News broke today that Samsung’s upcoming flagship, the fabled Galaxy S6, won’t be using Qualcomm’s new mobile system-on-a-chip, the Snapdragon 810.
As Re/code noted, the revelation came indirectly, via Qualcomm’s earnings call today, as the firm had to tell investors “a large customer’s flagship device” won’t be shipping with the Snapdragon 810 inside.
Lost business has forced Qualcomm to cut its outlook for the fiscal year slightly. The semiconductor maker did not say which client, and why, has dropped the Snapdragon 810.
However, a week ago Bloomberg learned that Samsung had opted to drop the 810 from its upcoming flagship due to overheating problems.
Instead, Samsung will now use its own processor in the next Galaxy phone.
“Samsung may release the next Galaxy S as early as March, and it can’t dare to take the risk to use any of the chips in question for its most important model,” said analyst Song Myung Sup.
The chip is working “the way we expected it to work,” Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf said on the conference call. He did acknowledge that the alleged issues were limited to the particular customer, without mentioning Samsung by name.
“We just wish it had won one more design,” he quipped.
LG’s G Flex became the first Snapdragon 810-powered smartphone to be officially announced at CES 2015, throttling notwithstanding.
ArsTechnica cautioned that “some CES previews of LG’s Flex 2 suggested that the phones on the show floor kept dimming their screens because they were running too hot.”
“There will be no problem with the G Flex2 phones,” LG told Bloomberg in an e-mailed statement. “We are taking every measure to ensure there will be no overheating problem.”
Qualcomm reportedly wanted to modify the Snapdragon 810 to fix overheating and win back the Samsung business. As per Korean media, LG threatened to sue the chip maker because it had previously adopted the non-modified version of the Snapdragon 810 for its phone.
You may recall that Qualcomm came out of the woodwork to diss Apple, a client, and its A7 chip which debuted inside the iPhone 5s in the Fall of 2013 as the world’s first 64-bit mobile phone processor.
“The 64-bit Apple chip hit us in the gut,” said a Qualcomm employee at the time. “Not just us, but everyone, really. We were slack-jawed, and stunned and unprepared.”
“The roadmap for 64-bit was nowhere close to Apple’s, since no one thought it was that essential,” said another insider. “Apple kicked everybody in the balls with this. It’s being downplayed, but it set off panic in the industry.”
A year and a half later (likely more given work on the A7 chip started 12-18 months prior to the iPhone 5s unveiling) and the industry still has not come up with a comparable chip of its own that would be on par with Apple’s speedy, fully customized A7 and A8 processors.
There’s the Nvidia X1 used in the Nexus 9 and Qualcomm’s two 64-bit chips, the Snapdragon 410 for low-end devices and the ill-fated Snapdragon 810.
The problem is, neither Nvidia nor Qualcomm are producing custom 64-bit designs. Both companies have adopted ARM’s non-optimized, off-the-shelf ARM Cortex A57 and A53 CPU cores as the fastest way to go 64-bit in light of the Apple threat.
Specifically, Nvidia’s Tegra X1 uses four ARM Cortex-A57 cores and four ARM Cortex-A53 cores in big.LITTLE configuration, plus a Maxwell-based graphics processing core with GPGPU support.
By comparison, the iPhone 6’s two-billion-transistor A8 processor uses Apple’s second generation enhanced “Cyclone” CPU core, basically a fully customized dual-core 64-bit design compatible with the ARMv8-A instruction set, and an integrated PowerVR GX6450 graphics unit based on Imagination Technologies in a four cluster configuration.
Wrapping up, Qualcomm said during today’s earnings call it’s going back to the drawing board. The company will double-down on a custom architecture for a follow-up mobile processor that will be sampled to partners by the end of 2015.
By then, Apple will have come out with the A9 and A9X processors featuring a third-generation custom 64-bit CPU design. And if predictions pan out, the next year’s A10X chip should be powerful enough to encourage Apple to replace Intel in Mac notebooks.
And all of that is the result of Steve Jobs’ visionary decision to assemble a world-class in-house team of semiconductor engineers who went on to design the very engine which drives your iPhone and iPad — and that’s no small feat by any measure.
Apple produces its own fully customized and fully optimized chips. That’s precisely why the iPhone 6’s dual-core A8 processor with 1GB of RAM outperforms the latest chips from Qualcomm and Nvidia which pack four cores and have 3GB of RAM.
Because that’s pretty much all you can do when you rely on off-the-shelf components: add more cores, increase the RAM and boost the clock frequency.