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Samsung readies dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 SoC with GPS

Feb 11, 2011 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 3 views

Samsung Electronics says it will begin producing a dual-core ARM Cortex A9-based system-on-chip (SoC) next month. Aimed at both smartphones and tablets, the Exynos 4210 offers dual 1GHz cores, 1MB L2 cache, a 1080p HD video accelerator, improved 3D graphics performance, dual-display support, and even a GPS receiver, according to the company.

Samsung's newly branded Exynos 4210 was first announced last September, at which time it was known only by its "Orion" code name. It's being fabricated with 45nm processor technology, as was the single-core Cortex-A8-based S5PC110 ("Hummingbird"), used in the company's Android-based Galaxy S phones and Galaxy Tab tablet (pictured).

As we commented in September, Samsung is fairly late to the Cortex-A9 party, with the Orion following previously announced SoCs from Texas Instruments (TI), Nvidia, NEC, and STMicroelectronics. The Exynos 4210 will compete closely with Nvidia's dual-core Cortex A9-based Tegra 2: Typically clocked at 1GHz, this has won the lion's share of the high-end Android tablet market, appearing in products such as the Motorola Xoom.

In a widely quoted interview published by Hexus last month, Nvidia general manager Mike Rayfield suggested that a quad-core Tegra 3 will be launched at next week's Mobile World Congress (MWC). "It will be in production around the same time as my competitors' first dual-cores will," he was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, Qualcomm recently launched its own dual-core Snapdragon APQ8060, set to star in HP's new TouchPad tablet PC (right). Other recently announced Cortex-A9 processors include the Freescale i.MX 6, and this week, Broadcom's dual-core, 1.1GHz BCM28150 and single-core BCM21654.

Moving to the next big thing, TI says it will begin sampling dual-core ARM Cortex-A15-based OMAP5 processors later this year.

In Samsung's favor, however, is strong relationships with many vendors — including, in the past, Apple. As suggested earlier, the company also has a multitude of homegrown devices to feed with new processors.

According to Samsung, the Exynos 4210's dual 1GHz ARM Cortex A9 cores are each equipped with 32KB data cache and a 32KB instruction cache. The SoC also includes a 1MB L2 cache, which helps provide "fast context switching in a multitasking environment," claims the company.

The Exynos 4210 is also equipped with a variety of hardware accelerators, including a video encoder/decoder that supports 30fps video playback and recording at 1080p resolution, says Samsung. The SoC's graphics processing unit (GPU) is claimed to deliver five times the 3D graphics performance of Samsung's previous processor generation, presumably referring to the Hummingbird.

The accelerators, combined with the Exynos 4210's memory interface and bus architecture, enables full HD video playback and high speed 3D action games, claims the company.

DDR3, GPS, and dual embedded displays

The 4210 offers a choice between low-power LPDDR2 and higher-performance DDR3 memory technologies, as well as either NAND flash or moviNAND, says Samsung. For greater storage needs, the SoC is said to support solid-state drives (SSDs), as well as either SATA or eMMC-enabled hard disk drives (HDDs).

Reflecting the growing ubiquity of GPS in mobile devices, the Exynos 4210 offers its own GPS receiver and baseband processor, similar to many Qualcomm parts. Other features are said to include a native triple display controller architecture that improves multitasking performance over multiple displays. The controller can simultaneously support two on-device display screens, while driving a third external display via an on-chip HDMI 1.3a interface, claims Samsung.

The Exynos 4210 is said to support package-on-package (POP) designs that use memory stacking to reduce the footprint. Also available is a standalone-package derivative with a 0.8mm ball pitch.

According to Samsung, the word Exynos comes from the Greek words smart (exypnos) and green (prasinos). While "smart" signifies the high-performance aspect, "green" denotes low power features of Samsung's application processors.

Seh-Woong Jeong, executive vice president of marketing for Samsung's system LSI division, stated, "Application processors for the mobile market are one of the flagship products in our semiconductor business. We are excited to introduce the brand name of Exynos for Samsung's application processor family. As consumers demand more from their mobile products, Samsung's Exynos chips will be the power inside, enabling the coolest HD multimedia features with even longer battery life."

Further information

According to Samsung, the Exynos 4210 will go into production in March. Further information on the device may become available on the company's Exynos 4210 page [registration required].

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