Opinion: An alternative take on the Exynos 990-powered Samsung Galaxy S20 range
Samsung has long had a practice of shipping its flagship smartphones with different chipsets depending on market. Most Galaxy S series flagships have for several years been sold in most markets around the globe powered by its own Exynos chipsets while the US and Chinese markets have received a variant with a Snapdragon chipset. This time around, Samsung stirred the pot a little more than usual and included its home market of Korea in the mix of models picking up a Snapdragon 865 chipset. Clearly, someone in Samsung’s executive thought that its own Exynos 990 didn’t stack up sufficiently well.
As maligned as the Exynos 990 chipset has been, the reality is that it is still a 2020 flagship worthy chipset. In fact, when it comes to all the advertised claims for the Galaxy S20 series around the new features it offers users, it doesn’t matter which variant of the Galaxy S20 you have. Both the Exynos 990 and the Snapdragon 865 deliver on Samsung’s promises. You are getting improved performance in everyday apps and games, better photography, a better display and everything else. In fact, in Samsung’s marketing, there isn’t one thing that either model can’t do as advertised.
For the most part, in fact, it is only in synthetic benchmarks that the performance discrepancy between the Exynos 990 and Snapdragon 865 start to show. Unless you happen to be a hardcore gamer, where the ARM Mali-G77MP11 GPU has been shown to throttle earlier than the Adreno 650 (found in the Snapdragon 865) under intense loads, the Exynos 990 isn't that far off the pace. Hardcore gamers, however, are probably going to opt for one of the many excellent gaming smartphones out there designed specifically for those sorts of requirements. Otherwise, it is highly unlikely that you are going to detect any performance differences between the two chipsets on a day-to-day basis. This is true even for more most so-called power users.
Following the shuttering of its custom chip designing division in Austin, the reality is that Samsung will be forced to use standard ARM designs in its future Exynos-branded chipsets. Some people have seen this as a good thing, but the performance discrepancy will only increase using standard ARM cores. There is a reason Samsung, like Qualcomm and Apple, went down this path. ARM’s designs are excellent, but they can be further optimized in terms of both performance and efficiency. This has been the case with every generation in recent years and it will continue to be the case -- although it is notable that Qualcomm (like Samsung on the Exynos 990) is focusing its customisation efforts on ARM’s high-performance cores.
The end of Samsung’s custom Mongoose CPU cores is not a reflection on its chip designers but more an awakening to the reality that Samsung is facing stiff competition from the Chinese and it needs to tighten its belt. Dreams of being the Korean Apple are over for the time being. If we are going to see semi-custom SoCs from Samsung in the future, it is likely that Samsung will adopt AMD’s RDNA graphics architecture to put it on a better footing to Qualcomm’s custom Adreno GPUs and, of course, Apple’s custom GPUs. That will certainly make for an interesting chipset, even if it doesn’t feature custom CPU cores. Word is that it could arrive in time for the Galaxy S21.
If you have an Exynos 990-powered Galaxy S20 there is absolutely no need to suffer from an inferiority complex. It deserves its place in the Galaxy S20 range and anyone using one is still holding one of the most powerful Android handsets going around.