The Samsung R&D Center in Austin, Texas (SARC) was founded in 2010 to develop CPUs and system IP, including interconnects and memory controllers. Development for Samsung’s custom CPU core is reportedly handled here, which would make sense — Samsung’s CPU dev team has at least a few ex-AMD employees on it, and Austin has been a major hub for AMD for decades. According to rumors, however, SARC has just been hit by major layoffs.
The scope of these layoffs is currently unclear. Some sources have said that a single project was canceled, while others have implied a larger number of employee firings. Like Apple and Huawei, Samsung has invested in building its own custom CPU cores based on its own version of the ARMv8 architecture rather than solely licensing cores from ARM itself. Samsung, however, has struggled to compete in this space.
Anandtech has written excellent deep dives into both the M3 and M4 CPU cores. Tests on the chip at the microarchitectural level have shown that its overall performance is capable of matching the Snapdragon 855, barely, but at significantly worse power efficiency. Evaluated strictly on its technical implementation, the M4 doesn’t look great, as exemplified by this quote:
In the SPECint2006 geomean score, the Exynos 9820 slightly loses out in the to the Snapdragon 855. More importantly, it uses 47% more energy and power to achieve this same performance. In SPECfp2006 this efficiency difference drops to 21% – although the performance on the M4 cores is also 7% less.
Elsewhere, however, Anandtech makes it clear that the gap between the two devices as far as how they feel to use is much smaller. The Snapdragon 855-powered variant still got the nod for being a better iteration of the Galaxy S10 as a whole, but the publication went out of the way to say that the major differences between using the two devices largely come down to software, particularly camera software. Battery life was even slightly better on the Exynos variant rather than the Snapdragon. To be clear, Samsung has shipped Galaxy phones with two different SoC solutions in them for quite some time. Some customers, including US customers, get the Snapdragon version of a device, while international customers tend to get the Exynos variant.
The M4 CPU cores may not have been instant Apple-k–lers, but the CPU was judged to be an improvement over the M3 in many regards. It isn’t clear whether the shortcomings of the M4 design would be reason enough to k–l the effort at SARC or to reassign the CPU development team there. According to scattered reports, these layoffs are specific to the CPU team, with the GPU and SoC development teams being unaffected or less-affected (again, the situation is unclear).
Samsung could license ARM cores while still designing its own SoCs. This is route Qualcomm has taken for its own chips, which still use custom GPUs, DSPs, and AI accelerators, but have a bog-standard Cortex ARM core. We have reached out to Samsung for further comment on this situation but the company has not responded to our queries. We will update this story if we receive a response about the Austin situation. Those of you who know something or have been laid off are invited to contact us if you have information. We will keep all details anonymous. One commonality to the rumors is that they’ve all focused on the CPU division, so we’re assuming that the impact (if real) is confined to that business for now.