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What's the difference between Exynos and Snapdragon processors in Samsung devices?

If all the talk about the two different versions of Samsung devices has you scratching your head, this little summary should help to clear things up a bit. Since the Galaxy S2, Samsung has been releasing two different versions of their flagship devices with different processors for different markets: the octa-core Exynos processor and the quad-core Snapdragon chipset. So why does Samsung do this and what is the difference?

snapdragon 800 back extreme closeup teaser
The processor in your phone does more than you may realize. © ANDROIDPIT

Why Samsung uses two different processors

For starters, the Exynos chip is actually made by Samsung, the Snapdragon by Qualcomm. There's obvious cost savings involved in making your own chips, but a lot of it also has to do with markets and existing support. The Exynos chips usually make their way to Asia while Europe and North America get Snapdragon variants, although sometimes these things change. For example, the European Galaxy S3 was the Exynos variant and the Galaxy Note series brings Exynos chips to the US.

Part of the reason is to do with the supply chain. Samsung is easily the largest manufacturer of smartphones in the world by volume, and making chips to satisfy Samsung's demands could easily be the sole focus of a chip-maker. Likewise, dependency plays a part too: if there's problems at Qualcomm, Samsung can step in and equip a market with Exynos chips.

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Qualcomm's Snapdragon chips are very well known in the Android world. © Qualcomm

The split also allows Samsung to attack the market on two fronts and establish what works best and why. Not to mention that there is reportedly an existing contract between Samsung and Qualcomm that both sides are still committed to. In any case, it is unlikely that Samsung could produce enough Exynos chips for all of their devices even if they weren't tied to Qualcomm.

Processors are pretty unassuming, but they underlie everything on your smartphone. © Samsung

The difference between Exynos and Snapdragon

The obvious difference is the number of cores: the Exynos is an octa-core chip and the Snapdragon is a quad-core chip. So while the Exynos cores are clocked at lower speeds than the Snapdragon cores, there's more of them. ARM's big.LITTLE architecture in the Exynos chips also allows the four ''smaller'' cores to handle lighter tasks and the four ''bigger'' cores heavier tasks as well as individual cores, courtesy of Heterogeneous Multi-Processing (HMP).

HMP is also only supported by the Exynos' big.LITTLE architecture. HMP means that as few as one ''small'' core can be used to handle the lightest of tasks and as many as all eight cores can be fired up simultaneously for the more processor-heavy demands (or for tweaking benchmark results...). Exynos chips use the ARM Mali graphics processor while the Snapdragon supports Adreno GPUs.

Samsung 64 bit processor slide
Samsung is planning their 64-bit future around both Exynos and Qualcomm chips too.  © Samsung

The variety of possible core activity in big.LITTLE is great for power management, because the device is never stuck using more processing power than it actually needs for a task. Plus, when all eight cores are firing at once the performance of an Exynos chip can dwarf that available with a Snapdragon. This wasn't always the case, but recent Exynos chips have consistently outgunned their Snapdragon equivalent in benchmarking tests.

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In many ways, Qualcomm is the standard in Android processors. © Qualcomm

There's also differences in RAM speed. Take, for example, the Snapdragon 801 and Exynos 5430, two of the most popular chips of 2014. The Exynos 5430 can support 2133 MHz of RAM speed compared to the Snapdragon's max RAM speed of 933 MHz. The same is true of the semiconductor size and memory bandwidth. The Exynos 5430 has a smaller semiconductor (20 nm compared to 28 nm) and can handle faster data speeds in memory as well.

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Who would have thought that someting so small made such a difference? © ANDROIDPIT

On the other hand, the Snapdragon has integrated LTE and is also capable of recording 4K video, which the Exynos 5430, for example, is not. There's other differences as well, like the availability of LTE infrastructure, Qualcomm's licensing of 3G and frequencies in various markets, but we've covered the main points in terms of performance. While it may seem like the Exynos is much better, there's not much point getting worried about which chip you get. Unless you're willing to import an unlocked device your choice is going to be made for you.

Which chip do you think is better? Do you wish you had options for both?


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  • ashi 6 months ago Link to comment

    Hi plz help me and answer my question got me. Samsung A3 2016 with Qualcomm CPU or better CPU with Exynos? Thank

  • Right now i am using s4 which has exynos in it. I do not play a lot of games but setimes i do but i pirely rely on the phone for performance and speed. Do u think is this the best choice?

  • PLEASE HELP ! I want to buy a samsung note 4. However, it is difficult to chose since I am living in both countries, France and USA. In USA, I do use at & t NO CONTRACT, but I might change each time I am here. I might also buy a contract with verizon or other, I don't know yet. In France I know the frequency is 900-2100.

    Now my question: do I need an LTE for USA ? I am impatient, specially with I browse the Internet. I want it to be fast. I want also the calls to go through easily and everywhere since I travel quite a bit in other countries as well, like Israel, UK, etc.

    Fistable, is Samsung's chip reliable ? Somebody told me that the Snapdragon's modem is better, but the Equinox is faster. So, now what ? It's quite expensive so I would like to keep it for a long time. I will prefer to spend 50 dollars, or even 100 more, but buy the best phone.
    What do you suggest please ? Thank you.
    I need to buy a phone very quickly because my IPHONE is out of order.

    Sincerely yours

  • Serxho Gj Oct 21, 2014 Link to comment

    encyos is better in games and grapics ,the snapdragon is better in speed and performance galaxy s3 i like more snapdragon because have 2 gb ram and it.s great and in s4 i like snapdragon agin cause of roms, 4g ,and battery life

  • I've uses all Exynos and Snapdragon. All Galaxy products will always be fine regardless.

  • It doesn't matter for me as I will never own a Samsung device, lol

  • Manuel Oct 20, 2014 Link to comment

    I am in Albania and I have a Galaxy Note 2 with exynos 4 processor, and I am pretty sure the note 2 is only with exynos.

  • My1 Oct 20, 2014 Link to comment

    I'd rather have the option. The s3 was also at option between exynos and snappy (s3 lte) here in Germany, same with the note 2.

    I would have bought the not3 rather eith the exynos, since power management and performance, while LTE and 4k mean absolutely nothing to me.

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