At Samsung Tech Day 2019, Samsung has announced the system-on-chip that will almost certainly power next year’s international variants of the Galaxy S11 phones: the Exynos 990. The company has also announced a new cutting-edge discrete 5G Exynos Modem 5123 that is meant to be paired with the Exynos 990.
The Exynos 990 is the first flagship Samsung SoC to feature the company’s new SoC naming system. It succeeds the Exynos 9820 and the Exynos 9825, and is intended to slot above the upper mid-range Exynos 980 SoC, which was announced last month. It’s certainly more than a bit confusing – especially when considering that Samsung’s chief competitor, Huawei, also has a flagship SoC called the HiSilicon Kirin 990.
The Exynos 990 and the 5G Exynos Modem 5123 are both manufactured on Samsung’s new 7nm LPP EUV (extreme ultra-violet) process. The Exynos 990 has a triple-cluster CPU core setup like the Exynos 9820 and the Exynos 9825. The two big cores are the next iteration of Samsung’s custom cores – the Exynos M5, which succeeds the Exynos M4 in the 9820 and the 9830. Samsung claims that the Exynos M5 provides a 20% performance improvement over its predecessor. That seems a conservative target to reach for, especially when considering that Qualcomm’s next flagship SoC is almost certainly bound to use the ARM Cortex-A77 architecture that comes with 20-35% performance improvements. The Exynos M3 was a big let-down in terms of real-world performance, while the M4 was a substantial step forward, even though it didn’t match the Cortex-A76 in all respects.
The two middle cores, on the other hand, are ARM Cortex-A76 cores. They succeed the Cortex-A75 middle core cluster in the Exynos 9820/9825. This should provide a decent performance boost in real-world tasks that use the middle core cluster, and this should help Samsung close the performance gap that existed between the Exynos 9820/9825 and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 as well as the Kirin 980. Finally, four ARM Cortex-A55 cores are relied upon for the little core cluster. The overall improvement of the triple-cluster CPU setup is said to be 13%, but Samsung hasn’t provided the clock speed of any cluster yet.
In terms of the GPU, Samsung has incorporated the Mali-G77MP11 in the Exynos 990. The Mali-G77 is the first ARM GPU to use the new Valhall GPU architecture that is said to come with 1.4x performance improvements relative to its predecessor. Despite the new architecture, Samsung is only promising improvements in graphics performance or power efficiency by up to 20%. On paper, this is quite disappointing to see, as this means that Samsung won’t catch up with Apple’s GPUs in the Apple A12 and A13, and it’s also unlikely that the company will be able to compete with the next Adreno GPU in Qualcomm’s 2020 flagship SoC.
In terms of on-device AI, the Exynos 990 features a dual-core NPU (neural processing unit) and an improved DSP (digital signal processor). Their combination can perform over 10 trillion operations (TOPs) per second, which is a big improvement compared to the Exynos 9820’s 1.86 TOPs per second. The NPU enables localized AI in a smartphone, allowing data to be processed on-device instead of being sent to the cloud. Samsung mentions the typical use cases of facial recognition and scene detection that will benefit from this improvement.
The Exynos 990 also supports the new LPDDR5 standard with bandwidth rates of up to 5500 Mbps. The SoC features a 120Hz refresh-rate display driver that aims to reduce screen tearing and enable smoother animations even on devices with multiple displays, such as foldable phones. Lastly, the ISP supports up to six individual image sensors with concurrent processing of three. The maximum resolution supported is 108MP, and it’s worth noting that Samsung has developed the ISOCELL Bright HMX 108MP sensor, that is only seen in the Mi Mix Alpha for now.
5G Exynos Modem 5123
Notably, the Exynos 990 doesn’t come with an integrated 5G modem. Instead, Samsung is marketing the 5G Exynos Modem 5123 discrete modem, which will be used with the Exynos 990. This is one of the first 5G modems to be produced on a 7nm EUV process.
The advancements it brings are notable: it supports both types of 5G, namely sub-6GHz (that will be used more widely in the world) and mmWave spectrum (currently restricted to the US and Japan). Along with 5G, it supports legacy 2G/3G/4G LTE technologies with best-in-class theoretical speeds. In 4G LTE, the maximum theoretical downlink speed that can be reached is 3Gbps (which won’t be seen by any consumer) with 422 Mbps upload. In 5G sub-6GHz, it can reach a max downlink of 5.1Gbps, while mmWave allows it to reach 7.35Gbps. It has 1024 QAM, and it supports up to 8-carrier aggregation (8CA). This makes it the first modem with such a cutting-edge feature set.
The Exynos 990 and the 5G Exynos Modem 5123 are expected to begin mass production by the end of this year, according to Samsung. The stage is set for the Samsung Galaxy S11’s international variants to use this chip. With HiSilicon having already announced their flagship SoC, all eyes will be on Qualcomm for its next-generation Snapdragon flagship SoC.
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