SPEC2006: Worst Disparity Yet

While we've roughly covered the specifications of the Snapdragon 865 and the new Exynos 990, what really matters is how the two chips compare in their performance and power efficiency. The Arm Cortex-A77 cores in the Snapdragon already had impressed quite a lot thanks to their microarchitectural advances, and Qualcomm’s implementation on TSMC’s N7P node beat our expectations in terms of power efficiency. Samsung’s 7LPP process node remains a wildcard, but we’ve already hinted in previous preview articles that the Exynos 990 and the M5 cores are very much lagging behind. Let’s take a deep dive into the performance detailed performance figures on SPEC2006 and dissect the microarchitectural characteristics of the two chips:

Starting off in SPECint2006, we’re already seeing some quite contrasting results between the two variants of the Galaxy S20. When it comes to performance, there’s a clear leadership on the part of the Snapdragon 865 with much larger generational improvements than what we see from the part of the Exynos 990 and its M5 cores.

What’s quite outstanding here for the Qualcomm chip is the energy efficiency improvements of the CPU. Arm notably had told us that the A77 CPU cores would improve performance in relation to the A76 cores by consuming more power – with energy efficiency between the two designs essentially being similar. That’s actually not what is happening here as the Snapdragon 865 not only uses less energy than its predecessor, but it outright uses less power as well.

I was quite perplexed by this, however there’s the difference of process nodes that might come into play. TSMC’s N7P process node might be quite a lot better than it’s N7 node, so it’s probably better to compare the generational CPU upgrades between the A76 and A77 cores when comparing the HiSilicon Kirin 990 5G, which is manufactured on the N7+ node. That chip indeed showcases better power efficiency when compared to the N7 Snapdragon 855 and Kirin 990 4G – an improvement of around 15% on average. In this comparison, the Snapdragon 865’s situation makes a lot more sense as it more closely matches the A77’s predictions.

429.mcf’s score on the Snapdragon 865 is excellent and shows a 68% improvement over the Snapdragon 855, showcasing the much-improved memory subsystem of Qualcomm’s new flagship.

The Exynos 990 also showcases good performance improvements, although less than what we see on the Snapdragon. One very weird result Is the score on 403.gcc where the new chip is actually slower than its predecessor. I did discover some weird compiler regressions, but even when using the same set, the new chip continued to be slower than its predecessor in this test, which is worrying.

What’s really bad though, is the power and energy consumption. Energy consumption is pretty much flat versus the Exynos 9820 – sometimes a bit better, sometimes a bit worse. The problem with this is that the power consumption has actually gone up by an equal amount to the performance improvements, which given a new microarchitecture and process node isn’t something what you want to see. Apple has shown that high power usage cores are usable in smartphones, but only as long as their performance is equally high, resulting in high energy efficiency for workloads. That doesn’t not seem to be the case for the Exynos 990 as its performance is lagging behind.

The results for SPECfp2006 also paint a similar picture. The Snapdragon 865 here performs excellently, showcasing some very large improvements in performance for some workloads, all whilst reducing the energy consumption in relation to the Snapdragon 855.

The Exynos 990 on the other hand continues to be mixed in its results. There are performance improvements here as well, but they come at a cost of much higher power consumption which in some cases outweigh the performance increases. Some tests such as 447.dealII and 470.lbm even see 30-40% energy efficiency regressions, which is extremely bad. 433.milc seems to really like the M5’s microarchitectural changes as it’s posting over double the performance of the M4 – while “only” increasing power by 50%.


Spec Performance Overview Across All Generations

In the overall results, the new Snapdragon 865 improves upon the Snapdragon 855 by 30% - a quite significant margin. Samsung’s Exynos 990 outperforms the Exynos 9820 by 17% in the integer suite, and a larger 36% in the FP suite, however still falls behind the Snapdragon 865 by 11 and 3%.

The performance differences aren’t that big an issue, the elephant in the room is the fact that the Exynos chip here requires double the energy to achieve slightly lower performance to its competitor. That’s massively disappointing and quite worrying for the Exynos 990 based Galaxy S20’s.

I had mentioned that the 7LPP process is quite a wildcard in the comparisons here. Luckily, I’ve been able to get my hands on a Snapdragon 765G, another SoC that’s manufactured on Samsung’s EUV process. It’s also quite a nice comparison as we’re able to compare that chip’s performance A76 cores at 2.4GHz to the middle A76 cores of the Exynos 990 which run at 2.5GHz. Performance and power between the two chips here pretty much match each other, and a clearly worse than other TSMC A76-based SoCs, especially the Kirin 990’s. The only conclusion here is that Samsung’s 7LPP node is quite behind TSMC’s N7/N7P/N7+ nodes when it comes to power efficiency – anywhere from 20 to 30%.

