Just as we are entering the final stretch of the year, the much-anticipated announcement of the Exynos 2100 reported to be coming by mid-December still hasn't happened. Possibly because Samsung has been busy doing its best impression of Pixar – still in the service of its chipmaking business, mind you.
But even though we're still waiting for an official launch, some recent developments pretty much confirmed one key suspicion regarding the Exynos 2100. Namely, Samsung's next flagship system-on-a-chip is shaping up to be its most important silicon in over half a decade, at a minimum.
Is dropping Mongoose a guaranteed performance boost for Samsung?
This significance of the Exynos 2100 is perhaps best described as Samsung finally resigning to the path of least resistance on the chip architecture front. Or Samsung SLI, to be more specific, as that is the chaebol's division in charge of the Exynos SoC design.
Numerous recent reports and some key benchmark sightings have already all but confirmed that the Exynos 2100 will ditch Samsung's Mongoose custom cores in favor of standardized solutions from Arm. This would eliminate numerous issues plaguing flagship Exynos chips which persisted across five whole product generations, at this point.
First introduced in 2015, the Mongoose custom cores once had the potential to become the next big thing in the mobile industry. Things did not pan out, unfortunately, as this in-house specification ended up being more trouble than it's worth fairly quickly. Samsung persisted with its architecture nonetheless, presumably because it poured countless resources into developing it. And yet the results were more often than not inferior to a contemporary white-label solution from Arm.
The issue undoubtedly culminated this year with the Exynos 990. Touted as the best-ever chip from Samsung SLI, the design proved to be less than ideal in practice. Largely due to not-so-good efficiency and the chip's tendency to overheat, which would result in aggressive throttling as the kernel would scramble to protect the silicon from literally melting inside one's smartphone. That is typical SoC behavior, mind you, but processors tend to be much better at keeping their temperatures below critical levels while outputting peak performance for way longer than the Exynos 990 is able to do so.
Things have gotten so bad that the Exynos 990 wasn't even an outright upgrade over the 2019 Exynos 9820, depending on which specific synthetic test you're looking at. With many of those issues rooted in the Mongoose architecture, Qualcomm has gotten quite comfortable with its mobile chip leadership.
And that's without even accounting for its patent trolling concerning 4G technologies that essentially prevented Samsung from using its own chips inside smartphones sold stateside. As it was cheaper to license out Qualcomm solutions, have them shipped to factories in the Far East, assemble select smartphones, and then reimport the tech back into the U.S. than try to import devices using Exynos chips made across the street from them, so to speak. It still is, in fact.
Should Qualcomm be getting worried?
But things are looking up, and not just because all the signs are now suggesting the Exynos 2100 will be a serious chip. Namely, Qualcomm's 5G patent portfolio is nowhere near the level required for the company to keep up its licensing charade indefinitely. Meaning the U.S. might really see another Exynos-powered Galaxy flagship in the near future and that device might not actually be an embarrassment compared to whatever Qualcomm will have in store that year.
Though given the aforementioned licensing issues called Qualcomm's IP royalty pricing, such a theoretical smartphone would almost certainly be limited to 5G connectivity. And 5G networks are nowhere near widespread enough for this scenario to be a possibility in the next few years. That still leaves Qualcomm with more long-term concerns than what it had a decade ago when Samsung started making SoCs.
No matter the potential, it would still be premature to expect the Exynos Galaxy S21 models to outperform their Snapdragon 888 counterparts. Though that is exactly what some industry insiders have been predicting as of late, so it's hard not to get even just a little bit excited about Samsung's 2021 flagships. Starting with the said Galaxy S21 range, which is scheduled to debut less than a month from now, so here's to hoping we'll soon find out the Exynos 2100 is a beast worthy of the “flagship” label.