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Samsung: We're working on 64-bit chips for this year

When mobile OSes such as Android go 64-bit, Samsung plans to be ready, an exec tells CNET. "We're not going to be the bottleneck."

Samsung displays a variety of its processors at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Shara Tibken/CNET

BARCELONA, Spain -- Samsung likely will join the 64-bit processor club this year, but it doesn't have the technology ready just yet, CNET has learned.

"64-bit is very important ... in the sense that there's a real demand, whether you need it or not," Kyushik Hong, vice president of marketing for Samsung's system LSI business, told CNET at Mobile World Congress here. "We are very actively working on it."

The Korean electronics giant not only builds mobile devices but also makes many of the chips that power those products. It's the world's largest maker of memory chips, and it's making a bigger push with its application processor line. Its Exynos chips show up in devices such as the Galaxy S5 and the Galaxy Note 3. However, Samsung lags some rivals in the market when it comes to the latest advancement in mobile chips -- 64-bit processing.

Such chips enable faster apps that can juggle large amounts of data more efficiently than the 32-bit processors common in smartphones and tablets today. However, most mobile operating systems and apps don't currently support 64-bit. Some chip companies have started to produce 64-bit processors to be ready when the operating systems catch up, but others are still working on their chips.

Apple in September became the first company making ARM-based smartphone chips using a 64-bit architecture. Because Apple controls its own operating system and designs its own processors, it can make sure the two are ready at the same time.

Then in December, Qualcomm unveiled its Snapdragon 410, and this week at Mobile World Congress followed up with the Snapdragon 610 and 615. Intel also introduced two new 64-bit mobile chips at the trade show in Barcelona, while Nvidia detailed its new K1 chip at the Consumer Electronics Show last month.

While Samsung lags some of its rivals with 64-bit, the company said it will have such chips ready when operating systems -- such as Android -- also support the technology. Samsung believes its 64-bit chips will be ready sometime this year.

"Our chip will be ready whenever the operating systems and ecosystem go 64-bit," Hong said. "We're pretty sure we're not going to be the bottleneck for that."

Samsung's octacore Exynos 5422 will be use in some models of the Galaxy S5. Shara Tibken/CNET

Meanwhile, Hong also said that Samsung is making a big push to expand its customer base beyond Samsung itself. The company wants to be the top mobile application processor maker in the industry despite the fact that it doesn't even rank at this point, he said.

Product such as the Hewlett-Packard Chromebook 11 use Samsung's application processor, but the company does face some concerns from mobile companies who directly compete with Samsung in smartphones and tablets.

"There is some perception in the market, naturally, because it's the same Samsung name, but there's a clear division between Samsung Mobile and Samsung System LSI," Hong said. "Once we work with our customers, then they fully appreciate this separation between the different business units."

Full CNET coverage of the 2014 Mobile World Congress

Samsung also is working on making chips that integrate the applications processor with a cellular chip. That typically allows for better battery life and enables less-expensive devices. Qualcomm currently dominates that market with its Snapdragon chips.

One Samsung device, the Galaxy Win, already uses an integrated LTE and apps processor from Samsung's chip business, Hong said. That chip is aimed more at the middle or low-end segment of the smartphone market, he said, while Samsung's high-end Exynos chip line remains standalone. The company is looking at making integrated chips for the high-end, though.

"Since we see more opportunity for the mid- and low-end segment where integrated makes more sense, we're already working on it," Hong said. "We have a whole product roadmap to address that space with different approaches."

And the company also has created standalone modem chips, Hong said. However, it hasn't yet detailed that product.