The Flagship SOC Battle: EXYNOS 9810 vs KIRIN 970 vs SNAPDRAGON 845
Three major SoC announcements from the big Android mobile chip vendors are rounding off the year. Qualcomm just unveiled it's Snapdragon 845, Samsung recently gave away a few details about its next-generation Exynos 9810, and Huawei’s HiSilicon Kirin 970 is already available in a few products. So who would hold up better? Let's take a look.
The introduction of 64-bit processors years ago was a big change for Android, but it generated some homogeneity between CPU design, as SoC vendors opted for quick implementation of off-the-shelf Arm parts to speed up development. Fast forward to today and chip designers have had time to explore their designs once more. The Arm licensing ecosystem has expanded with new options for licensees too.
Qualcomm has been making use of the “built on ARM technology” license for a couple of generations. The permit offers numerous ways to customise an Arm CPU design while allowing Qualcomm to market the design under the Kryo brand name. Samsung is now in its third generation fully-custom Mongoose core that only licenses the Arm architecture. In theory, this fully custom design should allow Samsung to push its chip in more extreme directions. It could attempt to chase Apple’s performance crown, but history suggests the company is more interested in subtle improvements to micro-architecture parts like branch prediction, task scheduling, and cache coherency. Meanwhile, HiSilicon is sticking firmly with off the shelf components designed by Arm pretty much throughout its Kirin 970.
In the past, this produced similar performance results. However, the latest ARMv8.2 architecture revision and the introduction of DynamIQ presents a significant shift that will diversify performance. For example: moving big and LITTLE CPU cores into a single cluster should improve task sharing and energy efficiency. Also, new private L2 and shared L3 caches should further improve memory access and performance. The Cortex-A75 and A55 have also seen specific optimisations for great machine learning instructions, although it’s possible a fully-custom design could improve this further. Qualcomm is quietly the first to hop onto the latest architecture revision, which puts it at an advantage unless Samsung has made significant strides with the 9810’s custom core and sub-system.
Huawei’s Kirin 970 uses last generation Cortex-A73 and A53 cores and the old two cluster design, so there are no special optimisations here. It’s certainly no slouch though, and this decision has allowed HiSilicon to invest development time into the second most notable difference between the three SoCs — their approach to machine learning and AI.
The Possibilities of Data and Multimedia
There actually won’t be any divergence in 4G LTE speeds. All three of the chips feature integrated Category 18 LTE modems, boasting up to 1.2 Gbps down and 150 Mbps upload speeds on compatible networks. Importantly, these chips’ modems support global network compatibility so that we can see them in multiple regions.
The three have also made similarly big pushes to support high-end media. 4K UHD video capture and playback are available across these flagship chips, and all three companies packed in dedicated processing units to handle these increasingly demanding tasks efficiently. On the content creation side, dual camera support again appears across the board, opening up possibilities for wide angle, monochrome, or optical zoom capabilities. Support for HDR-10 and 4K video recording is common, although Samsung boasts up to 120 fps video recording at this resolution, Qualcomm has just moved on to 60 fps, and the Kirin 970 only offers 30 fps 4K encoding. All of these are still boons for high-quality video enthusiasts though. Similarly, Huawei and Qualcomm have packed in a 32-bit 384 kHz capable DAC into their latest products for HiFi audio. But those numbers have little meaning on their own.
Which is the Best SOC?
Given that Huawei and Samsung are using these chips for their smartphone products, they’re going to benefit from the kind of very tight integration that Apple is regularly lauded for, Qualcomm has to cast a broader net to cater to all potential customer demands, and the Snapdragon 845 indeed goes above and beyond in this regard. But who knows if OEMs will utilise all these features. We will have to wait until we can go hands-on with products side-by-side to see what each brings to the table, but all three chips look highly capable. They will no-doubt power some impressive handsets over the next twelve months.
So, what are your opinions? Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below.