In the past decade, Samsung has done something very special with its flagship devices. The company usually releases two different variants of the same models for different markets. Have you ever wondered why that is? And how similar or different are these different variants from each other? Well, that’s what we want to show you in this article.
Since the days of the Samsung Galaxy S2, the Korean smartphone giant has released two different versions of its flagship devices with different processors for different markets. One variant is based on the Exynos SoC from Samsung, while the other variant uses the 8-series SoC from Qualcomm. That practice continued until today in 2021 when Samsung developed the Exynos 2100 and Snapdragon 888 variants of its latest Galaxy S21 series.
Why does Samsung use two SoCs for the same models?
To be honest, Samsung hasn’t really revealed the exact reasons for this. However, there are several reasons, ranging from very obvious to somewhat speculative. Let’s examine some of these.
One of the reasons Samsung chose this route, at least in the early days of Android phones, was the fact that Samsung’s own Exynos chipsets included modems that offered wider support for GSM and LTE networks in European and Asian countries . Qualcomm SoCs, on the other hand, came with modems that offered a wide range of bands while supporting CDMA networks in the US (which have since been retired). It was easier for Samsung to have two different SoCs that offer nearly similar performance and better network support for specific markets.
Makes sense right?
The other reason is pure economy.
Although Samsung “buys” its Exynos SoCs from its semiconductor subsidiary, it is always cheaper to buy a SoC in-house than to buy it from a third party. Additionally, Qualcomm (to date) has some monopoly in the high-end SoC segment, which means it can use its position to get higher prices. This is one of the reasons that, even though the GSM / CDMA problem no longer exists, Samsung continues to offer two flavors of the same phones with different SoCs. This is more economical for them and allows Samsung to make higher margins by selling Exynos variants of its flagship phones.
Then there is another argument related to the supply chain. Samsung is one of the world’s largest smartphone manufacturers by volume, and making chips to meet Samsung’s needs could easily be a chipmaker’s sole focus. Dependency also plays a role: If there are problems with Qualcomm, Samsung can equip a store with Exynos chips.
The split also allows Samsung to attack the market on two fronts and see what works best and why. Not to mention, Samsung and Qualcomm reportedly have a contract to which both sides remain committed. In any case, Samsung is unlikely to be able to make enough Exynos chips for all devices, even if they are not tied to Qualcomm.
Now that you understand why Samsung is continuing this policy of using different SoCs for the same flagship models, now we come to the burning question.
Which of these two SoCs offer better performance on Samsung flagships?
Snapdragon Vs Exynos: Which Is Better?
Many of you may already be aware that the flagship Snapdragon SoCs have been miles ahead of their Exynos counterparts in almost every way over the past few years. The difference was so big in 2020 that frustrated Samsung Exynos users either issued an ultimatum to Samsung or faced a boycott. Some people even set up online petitions to force Samsung to use Qualcomm SoCs on this year’s flagship phones.
From today’s perspective, Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 with Samsung Galaxy S21 still offers better overall performance compared to Exynos 2100. However, Samsung has certainly managed to close the massive performance gap between Snapdragon and Exynos SoCs from the past few years. Perhaps Samsung Exynos users’ ultimatum helped. The reason for the massive performance improvement with the new Exynos 2100 has been explained in detail by me in this article. Here’s a quick explanation anyway.
Basically, what you need to know is that until last year, Samsung was using its own code-named custom CPU cores Mongoose on its flagship SoCs. While this is based on the ARM architecture, the Mongoose core has traditionally lagged behind ARM’s A7X cores in terms of performance. However, as of 2021, Samsung decided to ditch the Mongoose core and join the ARM CxC project (for its flagship SoCs), which Qualcomm is also benefiting from.
The first performance-oriented CPU to come out of the CxC project is known as the ARM Cortex X1 and is used by both the Snapdragon 888 and the Exynos 2100 (with minor adjustments). In fact, the current generation of Exynos and Qualcomm flagship processors share several similarities as they are based on an identical microarchitecture. This has resulted in Exynos managing to catch up with Qualcomm in terms of CPU performance.
One area where Samsung is still lagging behind with the Exynos 2100 is the graphics department. This is because Exynos uses the ARMs Mali G78 GPU for graphics, while Qualcomm uses its own Adreno 660, which is known for its much better performance. But Samsung has an ace up its sleeve to counter that.
In 2019, Samsung announced a partnership with AMD to bring mobile GPUs to Samsung Exynos chips. In 2021, just before the launch of the Galaxy S21, Samsung announced that the first GPU from the Samsung AMD collaboration is in development. And if leaked performance benchmarks are to be considered, it could turn out to be a performance monster that could wipe out not only Qualcomm’s Adreno GPU, but also the powerful Apple custom GPU used on the A14 Bionic SoC .
While it’s too early to say, there’s a good chance that Samsung’s next-gen flagship SoCs match, and maybe even a step ahead, of the competing Snapdragon offering in terms of sheer performance.
If this actually happens, it would be a massive turnaround for Samsung. It would also be good news for millions of Exynos users who have had to put up with an objectively inferior product for several years, knowing that the same company is selling an identical device with a much better SoC in a different part of the world. And maybe we are looking to a future where consumers won’t have to worry about choosing between Exynos or Snapdragon SoCs on Samsung flagships.
This article was updated in April 2021. Old comments have been retained.