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Samsung Exynos 990 vs the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865


Last updated: March 18th, 2020 at 14:10 UTC+02:00

Qualcomm unveiled its 2020 flagship chipset solution earlier this week under the name of Snapdragon 865. The SoC is bound to be used by the Galaxy S11 series, at least in those markets (like the USA and China) in which the flagship won’t rely on the Exynos 990 chipset instead.

In other words, while the Galaxy S11 itself isn’t official, we now have a pretty accurate picture of the main components powering the future flagship lineup. So how do these two chipsets compare? What do they bring new to the table? Let’s find out.

Exynos 990 vs Snapdragon 865

Unlike last year when the Exynos 9820 and Snapdragon 855 were manufactured using different processes, this time around, both the Exynos 990 and Snapdragon 865 share that core characteristic as they were both created using Samsung’s 7nm EUV process.

However, it seems like some parts of history do repeat themselves, and Qualcomm’s solution employs more recent ARM cores once again. Both chipsets have four ARM Cortex-A55 cores, but where the Snapdragon 865 complements the package with four additional cores based on the ARM Cortex-A77 architecture, the Exynos 990 features two Exynos M5 custom cores and two older ARM Cortex-A76 cores.

8K video recording made possible by Qualcomm

Fortunately, both the Exynos 990 and Snapdragon 865 chipsets support 8K video recording this time around, and our own sources recently confirmed that the Galaxy S11 will indeed have 8K video recording capabilities. This didn’t happen with the Galaxy S10 series earlier this year despite the Exynos 9820 technically supporting 8K video recording. The Snapdragon 855 was lagging behind Samsung’s solution in this regard and its lack of 8K recording support also bottlenecked the Exynos-powered variants.

That’s not to say a lot of people minded. Our poll last year showed that the majority of users would rather have more battery life than 8K video recording, and the Snapdragon 855 did beat the Exynos 9820 in efficiency. But the Galaxy S11 series might be able to deliver on both fronts. We’ll have to wait and see.

The same goes for performance as well. Synthetic benchmark results will only tell part of the story and there’s still plenty of time left for fine-tuning and optimization.

Don’t expect these chipsets to push their absolute limits in all of the areas

It’s evident that the Snapdragon 865 has the upper hand in several areas, at least on paper, but it’s important to keep in mind that neither one of these chipsets will be pushed to their absolute limits across the board. Take camera compatibility, for instance. Qualcomm’s solution is compatible with single shooters boasting resolutions of up to 200MP while the Exynos 990 is ‘limited’ to 108MP.

The question is whether the Galaxy S11 series would push the camera limit beyond 108MP even if the Exynos 990 would allow it. That’s unlikely, and possibly ill-advised unless another frantic race for more megapixels is your idea of getting better smartphone cameras. Generally, that’s not how we obtain better low-light photography and higher overall image quality.

Likewise, the Snapdragon 865 supports displays with a 144Hz refresh rate, while the Exynos 990 supports panels with a refresh rate of ‘only’ up to 120Hz. However, that’s not to say we will see many (or any) 144Hz smartphone displays hitting the market next year. Samsung has yet to release a device with a 120Hz screen, let alone one with a 144Hz refresh rate.

All in all, we’ll have to wait and see how these two chipsets perform in the real world. Until then, the spec sheet below gives us a rough idea of what to expect, at least to the extent of the technical limitations and compatibility with other components. Preliminary specs may suggest that Qualcomm’s solution will be slightly more powerful and energy-efficient because it employs – in part – newer ARM Cortex cores, but only time will tell just how small or big of a discrepancy there will be between the two chipsets.

Exynos 990 Snapdragon 865
Process 7nm EUV N7P
CPU 2x Exynos M5 (custom)
2x Cortex-A76
4x Cortex-A55
1x Kryo 585 (custom) @ 2.84GHz
3x Kryo 585 @ 2.42GHz
4x @ 1.8GHz
GPU Mali-G77 MP11 Adreno 650
Dedicated AI processor Yes Yes
Display WQUXGA (3840×2400), 4K UHD (4096×2160), 10-bit color depth
120 Hz refresh rate support
Up to 4K, 10-bit color depth
144 Hz refresh rate support
5G modem Exynos 5123 (add-on)
Peak download speed of 7.35 Gbps
Snapdragon X55 5G (add-on)
Peak download speed of 7.5 Gbps
Storage UFS 3.0, UFS 2.1 UFS 3.0
Camera Single-camera 108MP
Dual-camera 24.8MP+24.8MP
Single Camera: Up to 200MP
Dual Camera: Up to 25MP
Video Capture 8K @ 30fps, 4K @ 120fps 8K @ 30fps, 4K @ 120fps
Video Playback 8K @ 30fps or 4K @ 120fps, 10-bit HEVC (H.265), H.264, VP9, HDR10, HDR10+ 8K @ 30fps or 4K @ 120fps, Dolby Vision, HEVC (H.265), HDR10+, HLG, HDR10, H.264 (AVC), VP8, VP9
Phone Exynos 990Galaxy S11Snapdragon 865
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