Exynos to the rescue?

Samsung may pass on using Qualcomm’s hot, new chip for Galaxy S6

When Samsung introduces its Galaxy S6 smartphone, it may only have one version of the phone, not two. Typically, the company creates a phone with its own chip as well as a version using a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. This time around, there may not be a Snapdragon to be seen: Bloomberg reports that Samsung is ditching the Snapdragon 810 chip due to overheating problems when testing it.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about heat issues for the next generation of [company]Qualcomm[/company] Snapdragon chips. Earlier this month, for example, J.P. Morgan analysts said the following:

Based on our research and press reports, QCOM’s new 64-bit Snapdragon 615 and 810 chips are suffering from overheating issues. These issues surfaced in December, especially for the 810, but appear to be persisting. The issues for the Snapdragon 810 (20nm-based) and 615 (28nm-based) appear to be slightly different, according to our research. For the Snapdragon 810, a flagship chip for use in high-end models, we believe the issues are related to the implementation of new 64-bit ARM cores (A57), which is causing overheating when accelerating above 1.2-1.4 GHz frequencies, which is a major limitation for a flagship phone.

That’s one of several grumblings I’ve read or heard on this issue over the past several weeks. That doesn’t make it true of course, and Qualcomm itself denied reports in December of any issues or delays with the Snapdragon 810.

snapdragon 810

Added to the mix though are some first impressions AnandTech posted using the Snapdragon 810-powered LG G Flex 2 handset at CES, which resulted in laggy behavior and “maximum brightness was constantly reduced due to thermal throttling.” It’s certainly possible, likely even, that the software wasn’t yet optimized on this phone; that’s a common occurrence at CES. But it’s worrisome, given that the phone is set to launch in Korea later this month.

[company]Samsung[/company] of course has its own chip division. Bloomberg says that the company will turn to its own Exynos chips for the next Galaxy flagship phone as a result. If so, that would be a big blow to Qualcomm, which is reportedly powering around 70 percent of the current Galaxy S5 product line estimates J.P. Morgan.

From a consumer standpoint, would such a chip change be a big deal? Not quite. Sure, the power users will be irate over even just a few percentage point drop in benchmarks but most users likely wouldn’t see much of a difference, if any. Qualcomm and Samsung both license the same chip architecture from ARM Holdings, although they can make their own tweaks.

galaxy-s5-copper

The bigger difference between the two company’s products is in the LTE integration and capabilities where Qualcomm has long been a leader. Even so, I doubt a large percentage of consumers pass on buying a Galaxy S6 because of the chip inside. And if this situation does play out where Samsung drops the Snapdragon in its flagship phone, it could be just the excuse Samsung wanted or needed to use its own chips and control even more of its handset business.

We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks and I’ll be watching mainly to see if other handset makers look to Samsung as an chip supplier option for their own flagship phones.