Exynos vs. Snapdragon: The Smartphone Processor War
Updated: September 09,2022
In the world of Android smartphones, Samsung is the sovereign leader of the pack. While many have compared the South Korean tech giant to Apple when it comes to overall quality and the premium look and feel of its smartphones, the manufacturer does have a point of contention within its manufacturing process.
Samsung has been at the front and center of the Exynos vs. Snapdragon debate for several years. You see, unlike most Android phones, Samsung doesn’t shell out for expensive Qualcomm chips and doesn’t go budget-friendly with Mediatek either, instead producing its own mobile chips.
Well, that’s not entirely accurate: often, the US and international models come with different chips, so you might see both Qualcomm Snapdragon and Exynos offerings in everything from budget to premium smartphones by Samsung.
The History of Mobile Processors
Before we get to comparing specs and putting these two processors head-to-head, we need to take a short walk down the memory lane to talk about the origins of both Exynos and Snapdragon processors. After all, Samsung’s complicated history with mobile processors had to start for a good reason.
Snapdragon is one of the most popular processors that smartphone manufacturers use today. Designed and produced by Qualcomm, it has been around for more than a decade. The very first smartphone CPU came out in late 2007, ran at (for the time) speedy 1 GHz, and was an SoC - a system on a chip, meaning that it had an integrated circuit with multiple components such as memory and a GPU in addition to the CPU.
This mobile CPU runs on ARM architecture and can fit multiple computational cores, a GPU, a full suite of software and hardware required for GPS features, a modem, and pretty much everything else a modern smartphone needs to work. The Snapdragon SoC has, therefore, seen its implementation in many devices. Almost everything from small form smartphones to those expensive flagship smartphones with powerful audio capabilities was powered by this processor. Unless it was manufactured by Samsung or Apple, that is.
The very first Exynos chip came out of the factory line in 2010. It was called Hummingbird S5PC110, and the very first smartphone it found its way into was the Samsung Galaxy S. Like the Snapdragon, it is also an SoC and based on ARM Cortex. Most importantly, it’s manufactured entirely by Samsung.
Over the years, Samsung has been massively improving its Exynos processors, upgrading their 3D capabilities first and foremost to compete with other mobile chips and deliver improved performance in games. Recently, an agreement has been made to include AMD’s Radeon hardware as part of the new Exynos octa-core chipset. Mobile performance has peaked for day-to-day tasks; now, it’s all about gaming.
The Regional Differences
Despite investing a lot of money into its own chip, Samsung still puts Snapdragon chips in its phones. In fact, many models come in two versions - one with a Snapdragon and another with Exynos inside. For consumers that want a Galaxy smartphone, the Snapdragon vs. Exynos choice is essentially a regional one.
You see, depending on the market, the manufacturer will ship the same phone but with a different processor due to patent agreements and certain licensing deals blocking Samsung from selling its chips worldwide. This has been a controversial choice at several points in time when these two processors didn’t deliver the same kind of performance.
Samsung charged the same price for its smartphones no matter which chip was inside, leading to European and Asian customers moving away from this brand and onto Huawei, Xiaomi, and LG. The reason is simple - although it improved over the years, the early versions of Samsung’s proprietary chip were far less battery-efficient than their Snapdragon counterparts.
Exynos vs. Snapdragon: The Specs
Now that we’ve seen why the manufacturer is using these two processors in the first place, it’s time to get into the specs and tests that will truly give us the answer which one is better.
For each processor, we’ve taken the specs of the latest model that’s available to smartphone consumers. So, no theoretical or prototype specs, just the stuff that you can go and find in smartphones at stores right now. Specifically, inside the current flagship, the Samsung Galaxy S21: Exynos 2100 and Snapdragon 888.
