The chips of Samsung's Galaxy S5 -- Exynos and Snapdragon

The Korean electronics giant packs a lot of speed and multimedia features into its new phone with chips from Samsung and Qualcomm

Samsung announced the Galaxy S5 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Sarah Tew/CNET
BARCELONA, Spain -- Qualcomm and Samsung are back in the newest Galaxy device, the Galaxy S5.

The Korean electronics giant on Monday unveiled its newest flagship phone with a slightly tweaked design and updated specs. The Galaxy S5 has a 5.1-inch display HD screen and a 16-megapixel rear-facing camera with a bunch of bells and whistles that are supposed to improve the experience of taking and viewing images. The device also contains a fingerprint sensor and heart-rate monitor, as well as updated components.

When the Galaxy S5 launches in April, it will hit the market with two different processors -- its own Exynos chip and Qualcomm's Snapdragon. Some regions will get the Qualcomm version while others will receive the Samsung chip model, though specifics aren't clear right now. Using the two different application processors follows the same strategy Samsung employed for the Galaxy S4, Galaxy Note 3, and other devices.

Both chips give a good boost in processing speed over their predecessors in the Galaxy S4. However, neither are 64 bit like the processor used in Apple's iPhone 5S. That technology enables faster apps that can juggle large amounts of data more efficiently than the 32-bit processors common in smartphones and tablets today. Even if they were 64 bit, however, Android doesn't yet support the technology. Qualcomm already has unveiled several 64-bit processors, and Samsung said it will have 64 bit ready later this year.

Here's a deeper look at the two chips that will power Samsung's newest flagship phone.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
Qualcomm is the undisputed king of mobile chips and for good reason. The San Diego company makes some of the most advanced application processors in the industry, and it's years ahead of rivals with its 4G LTE technology. It also invented 3G technologies that competitors have to license. All of that equates to some of the best smartphone chips around.

For the Galaxy S5, Samsung chose to go with Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 801 processor. If the company follows the same strategy as the GS4, that's the chip that will power the US model of the device.

The processor is a slight update from the Snapdragon 800 that Qualcomm unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in January of 2013. The Snapdragon 801, announced at Mobile World Congress, includes integrated 4G LTE and 802.11ac Wi-Fi for fast connectivity. The chip also has a quad-core Krait 400 CPU with speeds of up to 2.5GHz per core. It also has an Adreno 330 GPU (graphics processing unit) for premium graphics.

Overall, Qualcomm boosted the performance of the CPU, GPU, digital signal processor, camera sensor, and memory components of the chip while keeping the software and other features compatible with its other processors to speed development for handset vendors. The Snapdragon 801 enables higher quality imaging, as well as improved mobile graphics and gaming, higher speed SD card memory, and hardware for dual-SIM service in China.

Compared to the Snapdragon 800 -- which is used in the Galaxy Note 3 -- the Snapdragon 801 has a 45 percent faster camera sensor, 28 percent faster graphics, 14 percent faster CPU, 18 percent faster digital signal processor, and 17 percent faster memory.

While the Snapdragon 801 is only a slight step up from the 800, it's a pretty big boost from the processor used in the Galaxy S4 -- the Snapdragon 600. Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon 600 and 800 at the same time, but the 600 hit the market earlier. That's likely why Samsung used that chip in the Galaxy S4 instead of going with Qualcomm's more premium processor.

The Snapdragon 600 boasted a 1.9GHz quad-core CPU and a Qualcomm Adreno 320 GPU.

Samsung Exynos 5422
Samsung not only builds mobile devices but also makes many of the chips that power those products. It's the largest memory chip maker in the world, and it's making a bigger push with its application processor line. Its Exynos chips show up in many Samsung devices, and they again will be used in the flagship Galaxy device in some regions.

Samsung's octacore Exynos 5422 will be use in some models of the Galaxy S5. Shara Tibken/CNET
However, Samsung lags some rivals in the market when it comes to the latest advancement in mobile chips -- 64-bit processing. It also doesn't have a product for high-end smartphones that integrates the application processor and modem on one chip. Samsung's chip business told CNET that it likely will make such a chip, but it's currently following the strategy of making a standalone application processor for high-end phones.

For some Galaxy S5 models, Samsung will use the Exynos 5422, which also was announced at Mobile World Congress. The processor boasts eight ARM cores versus the four in the Snapdragon 801. Samsung has employed ARM technology that allows for four big cores that run at speeds up to 2.1GHz and four small cores for speeds up to 1.5GHz. When the phone requires heavy computing, all eight cores can run at the same time. The phone can also employ just one of the small cores for minor activities.

Full CNET coverage of the 2014 Mobile World Congress

By comparison, the Galaxy S4 used the Exynos 5410, another eight-core chip. In the case of that processor, the big cores had speeds of up to 1.6GHz, while the small cores were 1.2GHz. Overall, the performance of the Exynos 5422 is up to 34 percent higher than previous Exynos Octa models, the company said.

"Basically we enhanced the performance of the whole application processor," Kyushik Hong, vice president of marketing for Samsung's system LSI business, told CNET. "It is based on the same process technology (28 nanometers, or billionths of a meter), but we tried to maximize the user benefits by enhancing the CPU and GPU and multimedia features."

One big difference from the earlier chip is Samsung's use of "heterogeneous multi processing," which allows for any combination of the eight cores to determine the best settings possible for tasks. That also improves battery life by not using more cores than are needed.

Samsung also uses a new technique called "hibernation" that improves battery life during video playback. An algorithm detects what parts of the image aren't changing often -- such as set behind characters who are talking -- and freezes the data transfer. Instead of the video having to reactivate the pixels over and over, they won't change until that part of the image itself changes.

Samsung also uses mobile image compression to decrease the size of display data by half. That minimizes the amount of memory bandwidth required and also helps with battery life. The compression technology and hibernation save power consumption by up to 10 percent compared with conventional technology and go along with Samsung's new mobile display drivers.

The chip uses the same GPU hardware as its predecessor, Hong said, but the company used software to maximize the performance of the GPU cores.

Along with Exynos, the Galaxy S5 uses other Samsung chips, including the camera sensors. Samsung uses what it calls Isocell technology, which improves colors and image quality in less-than-ideal lighting situations. In the technology, each pixel is isolated. That improves the light sensitivity of the sensor.

Basically what all of this means for consumers is much faster, better smartphones. Stay tuned to find out which version you'll get in your region.

 

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