System Performance: 120Hz Winner

Although the peak CPU performance of the two Galaxy S20 SoCs isn’t all that different, what also matters is how the software decides to use that computing power. We’ve seen in the past that the DVFS and scheduler settings can have a very big impact on everyday performance of a device, sometimes even more so than the actual hardware. We’ve already quickly visited the Snapdragon 865 in the Galaxy S20 Ultra a few weeks ago, and we were very impressed by the performance and efficiency of the device. Now what remains to be seen how the Exynos 990 variant of the phone behaves.

Also at play here is the phone’s 120Hz display refresh mode. Samsung gives the option to choose between 60Hz and 120Hz in the display settings, with the latter naturally giving you more fluidity in applications. Beyond that, there’s also the matter of the device’s battery modes, in particular the difference between the default “Optimized” and “Performance” modes.

On past Samsung devices we’ve always tested the phones in their performance modes, as I hadn’t really noted much of a battery life difference between the two modes – and naturally we want to experience the full performance of a flagship device anyhow. This is still valid for the Snapdragon 865 Galaxy S20s, however the Exynos 990’s Performance mode is behaving weirdly and incurs quite a large power penalty, to the point that I would strongly recommend against using it. So the most practical comparisons for most people will be the Snapdragon Performance mode figures (P) against the default Exynos figures, at least for the S20 and at least for the current firmware versions.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Web Browsing 2.0

Starting off in the web browsing test in PCMark, there’s a very clear performance difference between the two phones, however this isn’t just because the Exynos 990 somehow sucks, but because there’s a weird software configuration on the S20 Ultra.


Exynos 990 - Galaxy S20 Ultra 120Hz vs Galaxy S20+ 120Hz

Oddly enough the web browsing test is the most sensitive to a DVFS, scheduler, or Android task management setting difference between the Exynos S20 Ultra and the S20+. The latter here performs significantly better for some reason.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Video Editing

In the video editing test, the differences are minor, and in general the 120Hz results of the phones are clearly different to the 60Hz results. The test is generally V-sync limited here and isn’t all that representative of workloads anymore as most phones ace it nowadays. It’s again the Exynos in the 60Hz Performance mode which stands out of the crowd, getting better scores due to its extremely aggressive scheduling.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Writing 2.0

The Writing subtest is amongst the most important in the suite and most representative of everyday performance. Here the Snapdragon 865 is ahead of the Exynos by a good margin, and falls in line with the best scores we saw on the QRD865 in Performance mode. The Exynos, generationally, is also posting a good improvement over the Exynos 9820 of the Galaxy S10.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Photo Editing 2.0

It seems SLSI has finally resolved their performance issues of their Renderscript drivers – either that, or the new Mali-G77 GPU is doing significantly better than the G76 in these workloads. Both variants of the S20 phones here clearly ends up with top performance scores, leading the pack ahead of all other Android devices.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Data Manipulation

In the Data Manipulation test, the scores are again quite good for both variants of the phone, however the Snapdragon 865 model does lead here, especially in the 120Hz mode. In fact, in this test it fares quite a lot better than the QRD865.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Performance

In the overall scores, both variants of the S20 Ultra are top performers. As a reminder, the Exynos 990 S20+ fared a bit better than our Ultra unit for some reason, but we’re opting to show the two Ultra scores here for best apples-to-apples between phones.

Web Benchmarks

Speedometer 2.0 - OS WebView

In Speedometer 2.0, performance of the Exynos 990 chip isn’t all that much better than its predecessor, only sporting 12% increase. The Snapdragon variant on the other hand is 31% ahead of its S10 sibling, also posting notably better than what we had measured on the QRD865. It’s still far away from what Apple’s microarchitectures are able to achieve – the combination of strong CPUs along with better optimized browser JS engines is key to the iPhone performance.

WebXPRT 3 - OS WebView

In WebXPRT, the situation again favors the Snapdragon 865 variant of the phone by 17%.

