Samsung's Exynos 5 Octa to hit OEMs this summer

March 15, 2013 // 10:22 a.m.

Tags: #arm #biglittle #cortex-a15 #cortex-a7 #exynos #exynos-5 #exynos-5-octa #galaxy-s4 #samsung #samsung-galaxy-s4 #sbc #smartphone #tablet #tegra

Samsung has confirmed plans to bring its Exynos 5 Octa eight-core processor to third-party companies by the end of the second quarter, heralding a potential boom in high-performance, high-resolution mobile devices and more.

Originally announced back in January, the Exynos 5 Octa is the chip behind the freshly-announced Samsung Galaxy S4 - in some markets, at least. Based on a design principle put forward by Cambridge-based chip design giant ARM known as big.LITTLE, the processor pairs four high-performance Cortex-A15 processing cores - the same as found in other Exynos 5 parts - with four lower-power Cortex-A7 cores. The result is, by the numbers, an eight-core chip - but the idea is to have only one quartet of cores running at any given time.

The design is ARM's mean of addressing the two biggest demands in the mobile device world: increased processing power and increased battery life. As developers demand more horsepower from smartphones and tablets, the power required by the processor rises; but to get an appreciable increase in battery life, processors need to be designed to draw less power.

It's a puzzle that big.LITTLE addresses by running the phone on the four low-power cores during non-intensive tasks, such as web browsing, making calls, listening to music or playing back a video. Designed as low-leakage parts, the Cortex-A7 chips don't offer anywhere near the performance of ARM's latest Cortex-A15 design - but they also don't draw nearly as much power. When the phone or tablet switches into a high-demand situation, such as the launch of a game, the Cortex-A15 cores are powered up and all running tasks shunted across before the Cortex-A7 cores are powered down. When their grunt is no longer required, everything is shuffled back to the Cortex-A7 cores so the battery-draining Cortex-A15 cores can be put back to sleep.

It's far from the first such attempt to pair special low-power cores with more powerful parts in the name of energy efficiency: Nvidia's last-generation Tegra 3 and current-generation Tegra 4 pack a single-core processor designed to handling background tasks in the hope that the four main cores can spend much of their time powered down. Samsung's Exynos 5 Octa, however, will be the first to market with a full quad-core implementation of ARM's big.LITTLE.

Currently, the chip is exclusive to Samsung's Galaxy S4 smartphone, although rumours suggest the upcoming Galaxy Note 3 will also include the Exynos 5 Octa. As with previous Exynos chips, Samsung won't be keeping the device to itself but offering the part to other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) as part of its chipmaking business.

Thus far, Samsung hasn't named any potential customers - but with the Exynos 5 Octa being the first sort-of-eight-core processor for the tablet and smartphone market, it's likely numerous manufacturers will be jumping on the bandwagon and adopting the design. That also means that, potentially as soon as by the end of the year, we're likely to see high-resolution, high-performance tablets powered by the chip, which is capable of driving display resolutions up to 2,560x1,600 (WXGA.) The chip is also likely to find favour with single-board computer manufacturers, who are likely to attempt to run all eight cores simultaneously for low-power high-throughput parallel processing tasks.

Sadly, all of this remains in the future - and if you want to play with the Exynos 5 Octa now, you're going to have to join the queue for a Galaxy S4.
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