The new Galaxy S21 series of devices have been out commercially for a week now, and we’ve managed to get our hands on two Galaxy S21 Ultras – one with Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 888 SoC, and one with Samsung’s new Exynos 2100 SoC. Both chipsets this year are more similar than ever, both now sporting similar CPU configurations, and both being produced on a new Samsung 5nm (5LPE) process node.
Ahead of our full device review of the Galaxy S21 Ultra (and the smaller Galaxy S21), today we’re focusing on the first test results of the new generation of SoCs, putting them through their paces, and pitting them against each other in the new 2021 competitive landscape.
The Snapdragon 888

Qualcomm Snapdragon Flagship SoCs 2020-2021
SoC Snapdragon 865 Snapdragon 888
CPU 1x Cortex-A77@ 2.84GHz 1x512KB pL23x Cortex-A77@ 2.42GHz 3x256KB pL2
4x Cortex-A55@ 1.80GHz 4x128KB pL2
4MB sL3
1x Cortex-X1@ 2.84GHz 1x1024KB pL23x Cortex-A78@ 2.42GHz 3x512KB pL2
4x Cortex-A55@ 1.80GHz 4x128KB pL2
4MB sL3
GPU Adreno 650 @ 587 MHz Adreno 660 @ 840MHz
DSP / NPU Hexagon 69815 TOPS AI(Total CPU+GPU+HVX+Tensor) Hexagon 78026 TOPS AI(Total CPU+GPU+HVX+Tensor)
MemoryController 4x 16-bit CH@ 2133MHz LPDDR4X / 33.4GB/sor@ 2750MHz LPDDR5  /  44.0GB/s
3MB system level cache
4x 16-bit CH@ 3200MHz LPDDR5  /  51.2GB/s
3MB system level cache
ISP/Camera Dual 14-bit Spectra 480 ISP1x 200MP or 64MP with ZSLor2x 25MP with ZSL
4K video & 64MP burst capture
Triple 14-bit Spectra 580 ISP1x 200MP or 84MP with ZSLor64+25MP with ZSLor3x 28MP with ZSL
4K video & 64MP burst capture
Encode/Decode 8K30 / 4K120 10-bit H.265Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10, HLG
720p960 infinite recording
8K30 / 4K120 10-bit H.265Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10, HLG
720p960 infinite recording
Integrated Modem none(Paired with external X55 only)(LTE Category 24/22)DL = 2500 Mbps7x20MHz CA, 1024-QAMUL = 316 Mbps3x20MHz CA, 256-QAM
(5G NR Sub-6 + mmWave)DL = 7000 MbpsUL = 3000 Mbps
X60 integrated(LTE Category 24/22)DL = 2500 Mbps7x20MHz CA, 1024-QAMUL = 316 Mbps3x20MHz CA, 256-QAM
(5G NR Sub-6 + mmWave)DL = 7500 MbpsUL = 3000 Mbps
Mfc. Process TSMC7nm (N7P) Samsung5nm (5LPE)

Starting off with the new Snapdragon 888 SoC, Qualcomm’s new flagship model makes iterative steps this generation, with the biggest changes of the new design actually being in the form of the new Hexagon 780 accelerator, which fuses together traditional scalar and vector DSP operations with tensor execution engines within one single IP block.
Of course, we’re also seeing upgrades elsewhere in the architecture, with the Snapdragon 888 being among the first SoCs to use Arm’s new Cortex-X1 CPU IP, promising large performance gains relative to last generation Cortex-A77 cores. The single X1 cores in the Snapdragon 888 clocks in at 2.84GHz – the same as the previous generation Snapdragon 865’s prime Cortex-A77 cores, and less than the 3.1GHz and 3.2GHz Snapdragon 865+ and recently announced Snapdragon 870 SoCs.
Alongside the X1, we find three Cortex-A78 cores at 2.42GHz, again the same clocks as the previous generation 865 SoCs, but this time around with double the L2 caches at 512KB.
The Cortex-A55 little cores remain identical this generation, clocking in at 1.8GHz.
Although we had been expecting 8MB L3 cache flagship SoCs this year, it does look like Qualcomm opted to remain at 4MB for this generation – but at least the company dons the X1 core with the maximum 1MB L2 cache configuration.
On the GPU side of things, Qualcomm’s new Adreno 660 GPU now clocks in up to a peak 840MHz – a whopping 43% higher frequency than the Snapdragon 865 GPU. The company’s performance claims here are also astonishing, promising a +35% boost in performance. We’ll have to see how this all ends up in terms of power consumption and long-term performance in the later dedicated GPU section.
What’s quite different for the Snapdragon 888 this year is that Qualcomm has moved from a TSMC N7P process node to Samsung’s new 5LPE node – the generally wildcard in this whole situation as we haven’t had any prior experience with this new 5nm node.
The Exynos 2100

