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Samsung grows 'custom ARM' brains to outsmart arch-nemesis Apple

Translation: More bad news for Qualcomm

By Neil McAllister, 8 Apr 2015

Samsung will join Apple and other mobile semiconductor rivals in producing chips powered by homegrown, proprietary application cores in 2016, according to a new report.

The South Korean goliath has been shipping mobes featuring its own Exynos system-on-chips (SoCs) for a good while now, but the application processor cores in these chips have been stock cores designed by UK-based ARM.

According to Business Korea, that will change when Sammy begins producing new Exynos chips: these will feature application cores built from Samsung's own designs, and will appear next year.

Apple's "A" line of SoCs, similarly, use homegrown processor cores: while they're compatible with ARM's architecture, the 64-bit ARMv8-a "Cyclone" cores are heavily tuned to make them better suited to Cupertino's iThings, mainly by maximizing their performance per watt.

Today's report claims Samsung's upcoming cores could, like the Cyclones, be wholly original, ground-up designs as opposed to modified stock ARM CPUs. The chaebol is said to have been working on the project for four years.

If true, that would mean the new cores will have much in common with some offerings from mobile chip mega-titan Qualcomm. Some of the US firm's SoCs have included CPU cores based on its own "Krait" designs, which are compatible with ARM's instruction set but are otherwise proprietary.

But the Krait line only produced 32-bit application cores, and recent entries in Qualcomm's Snapdragon line of SoCs have reverted to using stock ARM-designed cores to make the leap to 64-bit ARMv8-a. Business Korea assures us that Samsung's forthcoming CPUs, although custom, will be 64-bit.

Qualcomm, meanwhile, is expected to launch a 64-bit successor to Krait in the form of "Kryo," due in the second half of 2015. But Samsung's chip efforts may signal a desire to source more components for its devices from its own semiconductor arm.

Samsung made waves in the mobile industry earlier this year with the surprise news that it had opted to pass on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 SoCs for its new, flagship Galaxy S6 line. Instead it went with house-made Exynos chips.

Other mobile chippery firms have experimented with custom application cores, too, but none has made them in the quantities that Qualcomm has. Huawei produces Kirin cores, for example, while LG Electronics and Mediatek have brought us Nuclun and Helio, respectively. ®

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