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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122 Comments

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  • s.yu - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    :) I said it before that this makes more sense, because if it's not throttling after a while, that equals to being constantly artificially throttled.
    That said, these figures suggest far higher potential of the 865 should somebody be able to overclock it so that it boosts to >8W for a short while then throttles back.
    From ROGP3's figures last year I thought the 865 was already relatively inefficient, but compared to this generation, whatever happened none of the SoCs(not even the two on the TSMC node) are more efficient than 865. At least those who bought 865 should be satisfied.
    Even though Samsung's 5nm seems to have flopped, it's exactly where it should be according to performance predictions a couple years ago, so they're actually on track, just that the fact that this is a half node one year behind TSMC isn't reflected in its nomenclature.
    Reply
  • eastcoast_pete - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    Thanks Andrei! This kind of review is why I read AT.
    Your results also confirm my view that QC had good reasons to "launch" the 870 as the backup option to 888-based devices; judging by your findings, even a plain 865 (no +) device will be a very competitive device, and at a lower price point to boot.
    When you write up your full review, please also cover whether Samsung will guarantee at least three full generational OS updates for their S21 devices for the US also; apparently, they do so for Europe. The absence of such guarantees has turned me off from buying "flagship" Android phones in recent years, and if Samsung comes through on that also for the US, I might reconsider a Sammy for 2021. Thanks!
    Reply
  • eastcoast_pete - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    Forgot to add this: The significant power consumption of either SoC plus the pretty, but still power-hungry display makes me wonder about the battery capacity Samsung chose for the S21 Ultra. My own view is that once the phone is big and the weight is over 200 g, may as well go really big on the battery; so, this looks like a case for >= 6,000 mAh to me, and in both meanings of the word "case". Reply
  • Xerxesro - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    Would the efficiency matter much in the real world? If you use your phone for regular things (calls, chat, browsing, a few apps) the sustained performance and power consumption shouldn't matter much. The cpu & GPU are only stressed for short bursts, unlike benchmarks and games. The higher frequencies of the Exynos might even make the phone feel a bit snappier. I think... Reply
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    I've added the web-browsing tests - they're lighter than PCMark on the SoC. In the case of the S21U, the display is extremely efficient so it's still good.

    The lower brightness you use your phone, or the more the SoC difference will appear, and the less battery life you'll experience.
    Reply
  • brucethemoose - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    Out of the box with a few extra apps, flagships do a ton of processing in the background. And browsing still depends on burst performance.

    If you zealously clean the phone (and like Andrei mentioned, use high brightness), then yeah, power draw from the screen, radios are a bigger factor.
    Reply
  • Wereweeb - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    In the latest episode of "Phone manufacturers trying to fit a laptop inside a tiny glass brick" Reply
  • tkSteveFOX - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    Forgot to credit Andrei, another sensational research. Put most reviews to shame.
    Well done!
    Reply
  • Kishoreshack - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    Andrei Reminds me of Brian Klug
    But Brian's level was something else
    Reply
  • IanCutress - Tuesday, February 9, 2021 - link

    People only remember the best bits. Reply

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