The new Galaxy S21 series of devices have been out commercially for a week now, and we’ve managed to get our hands on two Galaxy S21 Ultras – one with Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 888 SoC, and one with Samsung’s new Exynos 2100 SoC. Both chipsets this year are more similar than ever, both now sporting similar CPU configurations, and both being produced on a new Samsung 5nm (5LPE) process node.

Ahead of our full device review of the Galaxy S21 Ultra (and the smaller Galaxy S21), today we’re focusing on the first test results of the new generation of SoCs, putting them through their paces, and pitting them against each other in the new 2021 competitive landscape.

The Snapdragon 888

Qualcomm Snapdragon Flagship SoCs 2020-2021
SoC Snapdragon 865

Snapdragon 888

CPU 1x Cortex-A77
@ 2.84GHz 1x512KB pL2

3x Cortex-A77
@ 2.42GHz 3x256KB pL2

4x Cortex-A55
@ 1.80GHz 4x128KB pL2

4MB sL3
1x Cortex-X1
@ 2.84GHz 1x1024KB pL2

3x Cortex-A78
@ 2.42GHz 3x512KB pL2

4x Cortex-A55
@ 1.80GHz 4x128KB pL2

4MB sL3
GPU Adreno 650 @ 587 MHz Adreno 660 @ 840MHz
DSP / NPU Hexagon 698

15 TOPS AI
(Total CPU+GPU+HVX+Tensor)
Hexagon 780

26 TOPS AI
(Total CPU+GPU+HVX+Tensor)
Memory
Controller
4x 16-bit CH

@ 2133MHz LPDDR4X / 33.4GB/s
or
@ 2750MHz LPDDR5  /  44.0GB/s

3MB system level cache
4x 16-bit CH

@ 3200MHz LPDDR5  /  51.2GB/s

3MB system level cache
ISP/Camera Dual 14-bit Spectra 480 ISP

1x 200MP or 64MP with ZSL
or
2x 25MP with ZSL



4K video & 64MP burst capture
Triple 14-bit Spectra 580 ISP

1x 200MP or 84MP with ZSL
or
64+25MP with ZSL
or
3x 28MP with ZSL

4K video & 64MP burst capture
Encode/
Decode
8K30 / 4K120 10-bit H.265

Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10, HLG

720p960 infinite recording
8K30 / 4K120 10-bit H.265

Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10, HLG

720p960 infinite recording
Integrated Modem none
(Paired with external X55 only)


(LTE Category 24/22)
DL = 2500 Mbps
7x20MHz CA, 1024-QAM
UL = 316 Mbps
3x20MHz CA, 256-QAM

(5G NR Sub-6 + mmWave)
DL = 7000 Mbps
UL = 3000 Mbps
X60 integrated


(LTE Category 24/22)
DL = 2500 Mbps
7x20MHz CA, 1024-QAM
UL = 316 Mbps
3x20MHz CA, 256-QAM

(5G NR Sub-6 + mmWave)
DL = 7500 Mbps
UL = 3000 Mbps
Mfc. Process TSMC
7nm (N7P)
Samsung
5nm (5LPE)
     

Starting off with the new Snapdragon 888 SoC, Qualcomm’s new flagship model makes iterative steps this generation, with the biggest changes of the new design actually being in the form of the new Hexagon 780 accelerator, which fuses together traditional scalar and vector DSP operations with tensor execution engines within one single IP block.

Of course, we’re also seeing upgrades elsewhere in the architecture, with the Snapdragon 888 being among the first SoCs to use Arm’s new Cortex-X1 CPU IP, promising large performance gains relative to last generation Cortex-A77 cores. The single X1 cores in the Snapdragon 888 clocks in at 2.84GHz – the same as the previous generation Snapdragon 865’s prime Cortex-A77 cores, and less than the 3.1GHz and 3.2GHz Snapdragon 865+ and recently announced Snapdragon 870 SoCs.

Alongside the X1, we find three Cortex-A78 cores at 2.42GHz, again the same clocks as the previous generation 865 SoCs, but this time around with double the L2 caches at 512KB.

The Cortex-A55 little cores remain identical this generation, clocking in at 1.8GHz.

