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Exynos 990 Enables 5G Smartphones

December 3, 2019

Author: Bob Wheeler

Samsung’s Galaxy S11 will sport a new processor and, at least in some models, a second-generation 5G modem. The company recently disclosed its Exynos 990 mobile processor and 5123 modem, both built in its 7nm EUV process. This isn’t Samsung’s first chip to use that technology—the Exynos 9825 uses the same one and has been shipping in the Note 10 since August. The Exynos 990 implements the same 2+2+4 CPU configuration as the 9825, but it upgrades the biggest (custom) and big cores. Samsung withheld details of its fifth-generation custom CPU (M5), but we estimate it boosts per-clock performance (IPC) by about 10% compared with the M4 in the 9825. The 990 received new big cores, replacing the 9825’s Cortex-A75 with Cortex-A76.

Samsung upgraded the 990 with Arm’s newest GPU, the Mali-G77. Also important to overall performance is support for LPDDR5 memory operating at 5,500MT/s, providing 31% more bandwidth. We expect this memory will become common in premium phones next year, improving performance without a power increase. Premium smartphones are rapidly increasing AI performance using deep-learning accelerators (DLAs), and the Exynos 990 follows this trend. Samsung unveiled its internally designed dual-core DLA in the 9820, but the 990 also includes an unspecified DSP.

The 5123 is the company’s second-generation 5G modem, succeeding the 5100 made in 10nm technology. It handles eight-carrier aggregation (8xCA) and 5G downlink rates up to 5.10Gbps for sub-6 bands and 7.35Gbps for millimeter-wave bands. In addition to 5G, the 5123 handles 2G, 3G, and 4G, as the 990 lacks an integrated modem. The Exynos 990 should complete the Galaxy flagship transition to 7nm, maintain its single-core-performance advantage over Snapdragon phones (but not Apple), and deliver competitive AI performance. The 990-plus-5123 combination provides a sneak preview of Samsung’s new flagship smartphone.

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