5nm / 5LPE: What do we know?

Starting off with the biggest new change of this generation, both the Snapdragon 888 and the Exynos 2100 are manufactured on Samsung’s new 5nm process node, which is the biggest unknown in today’s comparison.

What’s important to remember is that although Samsung calls this node 5nm, its design and characteristics are more similar to that of their 7nm node. Key new characteristics of the new node here are the reintroduction of single diffusion breaks (SDB) on an EUV process node, as well as slight changes in the cell libraries of the process.

Advertised PPA Improvements of New Process Technologies
Data announced by companies during conference calls, press briefings and in press releases
vs 10LPE
vs 7LPP
vs 7LPP
vs 7LPP
Power 50% lower 20% 50%
Performance 20% ? 10% 35%
Area Reduction 40% ~9% <20% 40%

Per Samsung’s own numbers, the foundry claims that 5LPE is either 20% lower power than 7LPP, or 10% more performance. These are actually quite important figures to put into context, particularly when we’re comparing designs which are manufactured on TSMC’s process nodes.

In least year’s review of the Galaxy S20 series and the Exynos 990 and Snapdragon 865 SoCs, an important data-point that put things into context was Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765 SoC which was also manufactured on Samsung’s 7LPP node, and featuring Cortex-A76 cores. In that comparison we saw that The Exynos 990 and the Snapdragon 765’s A76 cores behaves very similarly in terms of power consumption, however they fell behind TSMC-based Cortex-A76 cores by anywhere from 20% to 30%.

In that context, Samsung’s 5LPE process node improving power by 20% would mean they’d only be catching up with TSMC’s 7nm nodes.

Cortex A55 @ 1.8GHz - SPEC2006 456.hmmer Power

An interesting comparison to make – and probably one of the rare ones we’re actually able to achieve today, is the comparison between the Cortex-A55 cores inside of both the Snapdragon 865 and the new Snapdragon 888. Both SoCs feature the same IP cores, clock them at the same 1.8GHz frequency, and both feature the same amount of L2 cache, with their only real difference being their process nodes.

Using SPEC’s 456.hmmer – because it’s a workload that primarily resides in the lower cache hierarchies and thus, we avoid any impact of the possibly different memory subsystem, we can see that both SoCs’ power consumption indeed is almost identical, with performance also being identical with a score of 6.84 versus 6.81 in favour of the new Snapdragon 888.

So at least at first glance, our theory that Samsung’s 5LPE merely just catches up with the power consumption and power efficiency of TSMC’s N7/N7P nodes seems to be valid – at least at these frequencies.

Further interesting data is the voltage curves of the CPUs on the Exynos 2100. I’ve extracted the frequency voltages tables of both my devices, a regular S21 and an S21 Ultra, with the above curves being the better binned chip inside of the smaller S21.

Generationally, Samsung seems to have been able to greatly reduce voltages this generation. On the Cortex-A55 cores, the cores now only require 800mV at 2GHz whilst the Exynos 990 last year in our review unit they required over 1050mV. Similarly, although the comparison isn’t apples-to-apples, the Cortex-A78 cores at 2.5GHz only require 862mV, while the Cortex-A76 cores of the previous generation required also 1050mV.

What’s also very interesting to see is the voltage curves of the Cortex-X1 cores versus the Cortex-A78 cores: they’re both nigh identical to each other, which actually lines up with Arm’s claims that the new X1 cores have the same frequency capabilities as the A78 cores, only being larger and increasing their power consumption linearly in relation to their frequency.

Samsung’s frequency tables indicate that they had been testing the A55 up to 2.6GHz, and the X1 and A78 cores up to 3.2GHz – however voltages here are quite higher and it’s also likely SLSI wouldn’t have been able to achieve similar chip yields.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to extract data from my Snapdragon 888 S21 Ultra, so I can’t tell exactly where it falls in terms of voltages compared to the Exynos 2100. One thing I can confirm as being quite different between the two SoCs is that Samsung does actually give the Exynos 2100’s Cortex-X1 core its own dedicated voltage rail and PMIC regulator, while the Snapdragon 888 shares the same voltage rail across the X1 and A78 cores. In theory, that could mean that in more mixed-thread workloads, the Exynos has the opportunity to be more power efficiency than the Snapdragon 888.

Generally, the one thing I want people to take away here is that although Samsung calls this their 5nm node, it’s quite certain that it will not perform the same as TSMC’s 5nm node. Usually we don’t care about density all too much, however performance and power efficiency are critical aspects that effect the silicon and the end-products’ experiences.

The Snapdragon 888 & Exynos 2100 Memory Subsystem & Latency: Quite Different
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  • iphonebestgamephone - Monday, February 15, 2021 - link

    If its like you said and tsmc outsourced indians too, they are just better because they paid for the better workers.
  • Wereweeb - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    Process node performance has nothing to do with the nationality of the employees. It's just natural for different teams, fabs, equipment, techniques, etc... to show different results.

    And I doubt they would abandon investments into their silicon fabrication R&D, as they're basically the only other serious player for 3nm as of this moment (Others being stuck at 7nm).

    They're behind the curve, but at least they're delivering new nodes (Differently from Intel and Global Foundries, two american fabs.)
  • Wereweeb - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

  • reuthermonkey1 - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    This is becoming a very big issue for Android.

    With Qualcomm owning the US market for Android, and with Samsung's continued Exynos woes, Apple's SoC R&D will return big dividends in the next few years.
  • Toss3 - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    How do you check the bin of the exynos chip? Is it the three numbers you see when booting into download mode?
  • Monty1401 - Tuesday, February 9, 2021 - link

    They no longer show in download mode, they can be accessed via the recovery>kernel logs, but I'm struggling to find it on device as the logs are massive and doesn't seem like it's possible to extract them without root to do a search
  • Monty1401 - Tuesday, February 9, 2021 - link

    If you find them, let me know, pulled my hair out scrolling through logs and trying various adb commands1
  • Silver5urfer - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    Marketing runs the show as always. More power consumption at the expense of battery destruction like Apple battery issue. Which will force people to buy new shit again another year of $1000+ as long as people do not stop buying this shit for Fartnite and others, this will continue forever. Utter shame.

    About the Bootloader unlock, does S20 Exynos2100 have it still or the greedy pig samsung yanked that off too ?

    I'm in the market right now to buy a phone with No hole / notch and SD card slot I have even forgone 3.5mm jack since I would get my LG service or something for the ESS anyways guess what ? None of them exist. Except Sony and ASUS which the latter is not in US market. Fucking bullshit really.
  • 5j3rul3 - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    Can I mention that "TSMC N7+ and TSMC N6 are BETTER than SAMSUNG 5LPE and SAMSUNG 4LPE"?
  • Spunjji - Monday, February 8, 2021 - link

    Thanks for the great research and write-up, Andrei. Looks like I still won't be looking to Samsung for my next upgrade, as I'm stuck with Exynos here in the UK. Shame!

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