Late last month, I penned a piece discussing three ways the upcoming Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) Galaxy S6 could be set to crush the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone 6. However, it seems there's one more -- potentially huge -- way this could happen.
Did somebody say 14-nanometers?
The Galaxy S6 is rumored to feature Samsung's very own Exynos 7420 applications processor. This processor is expected to feature ARM's (NASDAQ:ARMH) Cortex A57/A53 CPUs in big.LITTLE configuration and ARM's Mali-T760 graphics IP, which is very similar to the Exynos 5433/7410 found inside the recently released Galaxy Note 4.
Where the Exynos 7420 could pull significantly ahead of its predecessor -- and ahead of the A8 found inside the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus -- is that it is reportedly being manufactured on Samsung's 14-nanometer FinFET technology (likely the lower-performing LPE variant).
This should allow the applications processor to deliver better performance within the same power envelope as a 20-nanometer part or offer the same performance at lower power. For the S6, I'd imagine performance will be ratcheted up.
If true, Galaxy S6 should be more efficient than the iPhone 6/6 Plus
While smartphone buyers in large part don't necessarily care about hardware specifications, many smartphone review publications conduct performance tests on phones. To some users, these performance tests are quite important, which is why ARM, Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), Apple, and Samsung all want to build better, more powerful chips.
Normally, I would not make the blanket statement that a chip built on a new manufacturing technology will necessarily be "better" than a chip built on a prior-generation technology, as architecture -- that is, the actual design choices -- is also quite important.
However, the Exynos 5433/7410's quad-core ARM Cortex A57 and Mali-T760 graphics built on Samsung's 20-nanometer process is already very competitive with the 20-nanometer A8; a 14-nanometer version should, in my view, pull ahead due to the significantly more efficient underlying transistor technology.
What kind of lead is that for Samsung?
If we assume the Apple A9 processor will be built on Taiwan Semiconductor's (NYSE:TSM) 16-nanometer and/or Samsung's 14-nanometer process, and if we assume a September 2015 launch for the iPhone 6s with the A9, then that would give Samsung a five-month lead in chip technology and likely chip performance.
The good news for Apple is that most customers probably don't care about speeds and feeds, or even performance tests; they just want phones that run iOS, feel snappy, and run their catalog of apps. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus will still be solid in that respect. However, for the more tech-savvy crowd, the S6 might be appealing in that it could offer much better performance.
While I don't expect this would drive significant market share back to Samsung from Apple, there is a chance it could stem the tide of "Android switchers," as a subset of the premium smartphone-buying population very likely values performance above all else. And, as far as smartphones go, a 14-nanometer Exynos-powered Samsung Galaxy would probably be as good as it gets in terms of performance for several months.