1x Cortex-X1 @ 2.9GHz
3x Cortex-A78 @ 2.8GHz
4x Cortex-A55 @ 2.2GHz
1x Cortex-X1 @ 2.84GHz
3x Cortex-A78 @ 2.4GHz
4x Cortex-A55 @ 1.8GHz
|Arm Mali-G78, 14 cores
|LPDDR5 / LPDDR4X
5G sub-6Ghz & mmWave
5G sub-6Ghz & mmWave
Right off the bat, the two 2021 flagship chips seem to be nearly identical, and there’s not much difference when looking at Exynos vs. Snapdragon processors. They’re both manufactured through the 5 nm pipeline, support the 5G network, and even have an identical CPU configuration. The octa-core processor in Exynos seems faster thanks to switching from Mongoose to ARM Cortex cores. But is that enough to beat the latest Snapdragon? How about the onboard graphics?
Exynos 2100 vs. Snapdragon 888: The Performance
Having more raw power doesn’t always translate into better real-world performance. Firstly, we looked at the results of synthetic tests for each of these two processors. That included trusty old AnTuTu 9 for overall performance, GeekBench 5 for pure CPU testing, and finally 3DMark for testing the raw graphics power.
Here are the results:
|GeekBench 5 - Single-Core
|GeekBench 5 - Multi-Core
Samsung’s efforts to improve its architecture are evident with the Exynos 2100, although it is still not quite there and loses pace with the Snapdragon processor at several points. For example, in pure computational tests, it’s completely blown out of the water by the Snapdragon, only managing a win in the memory test by a tiny margin.
3DMark, on the other hand, favored the Exynos over the Snapdragon, even with both processors managing an average of 32 frames per second in this test. It has also been reported that throttling in Exynos 2100 starts much faster than in its competitor.
If you’re a gamer or plan to use some graphics-intensive apps on your phone, then Snapdragon is easily the better choice. When these two mobile CPUs are compared based on their gaming performance, at first, it seems as if they're equally matched. In games like Genshin Impact, PUBG Mobile, and Call of Duty: Mobile, both phones manage to hit and stay at 60 fps on cue, even on the highest graphics settings.
But, give it some time, and Exynos’s throttling kicks in, causing stuttering and an inconsistent framerate. That’s because Samsung builds its phones to stay below a certain temperature. Snapdragon-powered phones will, therefore, get much hotter while playing games for prolonged periods, but gamers will get to enjoy a much smoother experience.
Exynos vs. Snapdragon: The Bottom Line
All in all, the new Exynos generation is a step in the right direction, but it still underperforms when put against its direct competitor. The Snapdragon wins in most benchmarks and provides a more stable gaming experience thanks to the custom Hexagon DSP image processing unit. It does get hotter over more extended periods of time, but if that’s not your primary concern, then it’s a clear winner. Granted, if you can find a smartphone with this processor inside in your local store.
Frequently Asked Questions
Snapdragon is currently the better processor, beating Exynos in tests and real-world performance.
Not every Exynos is built the same, so only top-line ones can provide a good gaming experience. The latest and greatest is the Exynos 2100, found in the Samsung Galaxy S21 flagships. This processor will easily keep 60 fps in even the most demanding video games like PUBG Mobile.
Yes, Exynos is a good processor for most common smartphone tasks. The recent series has been juiced up, so it tackles mobile games and other apps with 3D graphics well.
For years, the manufacturer has been caught up in the Exynos vs. Snapdragon struggle and even ditched the latter at one point. Samsung is the manufacturer of Exynos, making it a cheaper option, which helped the manufacturer sell more phones in certain markets. Samsung actually uses both processors in its phones, but exactly which one you will find in a phone depends solely on where you decide to purchase the device.
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While Damjan started his career in humanities, his interests quickly moved on to the tech and IT world. VPNs, antiviruses, firewalls, password managers - cybersecurity is what he knows best. When Damjan’s not losing hair over the dwindling of our collective sense of tech safety, you’ll find him looking for solace in 100-hour-long RPGs and rage-inducing MOBAs.