AFTER ALMOST A YEAR of speculation, Samsung has finally confirmed that the company is manufacturing Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 chip.
Rumours have circulated since April last year when it was suggested that Qualcomm was planning to ditch Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) in favour of Samsung to manufacture the next-generation mobile processor.
Samsung Electronics has already begun mass production of the Snapdragon 820, which will take advantage of the 14nm Low-Power Plus (LPP) process, the second-generation of the company's 14nm FinFET technology based on the same process used to make the firm's upcoming Snapdragon-rivalling Exynos 8 Octa processor.
The Snapdragon 820 is expected to be in devices in the first half of this year, and is touted to deliver "the highest level of performance and power efficiency".
"Samsung will continue to offer derivative processes of its advanced 14nm FinFET technology to maintain its technology leadership," said EVP of system LSI business Charlie Bae.
The FinFET process brings a 3D structure to transistors, which Samsung said allows a significant performance boost and low power consumption owing to faster-switching speeds and lower voltage operation in a smaller footprint when compared with Planar transistors.
"Samsung's new 14nm LPP process delivers up to 15 percent higher speed and 15 percent less power consumption over the previous 14nm Low-Power Early process through improvements in transistor structure and process optimisation," explained Samsung. "In addition, use of fully depleted FinFET transistors brings enhanced manufacturing capabilities to overcome scaling limitations."
Samsung believes that the 14nm FinFET process is "one of the most optimised" processes for mobile and IoT applications currently available, and is expected "to meet growing market demand for a wide range of high-performance and power-efficient applications from network to automotive".
The Snapdragon 820 is built from four Kryo CPUs, making it Qualcomm's first custom 64-bit quad-core processor. This marks a departure from the ARM reference cores Qualcomm has used exclusively on its 2015 line-up.
The chip is not octa-core like the Snapdragon 810 before it, but is said to deliver double the performance with lower power consumption, even with the lower core count.
The Kryo CPU also takes advantage of Qualcomm's Symphony System Manager as a resource management tool for Snapdragon that extends control of task scheduling and power management across the entire processor. This makes multitasking between apps smoother and easier to control on the Android devices that make use of it.
Joining the Kyro CPU is an updated Qualcomm graphics engine, the Adreno 530, which promises up to 40 percent better graphics when compared with the previous-generation Adreno 430, as well as reducing power consumption by up to 40 percent. This, Qualcomm said, will enable console-quality gaming on mobile devices, as well as next-generation virtual reality applications.
The appointment of the new Snapdragon manufacturer might be Qualcomm's last ditch attempt at clawing back from a tough year. The chip firm was forced to make job cuts after reporting poor financial results, saw a lessening of interest from investors and the loss of a key customer.
However, nothing could quite prepare Qualcomm for the damage to sales when the Snapdragon 810 suffered overheating problems in many of the Android phones that it powered.
The problem sparked outrage and distrust among Android users, and was never fully resolved. Qualcomm still denies that the fault even existed, leaving owners of smartphones such as the Sony Xperia Z3+ and the HTC One M9 with abysmal battery life, poor performance and a long and desperate wait for their next smartphone upgrade. µ
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