prepare a “Galaxy” chip that would be available from 2025. What can brighten up the competition in smartphones… and computers?

Samsung puts a chunk back into the ARM processor design machine with homegrown CPU cores. According to various sources, the Korean wants to launch “Galaxy” chips to relaunch the machine of its Exynos line. And integrate a 100% internally developed CPU part around 2027. Information has a double importance. First, because the development context for ARM chips is more intense than ever: x86 chips are being pushed around in PCs as well as servers. Second, because Samsung already tried to make a difference in CPU cores in 2010 by opening a custom CPU core design center in Austin (Texas). A team that will have spent ten years trying to make a difference before being fired in 2019. The money invested in the 300 local engineers never allowed Samsung to make a difference, not only compared to Qualcomm’s custom cores, consistently better. But also in relation to the original hearts (we say ” vanilla in jargon) that ARM provides with the license.

Read also: Samsung abandons Exynos’ custom CPU cores…and relies on AMD GPUs (November 2019)​

But Samsung seems to want to get back to the front of the podium. Whether in the PC market, with a big comeback in Europe and France. Like on those of the “custom” chips. What happened between the closing of the Austin center in 2019 and the start of 2023 for Samsung to put the gloves back on? Lots of things ranging from the success of Apple’s M-chip strategy to the importance computers have taken on during the pandemic or the rise of ARM architectures in the car. As well as highlighting the importance of technological sovereignty in US-Chinese and US-Russian tensions.

Is Apple’s example replicable without operating system control?

Apple Silicon

Apart from GPU and modem, Apple develops all the building blocks of its chips in-house. And custom formats for each of its systems. This way they improve their efficiency. (NOTES: For the modem, Apple is still using Qualcomm chips pending integration of the internal chip from Intel’s acquisition of the company. As for the GPU, Apple eventually re-signed with Imagination, the historic supplier of GPUs that Apple is customizing in its own way.). © Apple

According to information leaks, the custom CPU design unit would be working on a chip whose name “Galaxy Chip” gives an unambiguous orientation regarding the mobile computing target – including smartphones … but not only. The line is getting thinner between phone chips and chips that power tablets and other ARM PCs. Samsung has no doubt dug deep into the success of Apple’s M chips, which can be found in an iPad Pro, a Macbook Air or an iMac.

Read also: Can ARM processors dominate the world, from smartphones to supercomputers? (April 2020)​

The first question, even before we know whether Samsung can reject its CPU technology (which is called IP in the jargon) in various areas, is to know what real advantages Samsung hopes to gain compared to its competitors. Because it’s too often overlooked that if Apple’s chips perform well, it’s not just because they’re perfectly matched to initial needs, but mostly because Apple is in control of its operating systems. If a Snapdragon processor is a bit of a black box for its integrators (like Samsung and the others), so is Android and Windows. Whose refinements are in a source code beyond the reach of integrators – their only leeway is the drivers, which are far from the “heart” of the systems.

Android… and Windows?

Samsung Qualcomm PC

With its Galaxy Books, Samsung was one of the first players to integrate Qualcomm’s ARM chips into Windows 10 PCs.

The original article reflecting the development of new CPU cores and a new chip relies on the name “Galaxy” to claim that its main target is the world of smartphones. Especially since the division that manages the project is called MX for “Mobile eXperience” (yes, with a capital ”X” after a small letter ”e”). However, if this team’s name seems to be mobile-only focused, its scope is actually broader: the whole new IT strategy is also in its lap!

Read also: Samsung launches the Exynos 2200, the AMD GPU-powered mobile chip at the heart of future Galaxy S22s (January 2022)​

The development of custom ARM CPU cores could therefore also be split into PC chips. And this for many reasons. On the one hand because Samsung is fully engaged in the (re)development of its IT activity with a return to Europe and France as we have seen. Then, because the Korean has a double hunger for ARM chips, both with his Chromebooks and his Windows 11 PCs under Snapdragon – of which he has already launched several iterations. Finally, Qualcomm no longer has the exclusive Windows kernel compilation and Samsung could eventually offer 100% in-house machines (screen, RAM, NAND and CPU).

On the way to the smartphone… and beyond?

Samsung car processors

Samsung also needs CPU power on other platforms, such as its dedicated automotive chipset here. /Samsung

If the engineers are successful, the development of CPU cores under its control – which require an ALA (Architecture License Agreement) license – could therefore give Samsung more leeway to differentiate itself in smartphones and PCs. But also in many other markets, such as 5G, automotive or networks. Samsung could follow in Qualcomm’s footsteps in this way. An American developing “IP” (intellectual property, generations of architectures in the jargon) that it offers on different product lines. For example, the Cryo CPU cores, the Adreno GPU cores or even the Hexagon NPU are designed from the ground up as “blocks” that engineers from the mobile, IT or automotive divisions can customize and assemble according to their needs.

Read also: A hinge jewel: exclusive interview with the foldable smartphone from the goldsmiths of Honor (March 2023)​

But before making plans for the comet, Samsung will have to succeed where it has already failed. And it will have to do it at the same time as Apple, Qualcomm, MediaTek, but also China’s Rockchip and Unisoc all move up in quality and performance. A big gamble for the chaebol.

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