July 30, 2021

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Snapdragon vs Exynos: How big is the performance gap?

Massively improved, but still not there yet.

Samsung’s latest and greatest Galaxy S21 series just launched to rave reviews. Between the drastically refreshed design, upgraded camera systems, and top-tier performance, there’s a lot to like here. However, not everyone will get the exact same experience. You see, like every year, the phone ships in two variants. They are nearly identical on paper except for one key difference — the choice between Snapdragon and Exynos processors.

This continues to be the case with the Samsung Galaxy S21 series as well. The North American and South Korean markets get access to the Snapdragon 888-toting Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. The rest of the world has to contend with the Exynos 2100 variant.

Year after year, the Exynos version of the phone has a history of lagging behind its Qualcomm counterpart. Will this year be any different? We pit the two phones against each other in a battle of benchmarks to find out how the two variants fared. Here’s the Android Authority breakdown of our Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Snapdragon vs Exynos testing.

What’s different between the Snapdragon 888 and Exynos 2100 processors?

  Samsung Exynos 2100 Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
CPU Config 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
GPU Arm Mali-G78, 14 cores Adreno 660
RAM LPDDR5 LPDDR5 / LPDDR4X
AI / DSP Tri-core NPU Hexagon 780
(Fused Scalar, Tensor, and Vector)
Modem 4G LTE
5G sub-6Ghz & mmWave
7.35Gbps download
(integrated Exynos 5123)
4G LTE
5G sub-6Ghz & mmWave
7.5Gbps download
3Gbps upload
(integrated Snapdragon X60)
Process 5nm 5nm

Both 2021 flagship chipsets have a lot in common. From the 5nm EUV manufacturing process to the use of the latest Arm Cortex CPU cores, as well as integrated 5G modems. The switch to a 5nm node, in particular, brings with it significant gains in efficiency and hence, battery longevity.

This year, the Exynos 2100 chipset is a major step forward for Samsung. The company is completely ditching its custom Mongoose cores for Arm’s Cortex cores. The resulting performance bump is very noticeable.

The Snapdragon 888 and Exynos 2100 are remarkably similar as far as the CPU is concerned as well. Both make use of a primary Cortex X1 core, with the Snapdragon 888 clocked at 2.84GHz, while the Exynos 2100 is a bit higher at 2.9GHz.

The Snapdragon 888 and Exynos 2100 are remarkably similar as far as the CPU is concerned.

Next, there are three Cortex A78 cores that handle day-to-day performance. On the Snapdragon 888, these are clocked at 2.4GHz. The Exynos 2100, on the other hand, is once again clocked higher at 2.8GHz.

Finally, four Cortex A55 cores take care of background activities. These are clocked at 1.8GHz and 2.2GHz on the Snapdragon 888 and Exynos 2100 respectively.

Bigger differences lie on the GPU side of things. The Adreno 660 takes on the ARM Mali-G78 MP14 GPU in the Exynos 2100. The GPU is usually where Exynos chips historically lag drastically behind their Snapdragon counterparts. Samsung has entered into a licensing deal with AMD to fix this in the future. For now, however, Samsung claims a 40% improvement in graphics performance over the outgoing chip.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Snapdragon vs Exynos: Classic benchmarks

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra camera module macro 8

Credit: David Imel / Android Authority

To keep things fair between the two phones, both the Snapdragon and Exynos variants of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra were kept at the default Full HD resolution. The adaptive frame rate option was enabled, allowing it to ramp all the way up to 120Hz.

We’ve also included benchmarks from last year’s top-performing phones across chipsets, in addition to competing hardware. This is to give you a better idea of year-on-year improvements, as well as to see exactly where the phones fit within the broader smartphone ecosystem.

Starting off with the classic benchmark series, first up, we’ve got Geekbench 5. The CPU-focused benchmark is designed to stress test computational performance, and the results are pretty obvious. With a similar CPU design but higher clock speeds, the Exynos 2100 inches ahead of the Snapdragon 888. It gets a score of 1,109 points vs the 1,098 points scored by the Snapdragon-equipped Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Multi-core benchmarks follow a similar trajectory, with the Exynos 2100 scoring almost 300 points over the Snapdragon 888. The higher clock speeds across the board for all cores means that, for once, the Exynos 2100 equipped Galaxy S21 Ultra will pull ahead in computation heavy workloads.

2021 SoC showdown: Snapdragon 888 vs Exynos 2100 vs Kirin 9000 vs Apple A14

The Snapdragon 888’s GPU advantage shows up in the GPU-centric 3DMark benchmark. However, this year, the performance gap is much smaller than between last year’s Snapdragon 865 and Exynos 990. The Adreno 660-toting Snapdragon 888 scores 7,895 points vs the 7,761 scored by the Mali G78 on the Exynos 2100. A much narrower gulf compared to the nearly 350 point difference between last year’s chipsets.