JetStream 2 - OS Webview

Finally, in JetStream 2, the extend its lead to 24% which is quite large. Samsung’s custom CPU cores are particularly weak here and that’s likely due to the high instruction throughput of the test. I had found out their microarchitecture is quite weak with larger code sizes, for example unrolling loops will greatly handicap the performance of the Exynos CPUs whilst the Arm cores essentially see no big differences.

Performance Verdict: Both Winners, 120Hz Overshadows SoC Differences

Overall, I wasn’t disappointed with either variant of the S20. Both phones felt faster than Snapdragon 855 devices, the Snapdragon 865 variant of the S20 Ultra was just a little faster than the Exynos 990 variant.

The biggest improvement is user experience though it’s the 120Hz display mode. It’s just a fantastic addition to the phones, and really makes scrolling content that much more fluid. Along with the 240Hz touch input sampling rate of the phones makes these by far the most responsive and smooth experiences you can get on a mobile phone today.

SPEC2006: Worst Disparity Yet Machine Learning Inference Performance
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  • Andrei Frumusanu - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    No, there's no software application notion of displaying something at a given refresh rate - things just render as fast as possible unless. 3D games might have an FPS cap, but that's not refresh rate. Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    this is what I mean.

    "If you can run a game at 100 frames per second, you may see a tangible benefit from playing it on a monitor that can refresh that many times per second. But if you’re watching a movie at a classic 24 FPS (frames per second), a higher refresh rate monitor won’t make any difference."

    here: https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/do-you-nee...

    IOW, unless the processor sending either video or coded application images does so 120 per second, all the 120hz screen does is re-scan each image multiple times. how can the refresh rate create modified images, between those sent by the processor? or do 90/120hz screens do just that?

    do you disagree with that author?
    Reply
  • krazyfrog - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    The screen refreshes at a set rate regardless of the content being sent to it. In this case, it always refreshes at 120Hz. If the content is in 24fps, each frame of the video persists for 5 refreshes of the display. To the eye, it looks no different than watching the same 24fps video on a 60Hz display. Reply
  • surt - Saturday, April 4, 2020 - link

    Not true. It does not look the same to your eye, and the difference is the latency from the time that information is ready to display to the time it reaches your eye. The 120hz display will show that transition from e.g. the 23rd to the 24th frame significantly faster. Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Sunday, April 5, 2020 - link

    " It does not look the same to your eye"

    that's a may be. years ago I worked in a manufacturing plant, no windows and only florescent lights. one of the guys I worked with wore glasses that looked like very weak sunglasses, but no prescription. I asked him about them and he said his eye doctor prescribed them for his constant headaches. turns out that some folks rectify the 60hz flash of florescent light, and it hurts. the same phenomenon would occur with monitors. if you're not among the rectifiers, it's hard to see how you would see different at 120hz.
    Reply
  • surt - Sunday, April 5, 2020 - link

    And yet, it's not hard to see at all. Response tests are undeniable. People's reactions are unquestionably faster on 120hz. Whether you notice the difference or not, it exists. Reply
  • surt - Saturday, April 4, 2020 - link

    It matters to any game. If your game updates at 30fps, the 120hz display will get that information to your eye a fraction faster than the 60hz display, because the 'time to next frame' + 'time to display next frame' is always smaller on the 120hz. Reply
  • eastcoast_pete - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    Great review, thanks Andrei! Question: just how much power draw does the 5G modem add, especially the mm ones for us in the US? Along those lines, can the 5G function disabled in software, so not just deselected, but actually shut off? I imagine that the phone hunting for mm connectivity when it's not there could eat quite a bit of battery life. Reply
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    I don't even have 5G coverage here so I wouldn't know!

    Yes, 5G can be disabled in the options. I would assume that actually shuts off the extra RF. Similarly, I don't know how the mmWave antenna power management works.
    Reply
  • eastcoast_pete - Friday, April 3, 2020 - link

    Thanks for the reply! mm 5G coverage is supposedly "available" in some places here in the US, but I don't believe the carriers here have set up anywhere near enough cells for it to be viable. Plus, even if I'd get Gb download rates, they still have caps on their plans, unless one shells out for the premium unlimited ones. And those make the 20 Ultra's price tag look like a bargain (: Reply

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