Until relatively recently, Intel was the undisputed top dog when it comes to laptop processors. It was synonymous with devices from the top PC manufacturers in the world, as well as being the only CPU manufacturer used on Apple's MacBooks.
However, that's begun to change in recent years. Since the release of its first Ryzen processors in 2017, AMD has emerged as a major rival to Intel in the laptop space. The same year, the first ARM-based devices were released, powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 chipset. The company has gone on to partner with Microsoft on two generations of Surface Pro X, although it looks like Microsoft has ARM plans of its own.
AMD is also expected to expand into ARM-based chips, which aim to boost responsiveness and battery life without compromising on performance. That's what we've seen with Apple's new M1 chip, which has seen the company ditch Intel after a 14-year association.
The ARM revolution looks set to continue, with rumours suggesting Samsung is working on a version of its Exynos processor for laptops. Here's everything you need to know.
When will Samsung release its ARM-based CPU?
That's not exactly clear at this stage, although there are rumours that Samsung will launch its first ARM-based laptop 'in the second half of this year'. That's based on a report from ZDNet in Korea, with Engadget suggesting it will be Q3 (July-September).
A later rumour from The Korea Economic Daily also suggests an H2 2021 launch, meaning the CPUs could arrive anytime between July and the end of the year. It's possible the chip itself will arrive before the first laptop/s, but as integrated components there's little reason for Samsung to hold separate launch events.
The processor will probably be unveiled ahead of time, although it's not clear how early we could get a first look. However, ARM-based chips are all currently integrated into devices and so not available to purchase as standalone components. We wouldn't expect that to change on the new Exynos CPU.
Samsung ARM CPU devices and pricing
As a result, the price you'll pay for an Exynos-powered laptop will be dependent on which device you choose to buy. The existing Exynos processors only power Samsung smartphones, so we imagine it will be a similar situation among laptops, at least initially.
It's not clear which Samsung laptops will be the first to get the ARM treatment. However, the Galaxy Book S and older Galaxy Book 2 already use an ARM-based chip from Qualcomm's Snapdragon range, so their successors are likely candidates.
The Galaxy Book S is currently available with either an ARM-based Qualcomm processor or traditional Intel chip. We'd expect the former to swap to Exynos for its next generation.
Samsung recently launched the Galaxy Book, Galaxy Book Pro and Galaxy Book Pro 360, but all of these are powered by Intel. We'll probably have to wait until 2022 at the earliest for Exynos models. It will likely be a similar situation with the new Galaxy Book Odyssey gaming laptop.
Presumably, the company is planning to eventually transition the rest of its laptop line to Exynos silicon. That would mean the next Galaxy Book Flex, Galaxy Book Ion and even Samsung Chromebook could all make the move in the relatively near future.
Samsung ARM CPU spec rumours
News on what the Exynos laptop processors will bring is relatively thin on the ground, although the the ZDNet Korea article mentioned earlier highlights a couple of key points.
The first is that Samsung won't be manufacturing its own integrated graphics, instead pairing the Exynos chip with an AMD GPU. The two companies announced a partnership back in 2019 that would see AMD share its graphics technology, but it was widely expected to come to smartphones and foldables at that time. However, it now seems like Samsung laptops will be the first to benefit.
The article goes on to explain the reasoning behind this decision. It says the Samsung wants to include 'a processor with the desired performance at the desired time' (translated). In other words, Samsung wants to have the latest chip ready for its flagship laptops at the optimum time, rather than relying on the update cycle of another company.
AMD's Computex 2021 announcement does contradict this slightly, seeming to suggest that it will be Samsung's phones that get the benefit of AMD's graphics prowess first after all, though there's still a little wriggle room.
Did you see that? "The next place you will find #RDNA2 will be the high-performance mobile phone market. We're happy to announce that we will bring custom graphics IP to Samsung’s next flagship mobile SOC, with ray-tracing and variable rate shading capabilities.” @LisaSu of @AMD pic.twitter.com/c0z1iLl85r— Samsung Exynos (@SamsungExynos) June 1, 2021
Just as importantly, the announcement confirms that the graphics will be based on AMD's latest RDNA 2 architecture, and will bring with it support for ray-tracing and variable rate shading. If that's what phones and tablets will be getting, it seems like a given that Samsung's next laptop chip will handle at least the same.
Aside from graphics, it's very likely that the Exynos chip will use the latest Armv9 cores: the Cortex-X2, Cortex-A710 and Cortex-A510. Announced in May 2021, this bring significant performance and efficiency upgrades over the previous generation along with huge leaps in machine-learning power, and will be a must for any ARM chipset hoping to stay at the bleeding edge.
Windows Central suggests the chip could be a successor to the Exynos 2100, Samsung's flagship mobile processor which can be found in the Galaxy S21 series. This chip uses a 5nm EUV process and offers excellent smartphone performance, so a similar version could theoretically make its way into future laptops. Conversely, there's a feeling that this new chip could debut in laptops before eventually making its way to smartphones.
We already have an idea what ARM-based CPUs bring to the party courtesy of other devices. Qualcomm's chips advertise an 'always on, always connected' experience, with instant wake, excellent battery life and 4G/5G connectivity. However, it's not clear whether Samsung's ARM chip will will be able to offer the latter.
The key area where sacrifices have typically been made is performance - Samsung's Snapdragon-powered Galaxy Book S struggled slightly in that regard. Stellar performance on Apple's M1-powered MacBook Air suggests it's possible to have the best of both world, so we hope Samsung can implement this with its own chip.