Samsung's (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) next-generation Galaxy S6 smartphone is widely expected to launch in the coming months. While it was almost taken for granted in recent years that flagship Samsung phones would ship mostly with applications processors designed by Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), that does not appear to be the case for the upcoming S6.
Analysts at J.P. Morgan believe Qualcomm is having issues with its latest Snapdragon 810 processors, which could lead Samsung to use its in-house Exynos processors and modems for most models of the device. Assuming this is true, what Samsung applications processor would power the Galaxy S6 handsets?
Exynos 7 Octa looks like the best bet
Late last year, Samsung equipped some variants of its Galaxy Note 4 with an applications processor known as the Exynos 5433 which is apparently rebadged as the Exynos 7410 (via Wikipedia). This is a 20-nanometer Samsung-designed system-on-chip that features ARM 64-bit Cortex A53/A53 CPU cores and ARM's Mali-T760 graphics processor -- it should be more than capable of powering the Galaxy S6.
However, if you check the source link above indicating the Exynos 5433/7410 are one and the same, you'll notice a reference to an Exynos 7420 chip. An alleged AnTuTu benchmark leak of the upcoming Galaxy S6 shows the device features Exynos 7420 as the applications processor.
So it appears the 7420 chip will power the Exynos variants of the Galaxy S6.
What exactly is an Exynos 7420?
Some believe the Exynos 7420 is the 14-nanometer applications processor Samsung claimed it had begun mass production of a little while ago. An alternative view, though, is that the 7420 is an improved 7410, built on the same 20-nanometer manufacturing technology.
Qualcomm shareholders should pay close attention to the answer to this question, particularly as it will shed some light on the company's place in future Samsung phones.
Why is this so important to Qualcomm stockholders?
If this is another 20-nanometer chip, Qualcomm can breathe a sigh of relief, as it would suggest Samsung's in-house chip teams and Qualcomm's teams are competing on roughly equal footing as far as manufacturing technology goes.
However, should Samsung's Exynos 7420 turn out to be a 14-nanometer part, and should Samsung produce enough volume to meet the demand of a broad Galaxy S6 rollout, then this might spell trouble for Qualcomm.
In the latter case, not only would Qualcomm's latest processor be a generation behind on transistor technology (hurting power and performance), but it would indicate Samsung's Exynos teams have gotten their acts together on chip design. From there, it follows that Samsung's internal chip teams going forward will more fiercely compete with Qualcomm's chip teams for flagship Samsung phones.
Let's wait and see
The first 20-nanometer Samsung chips began showing up in relatively limited quantities around August and September with select models of the Galaxy Alpha and Note 4.
If Samsung launches a phone with a 14-nanometer chip in the next few months, this could be the shortest time between manufacturing processes that I have seen in recent history. Furthermore, the Galaxy Note 4 -- particularly the 28-nanometer Snapdragon 805 North American variant -- would look quite dated from a performance/power perspective.
The Galaxy S6 launch will be very interesting for semiconductor investors. Fortunately, it won't be too long now before Samsung unveils the device, and investors get a look at what's inside.