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Beyond smartphones, Samsung wants its Exynos 9 chip in VR headsets

Beyond smartphones, Samsung wants its Exynos 9 chip in VR headsets

Samsung's Exynos chip isn't just a side project anymore, and the processors have been rebranded

In a room cordoned off from the Mobile World Congress audience, Samsung was showing off untethered headsets that operate independent of smartphones.

These were prototype devices meant mainly to show off the processing power of its Exynos chips. Samsung already offers tethered Gear VR headsets, but now wants outside companies to use its latest Exynos 9 chip in untethered VR headsets and smartphones of their own.

Exynos chips have been more of an internal project for Samsung, and have been used in the company's Galaxy phones. Just a handful of outside phone makers, like Meizu, have used the chips in their handsets.

But Samsung finally seems to be realizing that they have a great product with Exynos 9, a powerful chip that can drive a new generation of smartphones and VR headsets. The company is also looking to push its other Exynos chips to automobiles, robots, wearables, and if there's an opportunity, Chromebooks.

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Samsung has rebranded the Exynos chips so they are easily marketable and understandable for customers. The chips are now being broken down into Exynos 9, 7, 5 and 3 brands. The Exynos 9 will be targeted at high-end devices and VR headsets, while the 3 will be aimed at low-end phones.

The new Exynos 9 chip is the 8895 and will likely go into the latest Samsung Galaxy S8 handset, which could be launched by the end of this month.

But it's also an especially powerful chip for VR headsets. The chip has eight cores -- four custom and four Cortex-A53 -- that give it tremendous horsepower. It has ARM's Mali G71 GPUs with 20 cores, which will deliver powerful graphics.

The processor can handle 4K playback and recording at 120 frames per second. The chip also has a vision processing unit for VR, and can handle motion detection and track head movement.

Additionally, the chip has a new throughput mechanism for easy data transfers between the CPU and GPU. The Exynos 8895 also supports LPDDR4 memory, and has an integrated gigabit modem.

Samsung will compete against companies like Qualcomm and MediaTek, which are highlighting their own chips at MWC. Sony's Xperia XZ smartphone was the first announced with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835, which also has a gigabit modem. MediaTek announced the 10-core chip, the Helio X30, which will be available in smartphones sometime next month.

On paper, the Exynos 8895 chip is as good as the Snapdragon 835, and better than MediaTek's Helio X30. The Exynos adds some much-needed competition to the smartphone chip market, which Qualcomm dominated.

Samsung has acknowledged that it did not engage device makers enough about its chip strategy, and that it's had a only a few third-party Exynos successes, such as in Audi car infotainment systems. It'll take a while to expand its customer base, but over time companies will start trusting Samsung, said Ben Hur, vice president of Samsung LSI marketing.

The lack of knowledge so far about Samsung's Exynos chips has hurt the company. Verizon has been visibly backing rival Qualcomm, whose chips are used in the Galaxy S7 models for the U.S. markets. Also, Samsung's chips don't support CDMA, but cellular technologies like GSM, which are widely used in Asia and Europe. Samsung will add CDMA support to its chips soon, Hur said.

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