CPU-bound performance is almost neck and neck between the two phones. However, the GPU on the Snapdragon 888 pulls ahead.

Finally, we switched over to AnTuTu. The popular system-level benchmark gives us a comprehensive overall score. It is based on a number of parameters including CPU and GPU performance, in addition to stress testing the memory and UX operations. It’s long been a tried and tested way of gauging the comparative performance of phones across chipsets.

Here, the Snapdragon 888 equipped Galaxy S21 Ultra pulls ahead quite drastically on account of its faster GPU, but also how those gains translate to the general user experience including image processing. The phone scores 701,672 points here compared to the 644,316 managed by the Exynos 2100.

Interestingly, both phones show a generational leap over the outgoing models, more so in the case of the Exynos 2100. The drastically improved CPU, in particular, helped the Exynos 2100 improve its AnTuTu scores by a whopping 155,475 points.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Snapdragon vs Exynos: Speed Test G

With the classic benchmarks out of the way, we moved over to Speed Test G. You can read more about Android Authority’s independent testing utility right here. However, the long and short of it is that Speed Test G combines the best of existing benchmark tools and eliminates any possibility of bias. The entire stack is in-house which means that no company can specifically optimize to boost performance. This is as real as it gets.

For our first benchmark, we pit the two phones against each other to see how they fare in an average of 10 runs. Churning through 10 subsequent tests, the results are mostly in line with what we expected — with one exception.

You see, the Snapdragon 888 version completes the test in 36.23 seconds — a perfectly serviceable figure. However, our Exynos 2100 equipped Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra takes an additional second to complete the CPU bound test. It wraps it up in 37.82 seconds. This indicates that sustained performance on the Exynos 2100 starts ramping down faster than the Snapdragon 888.

Snapdragon SoC guide: All of Qualcomm’s smartphone processors explained

Elsewhere, results for the GPU bound tests are also in line with the paper specs. The Adreno 660 helps execute 10 rounds of Speed Test G in 26.28 seconds. Meanwhile, the Mali G78 takes 34.43 seconds to finish the same. Compared to the Exynos 990, there are significant gains to be seen here. However, they are still not enough to catch up to the Snapdragon 888.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: Endurance tests

Moving over to the Speed Test G endurance test. This is the big daddy of smartphone benchmarking. A true torture test, it pushes both the CPU and GPU to the limits from 100% charge all the way till the battery dies.

The Exynos 2100 starts throttling back much faster than the Snapdragon 888.

Looking at the data, we can see that the Snapdragon 888 equipped Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is noticeably faster than the Exynos 2100 variant. Not only does it complete individual runs faster, but sustained performance drop off occurs much later than the Exynos 2100, which shows a steep decline in performance around the 14th Speed Test G run.

Beyond that, we can see that the Snapdragon 888 delivers more consistent performance throughout the course of the benchmark.

Finally, coming to battery endurance, we see that the higher performance run results in shorter battery life for the Snapdragon 888 equipped Galaxy S21 Ultra. The battery life delta between the two variants isn’t drastic. However, opened up full throttle, the Snapdragon 888 variant lasts 199 minutes — a full 27 minutes lower than the Exynos variant which managed to run for 226 minutes.

Samsung Exynos processor guide: Everything you need to know

Our testing reveals that the Snapdragon 888 version starts throttling after approximately 38 minutes of all-out performance. Meanwhile, the Exynos version slows itself down much earlier at about 25 minutes. This reduced performance, however, translates to lower power consumption and allows it to last almost half an hour longer.

Snapdragon 888 or Exynos 2100: Which Galaxy S21 Ultra variant is faster?

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra snapdragon 888 vs exynos 2100

Credit: David Imel / Android Authority

Samsung has made huge strides this year with the Exynos 2100 chipset. While still slower than the Snapdragon 888, the performance difference between the two chipsets isn’t nearly as drastic as on previous models. Users shouldn’t feel short-changed if they can’t get their hands on the Qualcomm version.

CPU performance on both phones is broadly neck and neck. This should translate to equivalent performance in day-to-day use. That said, if your usage involves a lot of gaming, the Snapdragon version is still the way to go, if you can get your hands on it.

The Exynos-based S21 Ultra comes much closer to the Snapdragon version than in previous years.

With Samsung licensing AMD’s Radeon technology to improve its GPU game, the next generation of Exynos chipsets should have what it takes to match or even exceed Qualcomm’s offering. However, as it stands, if peak performance is what you want, you’ll want to consider the Snapdragon 888-packing Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.

NEWSLETTER | The Weekly Authority

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