Samsung Exynos SoCs Specifications
SoC Exynos 990 Exynos 2100
CPU 2x Exynos M5@ 2.73GHz 2MB sL23MB sL32x Cortex-A76@ 2.50GHz 2x256KB pL2
4x Cortex-A55@ 2.00GHz 4x64KB pL2
1MB sL3
1x Cortex-X1@ 2.91GHz 1x512KB pL23x Cortex-A78@ 2.81GHz 3x512KB pL2
4x Cortex-A55@ 2.20GHz 4x64KB pL2
4MB sL3
GPU Mali G77MP11 @ 800 MHz Mali G78MP14 @ 854 MHz
MemoryController 4x 16-bit CH@ 2750MHz LPDDR5  /  44.0GB/s
2MB System Cache
4x 16-bit CH@ 3200MHz LPDDR5  /  51.2GB/s
6MB System Cache
ISP Single: 108MPDual: 24.8MP+24.8MP Single: 200MPDual: 32MP+32MP(Up to quad simultaneous camera)
NPU Dual NPU + DSP + CPU + GPU15 TOPs Triple NPU + DSP + CPU + GPU26 TOPs
Media 8K30 & 4K120 encode & decodeH.265/HEVC, H.264, VP9 8K30 & 4K120 encode &8K60 decodeH.265/HEVC, H.264, VP9AV1 Decode
Modem Exynos Modem External (LTE Category 24/22)DL = 3000 Mbps8x20MHz CA, 1024-QAMUL = 422 Mbps?x20MHz CA, 256-QAM
(5G NR Sub-6)DL = 5100 Mbps
(5G NR mmWave)DL = 7350 Mbps
Exynos Modem Integrated(LTE Category 24/18)DL = 3000 Mbps8x20MHz CA, 1024-QAMUL = 422 Mbps4x20MHz CA, 256-QAM
(5G NR Sub-6)DL = 5100 MbpsUL = 1920Mbps
(5G NR mmWave)DL = 7350 MbpsUL = 3670 Mbps
Mfc. Process Samsung7nm (7LPP) Samsung5nm (5LPE)

On the Samsung LSI side of things, we find the brand-new Exynos 2100. Unlike the Snapdragon 888’s more incremental changes in terms of SoC design, the new Exynos is a rather large departure for Samsung’s SoC division as this is the first flagship design in many years that no longer uses Samsung’s own in-house CPU microarchitecture, but rather reverts back to using Arm Cortex cores, which in this case is also the new Cortex-X1 and Cortex-A78 cores.
From a high-level, the CPU configuration of the Exynos 2100 looks nigh identical to that of the Snapdragon 888, as both are 1+3+4 designs with X1, A78 and A55 cores. The differences are in the details:
The X1 cores on the Exynos 2100 clock slightly higher at up to 2.91GHz, while the Cortex-A78 clock in significantly higher than the Snapdragon as they reach 2.81GHz. The Cortex-A55 cores are also quite aggressive in terms of frequency as they now reach 2.20GHz – so overall across the board higher clocks than the Snapdragon variant.
Where the Exynos isn’t as aggressive though is in its cache configurations. Most importantly, the X1 cores here only feature 512KB of L2 cache, which is a bit weird given the all-out-performance philosophy of the new CPU. The Cortex-A78s also see the usage of 512KB L2 caches, while the little A55 cores feature 64KB L2’s – less than the Snapdragon counterparts.
Much like the Snapdragon, the L3 cache also falls in at 4MB rather than the 8MB we would have hoped for this generation, however Samsung does surprise us with the usage of an estimated 6-8MB system level cache, up from the 2MB design in the Exynos 990.
On the GPU side of things, we see a Mali-G78MP14 at up to 854MHz. That’s 27% more cores and 6.7% higher frequency, and the company is also boasting massive performance gains as it touts a 40% generational improvement.
Let them fight
In today piece, we’ll be mostly focusing around CPU and GPU performance, as an especially interesting comparison will be to see how the two designs do against each other, given that they both now use Arm’s newest Cortex-X1 cores and both are sporting the same manufacturing node.
The GPU comparisons will also be interesting – and maybe quite controversial, as the results won’t be what many people will have been expecting.
While we would have liked to showcase AI performance of the two SoCs – unfortunately the software situation on the Galaxy S21’s right now means that neither SoC are fully taking advantage of their new accelerators, so that’s a topic to revisit in a few months’ time once the proper frameworks have been updated by Samsung.

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