Unfortunately for Samsung LSI and the SARC design team, even if we accounted for such a process node difference, the M5 cores would still be far behind the A77 cores of the Snapdragon 865. Samsung’s CPU microarchitecture weaknesses are just too great, and the M5 just seemed a step sideways in terms of performance and efficiency improvements, still not fixing to what to me seemed like some obvious problems with the design. We don’t have public die shots of the S865 and E990 yet, but I’m willing to bet that the M5 cores end up at least 3x the size of the A77 designs. Together with the 2x efficiency disadvantage, and the 10% performance deficit, that’s a PPA disadvantage of 6-7x, which is just untenable. Samsung’s M6 core design was pretty much completed and said to be an SMT design, which again in my view just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever in the mobile space as it just goes against the notion of heterogenous CPU SoC designs that we have nowadays.

It’s always unfortunate to lose a CPU design team in the industry – but in my view it was inevitable given the direction things were going. Qualcomm had stopped their custom CPU efforts several years ago, with the Snapdragon 820 being the last such SoC with a fully custom microarchitecture. They had noted that their designs were quite far behind Arm’s Cortex cores when it came to efficiency, and that it was better to just use those in the mobile products, which ended up being quite the wise decision as the following Snapdragon SoC generations were all great. Meanwhile it feels like SLSI squandered 5 years in the SoC market with handicapped products that didn’t deliver on their goals, with the Exynos 9810 and now the Exynos 990 being quite the large disasters.

The silver lining here is that I expect future Exynos SoCs to be massively more competitive. Next year’s design should employ Arm’s Cortex-A78 cores, so expect roughly a 15% IPC improvement over the A77, and Samsung should be able to reach the 3GHz mark in terms of frequencies. Hopefully all that saved die space can be invested back into caches, maybe we’ll finally see an 8MB L3 to compete with Apple?

The Snapdragon 865 A77 cores look pretty amazing. Sure, there’s a still a performance gap to Apple’s A13 CPU cores, but the Arm cores are also significantly more efficient now- at least closing the gap with Apple on that metric. Arm is now heavily invested in designing larger high-performance cores, being now supported by all the Arm server and hyperscale vendors. Expectations are big for the new Arm v9 generation of microarchitectures in 2022, the roadmap of which probably also played a large factor into Samsung’s custom CPU development cancellation.

Finally, Samsung Foundry here clearly is at least a year or more behind TSMC in terms of process technology. Unfortunately, we don’t know how that side of the formula will play out – but I expect TSMC to dominate Samsung in terms of 5nm density, I just hope that the power efficiency differences won’t be as drastic. 

Memory Subsystems Compared System Performance: 120Hz Winner
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  • crimson117 - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    $1400 is absurd. There's no way they're worth more than twice as much as a brand new S10. Reply
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    Probably one of the reasons Samsung still continues to sell the S10 series. They're really excellent value right now, and you're not missing out on too much. Reply
  • cha0z_ - Monday, April 6, 2020 - link

    You are literally getting just one more year of software support going for s10 series... samsung software support policy is abysmal with less than two years of real support and from there just security. I got both iphone 11 pro max and exynos note 9, if I put aside the cr*ppy 9810 - it will not receive even the oneUI 2.1 as an update, while samsung will soon release it for s10 line. Enough said, note 9 is year and a half old.

    How can you recommend someone 1000 euro or 1400 euro phone if it will be supported for 1.5 years and from there 1.5 more security updates next to apple with 5 years FULL support with major, minor, day one, betas + security update for old iphones like 4s and 5 (2011 and 2012 respectably)?
    Reply
  • goatfajitas - Monday, April 6, 2020 - link

    You do realize the phone doesn't stop working when it doesn't get an OS update right? TBH, neither Android or IOS has added a whole lot in the past few years, its just a yearly cadence of very minor updates and not getting them means almost zero in actual use. Reply
  • Featherinmycap - Monday, April 6, 2020 - link

    I think there have been a lot of added features to IOS in the last 3 years that I use a great deal. Not saying that Android didnt already have some of these features, but for IOS users we got with IOS 11; a file manager (finally), Messages sync with iCloud, screen recording, useful improvements to Siri and ApplePay. IOS12; lots of performance improvements (lots), Screentime, Shortcuts (scripting), CarPlay, Animoji Memoji, Tracking prevention, IOS13; Single Sign on, external storage, Dark Mode, better support for keyboards, trackpads/mice, etc. Reply
  • Famorcan007 - Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - link

    I think it's because Android mostly has offered those features(file manager,screen recording, external storage,support for mice etc.) since way back compared to iOS' slow but steady trickle of features that's why iOS users feel every OS update is huge and significant. I'm using a Note 4(my backup device) right now to comment which doesn't feel too crippled compared to my Android 9 P20 pro. Reply
  • cha0z_ - Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - link

    Let's not find an excuse - software support is software support. Security is security - some of us keep all their personal info on their device (most of us) + bank accounts and whatnot, risking compromise on your phone is not that innocent compared to what was like back in the days. IOS adds rapidly more features for sure compared to android that recently starts to look more and more like IOS (and I personally totally don't like that), but still added some good stuff under the hood and some new features.

