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Teardown: Unveiling design wins for Samsung Galaxy S6

10 Apr 2015

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Samsung Shannon package markings. (Source: Teardown.com)

At Teardown.com, we first documented Samsung's Shannon in 2013 with a Shannon applications/baseband processor found in the U.S. mid-range Samsung Galaxy Light for T-Mobile. Over the past two years, Samsung has aggressively increased the use of this architecture with accompanying ICs ranging from power management ICs, RF transceivers to NFC controllers.

Samsung versus Qualcomm

There has been a long-standing battle at the OEM level between Samsung and Apple. But with the Galaxy S6 Samsung has now taken that battle to Qualcomm as well. By selecting to develop its own architecture, the vendor is now looking to take advantage of both an integrated Samsung cost model, as well as potentially prove to a larger set of OEMs it can supply an architecture that rivals Qualcomm.

What are the Samsung Shannon versus Qualcomm Snapdragon comparisons? Admittedly, we had to look twice at the cost difference between implementing a separate applications and baseband design in the Galaxy S6 versus the combined application/baseband design of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, a $19 difference. The Galaxy S6 has a total apps/baseband design cost of $61 while the all-in-one Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 is about $42. Notably, the Samsung Exynos 7240 is an octa-core application processor reportedly using 14nm die technology, which is where our research indicates a higher cost over the quad-core Snapdragon 801.

Also, note, the first time we saw Shannon in the Samsung Galaxy Light, it was a combination application and baseband processor that we estimated costs around $31. However in the S5 mini, the Note 4 and now in the S6, Samsung has chosen to make the applications and baseband processor functions separate components (something Qualcomm also offers with their applications only and baseband only processors). It is only speculation as to why Samsung separated the two functions in these latest devices: better performance, product line portfolio options? Or was it for device design options, such as the ability to use a quad-core application processor with this (or that) Shannon baseband modem instead of having to use a supped-up octa-core processor such as the Exynos 7240? To understand where Shannon processors may, or may not appear, and in what configuration, we will need more devices (we do not like to speculate, we prefer to verify).

To put things in perspective, we focused only on the components for what an octa-core processor, Shannon Galaxy flagship device would cost versus a quad-core processor, Qualcomm device would cost. Take a look at graph below, and we'll give you the math here, it is about $15 more for the Shannon design.

Shannon design vs. Qualcomm design

Shannon design vs. Qualcomm design. (Source: Teardown.com)

As shown in the Design Win chart, the Galaxy S6 is an almost total Samsung IC winner, however, there were some other notable design wins such as the replacement of the Synaptics with an ST touchscreen controller. We have seen other Samsung devices using ST for the touchscreen controller function, we noted the move to ST in more significant devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge that were both released in the last of quarter of 2014. Why the move to ST? Was it simply because Samsung was satisfied with ST's performance in the Note 4 enough to use ST in a flagship device? Was the move cost related? Feature related? Again, we will know more when we can identify the correct ST controller being used.

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