Although we had been expecting 8MB L3 cache flagship SoCs this year, it does look like Qualcomm opted to remain at 4MB for this generation – but at least the company dons the X1 core with the maximum 1MB L2 cache configuration.

On the GPU side of things, Qualcomm’s new Adreno 660 GPU now clocks in up to a peak 840MHz – a whopping 43% higher frequency than the Snapdragon 865 GPU. The company’s performance claims here are also astonishing, promising a +35% boost in performance. We’ll have to see how this all ends up in terms of power consumption and long-term performance in the later dedicated GPU section.

What’s quite different for the Snapdragon 888 this year is that Qualcomm has moved from a TSMC N7P process node to Samsung’s new 5LPE node – the generally wildcard in this whole situation as we haven’t had any prior experience with this new 5nm node.

The Exynos 2100

Samsung Exynos SoCs Specifications
SoC

Exynos 990

Exynos 2100

CPU 2x Exynos M5
@ 2.73GHz 2MB sL2
3MB sL3

2x Cortex-A76
@ 2.50GHz 2x256KB pL2

4x Cortex-A55
@ 2.00GHz 4x64KB pL2

1MB sL3
1x Cortex-X1
@ 2.91GHz 1x512KB pL2

3x Cortex-A78
@ 2.81GHz 3x512KB pL2

4x Cortex-A55
@ 2.20GHz 4x64KB pL2

4MB sL3
GPU Mali G77MP11 @ 800 MHz Mali G78MP14 @ 854 MHz
Memory
Controller
4x 16-bit CH

@ 2750MHz LPDDR5  /  44.0GB/s

2MB System Cache
4x 16-bit CH

3200MHz LPDDR5  /  51.2GB/s

6MB System Cache
ISP Single: 108MP
Dual: 24.8MP+24.8MP
Single: 200MP
Dual: 32MP+32MP

(Up to quad simultaneous camera)
NPU Dual NPU + DSP + CPU + GPU
15 TOPs
Triple NPU + DSP + CPU + GPU
26 TOPs
Media 8K30 & 4K120 encode & decode
H.265/HEVC, H.264, VP9
8K30 & 4K120 encode &
8K60 decode


H.265/HEVC, H.264, VP9
AV1 Decode
Modem Exynos Modem External 

(LTE Category 24/22)
DL = 3000 Mbps
8x20MHz CA, 1024-QAM
UL = 422 Mbps
?x20MHz CA, 256-QAM

(5G NR Sub-6)
DL = 5100 Mbps

(5G NR mmWave)
DL = 7350 Mbps
Exynos Modem Integrated

(LTE Category 24/18)
DL = 3000 Mbps
8x20MHz CA, 1024-QAM
UL = 422 Mbps
4x20MHz CA, 256-QAM

(5G NR Sub-6)
DL = 5100 Mbps
UL = 1920Mbps

(5G NR mmWave)
DL = 7350 Mbps
UL = 3670 Mbps
Mfc. Process Samsung
7nm (7LPP)
Samsung
5nm (5LPE)

On the Samsung LSI side of things, we find the brand-new Exynos 2100. Unlike the Snapdragon 888’s more incremental changes in terms of SoC design, the new Exynos is a rather large departure for Samsung’s SoC division as this is the first flagship design in many years that no longer uses Samsung’s own in-house CPU microarchitecture, but rather reverts back to using Arm Cortex cores, which in this case is also the new Cortex-X1 and Cortex-A78 cores.

From a high-level, the CPU configuration of the Exynos 2100 looks nigh identical to that of the Snapdragon 888, as both are 1+3+4 designs with X1, A78 and A55 cores. The differences are in the details:

The X1 cores on the Exynos 2100 clock slightly higher at up to 2.91GHz, while the Cortex-A78 clock in significantly higher than the Snapdragon as they reach 2.81GHz. The Cortex-A55 cores are also quite aggressive in terms of frequency as they now reach 2.20GHz – so overall across the board higher clocks than the Snapdragon variant.

Where the Exynos isn’t as aggressive though is in its cache configurations. Most importantly, the X1 cores here only feature 512KB of L2 cache, which is a bit weird given the all-out-performance philosophy of the new CPU. The Cortex-A78s also see the usage of 512KB L2 caches, while the little A55 cores feature 64KB L2’s – less than the Snapdragon counterparts.

