Samsung Stuffs More Tech Into Wearables with Industry’s First 5nm Processor

August 12, 2021 by Jake Hertz

The struggle to include more while taking up less space is a major challenge for wearables. Despite that, Samsung is pushing boundaries with the industry's first 5nm processor for wearables.

Wearable electronics are a booming field that holds the potential to change the way we exercise, monitor health, and communicate. From smartwatches to glasses to medical devices, the applications for this field are wide and diverse, making it poised to change the world. 


A high-level overview of some of the challenges wearables face.

A high-level overview of some of the challenges wearables face. Image used courtesy of Open Mind BBVA


However, the unique requirements of wearable technology impose some tough challenges for designers, especially with the struggle against Moore's law. Technology is ultimately limited to what is possible with today's available technology, requiring advancements in hardware to push along the cutting edge. 

Hoping to make that leap to the next level for wearables, this week, Samsung made headlines with the release of its newest wearable processor, the Exynos W920

While a datasheet is not currently available, this article will discuss what is known about the processor, why it matters, and what it means for the state of wearable technology. Before diving into it, let's talk about some of the challenges in wearable designs.


Challenges in Wearable Design

Part of what makes wearable electronics design so complicated is the many restrictions imposed by the application. 

Wearable electronics generally consist of a couple of key subsystems, including wireless connectivity, battery power, sensors, display, and processing. Trying to integrate all of these demands becomes a real balancing act of tradeoffs, requiring low power, high reliability, robust connectivity, and high processing power. 


An example of some components included within a smartwatch.

An example of some components included within a smartwatch. Image used courtesy of TE Connectivity 


On top of those constraints, everything needs to be integrated within a small form factor. Trying to fit thermal management (further complicated by contact with warm human skin), style, cost, and manufacturability into a smaller, more compact footprint are probably one of the most significant challenges aside from power management. 

When all things are considered, wearable electronics proves to be an extremely complicated challenge for designers, but consumers are pushing for more devices with the latest technology. 


Samsung's Exynos W920 

Samsung's newest wearable processor, the Exynos W920, which claims to be the industry's first wearable processor built on 5nm extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV), could be a giant leap forward in terms of wearable performance. 

Looking at the hardware, the Exynos W920 packs a lot into a single piece of silicon. The processor integrates two 1.18 GHz Arm Cortex-A55, a Cortex-M55 as a dedicated low-power display processor, an Arm Mali-G68 GPU, and 12 Gb of LPDDR4 memory. On top of that, the processor is embedded with a 4G LTE Cat.4 modem and a GNSS L1 for tracking location and movement tracking. 


The Samsung Exynos W920 is said to be a big step forward for mobile processors.

The Samsung Exynos W920 is said to be a big step forward for mobile processors. Image used courtesy of Samsung


Samsung claims that despite the many levels of integration and features included within the Exynos W920, this processor comes in the smallest package currently available in the market for wearables. The smaller size hopes to allow for sleeker designs and larger batteries for an extended lifetime.


Benefits of a 5nm Processor For Wearables

The main reason wearable fans are particularly excited about this release from Samsung is the marked improvement over existing solutions. 

Based on the specs that are currently available, the Exynos W920 represents a marked improvement over other existing wearable processors that power Google's Wear OS platform. 

Currently, two of the most broadly used chips in the market are Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 3100 and Snapdragon Wear 4100 Plus, which are built on 28nm and 12nm nodes, respectively. The Exynos W920 offers newer Arm Cortex cores than these competitors and at a much smaller node size, conceivably allowing for higher integration and smaller size. 

Notably, this is the first processor upgrade to a Samsung watch since the original Galaxy Watch. Compared to the previous generation of Samsung wearable offerings, like the Exynos 9110, the Exynos W920 claims a 20% performance improvement with a graphics performance improvement of 10x. 

All in all, these improvements in wearable hardware signify a very positive direction for the field. Specifically, Samsung has already stated that the new processor will power the Galaxy Watch 4, announced yesterday on August 11.


Featured image used courtesy of Samsung



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