    It's not serious to sell 1400 euro phone that is supported for one year and a half. I own exynos note 9 - it's 1.5 years old and already samsung dropped the support, s10 line received oneUI 2.1, note 9 will not. How is that for my 1000 euro phone + double served with that cr*ppy exynos 9810 in it. Now it's in my GF and I am rolling iphone 11 pro max. I prefer android and love oneUI, but I am tired to be a second hand customer.
    Reply
  • s.yu - Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - link

    Don't know what you're talking about. My Note8 just got another update days ago, one that I preferred not to have because each update comes with a risk of bricking the device while potential changes to the UI are not always welcome either. I also got it ~30% off retail a few months after release, such has always been the state of Samsung, at least for S and Note.
    I'm no longer buying Samsung but the main reason is lack of the 3.5mm port, if I have to name another then it's between the questionable choice of telephoto in the smaller variants or the oversized device with a mediocre battery(I regard 5000mah to be mediocre for the size). I still do like the UI but I'm willing to look around.
    Reply
  • Psyside - Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - link

    "It's not serious to sell 1400 euro phone that is supported for one year and a half. I own exynos note 9 - it's 1.5 years old and already samsung dropped the support, s10 line received oneUI 2.1, note 9 will not. How is that for my 1000 euro phone"

    Very easy, with those "very old software features" Samsung can do what MAC can't, and don't get me start it on the utter crap IOS.

    Also don't spin it, Samsung offer 4 (four) years of security updates, so do your research before you type something.
    Reply
  • cha0z_ - Wednesday, April 8, 2020 - link

    fanboy. Security update hahahahah iphone 4s and 5 still receives security updates - 9 years old phone for 4s. What you will say now?
    iphone receive FULL support with MAJOR ios versions, updates, minor updates, BETA versions, DAY ONE as their newest and most expensive phone - for 5-6 years and you are talking about 4 years of security updates roflmao. Samsung released note 9 with android 8 when android 9 was already released from more than a months. Oooo, it's enough time, because you can dev your skin and features on top of the dev previews, especially the later ones that are closer to final (for the more tricky/deeply integrated code) - so no excuse for what they did. Basically they gave me one major update - android 10 as android 9 should had been on the note 9 from the start. Even if we count 2, how is that next to 5-6 versions of ios?

    And before you talk some more fanboy bs that never used recent years iphones - ios brings a lot more in every new versions (adding features that was missing for no reason, like external USB flash support, file browser for the files on the phone, etc) while android 10 brings you what? More lockdown ios style, iphones gestures and pixel device that is a cheap iphone wannabe.

    Because of people like you samsung don't want to change their software support policy. Why should they? It costs money or now you will start with the argument how the phone hardware is not supporting oneUI 2.1 (for the note 9 that is 1.5 years old, but will not receive it most likely ;) ). Or maybe android 11 will be too much for the phone, right? :D

    Also I agree - my note 9 can do more than my iphone 11 pro max, but everything that the phones do both (and that's 99.9% of what you will end up using constantly) - the iphone 11 pro max makes the exynos note 9 look like a total utter joke - faster, smoother with NOT A SINGLE frame drop no matter what you do, gaming is insanely good with surprise - NOT A SINGLE frame drop, battery life is x3 times better, apps have MORE features and runs super smooth and great, speakers destroys the note 9 one, camera too is times better, materials are a lot better too, faceid is super good and fast - feels like I don't have any security on - never failed or gave me any issue. Fun fact, note 9 came with fortnite and recommended as gaming phone for that game. My exynos variant can't run smoothly the game even with 30fps cap medium settings and !1080p! while iphone XS max runs it 60fps high 2688x1242 without a single frame drop. Same goes for the 11 pro max, obviously.

    As for ios - it improves massively and adds more and more missing features/drops restrictions with every version. ios 14 is already known to drop more. I prefer android, because I can do more + I love oneUI, but that doesn't change the fact that in my country I will receive exynos and 1.5 years of decent support. And in the end of the day - I spend my time in apps, not in the settings menu and apps on ios are better, with more features, smoother, a lot of them exclusive to the platform. Can you play dead cells on your android device? No? Yeah, the port is expected around the end of the year, I have it from June 2019. Full blown civilization 6 on your android device? Yeah, will never come, I have it and it's 1:1 port that runs great. Can go on and on and on. If you spend your time tweaking settings, options, UI - good for you, I spend my time in games and apps.
    Reply

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