Much like the Snapdragon, the L3 cache also falls in at 4MB rather than the 8MB we would have hoped for this generation, however Samsung does surprise us with the usage of an estimated 6-8MB system level cache, up from the 2MB design in the Exynos 990.

On the GPU side of things, we see a Mali-G78MP14 at up to 854MHz. That’s 27% more cores and 6.7% higher frequency, and the company is also boasting massive performance gains as it touts a 40% generational improvement.

Let them fight

In today piece, we’ll be mostly focusing around CPU and GPU performance, as an especially interesting comparison will be to see how the two designs do against each other, given that they both now use Arm’s newest Cortex-X1 cores and both are sporting the same manufacturing node.

The GPU comparisons will also be interesting – and maybe quite controversial, as the results won’t be what many people will have been expecting.

While we would have liked to showcase AI performance of the two SoCs – unfortunately the software situation on the Galaxy S21’s right now means that neither SoC are fully taking advantage of their new accelerators, so that’s a topic to revisit in a few months’ time once the proper frameworks have been updated by Samsung.

Table Of Contents

5nm / 5LPE: What Do We Know?
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  • eastcoast_pete - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    Andrei, also special thanks for the power draw comparison of the A55 Little Cores in the (TSMC N7) 865 vs the (Samsung 5 nm) 888! That one graph tells us everything we need to know about what Samsung's current " 5 nm" is really comparable to. I really wonder if QC's decision to chose Samsung's fabbing was more based on availability (or absence thereof for TSMC's 5 nm) or on price? Reply
  • DanD85 - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    Well, seems like Apple hogging most of TSMC 5nm node leaves other with no other choice but going with the lesser foundry. Reply
  • heraldo25 - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    For such a thorough review it is shocking to see that software versions (build number) used during tests are not stated.
    It is absolutely essential that the review contains software versions, so that other can try to replicate results, and for the reviewing site, to have references during re-tests.
    Reply
  • name99 - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    The milc win is certainly from the data prefetcher. In simulation milc also benefits massively from runahead execution, ie same principle (bring in data earlier).

    Has anyone identified a paper or patent that indicates what ARM are doing? A table driven approach (markov prefetcher) still seems impractical, and ARM don't go in for blunt solutions that just throw area at the problem. They might be doing something like scanning lines as they enter L2 for what look like plausible addresses, and prefetching based on those, which would cover a large range of pointer-based use cases, and seems like the sort of smart low area solution they tend to favor.
    Reply
  • trivik12 - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    Hope Qualcomm moves next gen flagship SOC to TSMC again. Cannot be at so much disadvantage. Of course Samsung 3nm could narrow the gap, but that is more for 2023 flagships.
    Disappointing to see Exynos disappoint again. How is Exynos1080 as a mid range chipset?
    Reply
  • geoxile - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    Their 3nm is expected to be on par with TSMC N5. The expect gains over 7nm are only 30% higher performance, 35% die area reduction, and 40-50% power reduction. Considering 5LPE is still behind N7P it's not much and will be barely be on par with N5 in density let alone efficiency. Reply
  • jeremyshaw - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    In other words, Samsung strangled then killed SARC for their failures, only to find the failures were with SSI itself. Reply
  • geoxile - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    You must be kidding... The Exynos 2100 is at least somewhat close to the Snapdragon 888 in CPU performance. Mali continues to be a problem, and remains so even for the Kirin 9000 on TSMC N5. Mongoose was an abomination that belonged maybe in 2015. Samsung Semiconductor is less competent than TSMC but SARC's mongoose team was a joke. Reply
  • EthiaW - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    All those attempts to spend transistors niggardly and boost performance by high frequency have failed miserably.
    Single transistor performance seems to be decaying from node to node now. Flat & Not more enough transistor count=performance regression.
    Reply
  • eastcoast_pete - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    Andrei, when you're testing the actual phone, could you check the battery life with the 5G modem on and off, respectively? 5G modems are supposedly quite power hungry also, and, if it's possible to turn 5G off (but leaving 4G LTE on), it would be interesting to see just how much power 5G really consumes. Reply

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