The Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) Galaxy S6 is getting pretty solid reviews within the tech press. It seems to be regarded as the flagship Android device, pulling ahead of other Android flagships from HTC, LG, and others. As The Wall Street Journal columnist Joanna Stern put it, the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are "the best Android phones you can buy."
Although the devices seem to be all-around solid phones, and there are many interesting aspects to the phones, I'd argue that the most impressive part of the device is the chip inside. Not necessarily because it delivers what seems to be best-in-class performance, but because of the manufacturing technology it's built on and the compactness that technology enables.
A pretty sizable shrink from 20-nanometer technology
According to the Tech Report, the Exynos 5433 chip, built on Samsung's 20-nanometer technology, found inside of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 weighs in at 113 square millimeters in size. Chipworks reports that the Exynos 7420 found inside of the Galaxy S6 measures just 78 square millimeters in size.
The Exynos 7420 features the same ARM (NASDAQ:ARMH) Cortex A57/A53 processor cores as the 5433 has. However, the 7420 seems to have a significantly more powerful (read: larger) graphics processor (8 core version of the ARM Mali-T760 rather than the 6 core in the 5433).
The interesting part about the 7420 is that Samsung is delivering significantly more functionality in a substantially reduced die size relative to the 5433.
Manufacturing technology is only part of it
According to Samsung, its 14-nanometer technology should be able to deliver "up to" a 15% reduction in chip area relative to its 20-nanometer technology. What's interesting is that if we took the size of the Exynos 5433 and just applied a straight 15% area reduction, we'd wind up with a die size of 96 square millimeters.
However, between the 5433 and the 7420, Samsung not only increases the functionality of the chip (with added graphics area), but it also shrinks the chip size by about 31%. That is almost a full generational shrink from the 20-nanometer technology.
This goes to illustrate that, when it comes to building tightly packed chips, the underlying manufacturing technology is just one piece of the puzzle. Samsung must have done significant work on the physical design of the chip in order to deliver this kind of density improvement from its 20-nanometer technology.
This could mean good things for Samsung's foundry customers
It has been rumored that both Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) will build at least some of their next generation mobile applications processors on Samsung's 14-nanometer technology.
Both Qualcomm's and Apple's chip implementations are highly skilled, and I suspect that both companies will be able to get some pretty impressive density improvements relative to their 20-nanometer chips. This should allow both companies to deliver improved performance (for example, larger graphics units) while maintaining economically viable area footprints.
Although mobile processors, particularly high-end ones, have advanced so far in what seems like a short amount of time, I think that there's still plenty of room to make things even better. I can't wait to see what kinds of features and performance next generation mobile chips will pack.