Today Samsung and AMD announced a new multi-year strategic partnership between the two companies, where Samsung SLSI will license graphics IP from AMD for use in mobile GPUs.

The announcement is a major disruptive move for the mobile graphics landscape as it signifies that Samsung is going forward with the productization of their own in-house GPU architecture in future Exynos chipsets.

Samsung is said to have started work on their own “S-GPU” at its research division back around in 2012, with the company handing over the new IP to a new division called “ACL”, or Advanced Computing Lab in San Jose, which has a joint charter with SARC (Samsung Austin R&D Center, where Samsung currently designs its custom mobile CPU & memory controller IP).

With today’s announced partnership, Samsung will license “custom graphics IP” from AMD. What this IP means is a bit unclear from the press release, but we have some strong pointers on what it might be.

Samsung’s own GPU architecture is already quite far along, having seen 7 years of development, and already being integrated in test silicon chipsets. Unless the deal was signed years ago and only publicly announced today, it would signify that the IP being talked about now is a patent-deal, rather than new architectural IP from AMD that Samsung would integrate in their own designs.

Samsung’s new GPU IP is the first from-scratch design in over a decade, in an industry with very old incumbents with massive patent-pools. Thus what today’s announcement likely means is likely that Samsung is buying a patent-chest from AMD in order to protect themselves from possible litigation from other industry players.

Of course, it is also possible that today’s announcement could signify Samsung’s abandoning of its own in-house core compute design in favour of AMD’s new IP. The announcement specifically mentions “custom graphics IP based on the recently announced, highly-scalable RDNA graphics architecture”, and Dr. Lisa Su also mentions “significantly expanding the Radeon user base and development ecosystem.”. The latter quote of expanding the development ecosystem wouldn’t make sense if the licensed IP would be solely patent related.

The licensing deal mentions coverage for mobile devices, including smartphones, which complement AMD product offerings, which in a way could preclude Samsung from using the new IP in larger form-factors such as laptops.

Dr. Lisa Su, AMD president and CEO:

“Adoption of our Radeon graphics technologies across the PC, game console, cloud and HPC markets has grown significantly and we are thrilled to now partner with industry leader Samsung to accelerate graphics innovation in the mobile market, this strategic partnership will extend the reach of our high-performance Radeon graphics into the mobile market, significantly expanding the Radeon user base and development ecosystem.”

Inyup Kang, president of Samsung Electronics’ S.LSI Business:

“As we prepare for disruptive changes in technology and discover new opportunities, our partnership with AMD will allow us to bring groundbreaking graphics products and solutions to market for tomorrow’s mobile applications. We look forward to working with AMD to accelerate innovations in mobile graphics technologies that will help take future mobile computing to the next level.”

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  • Teckk - Monday, June 3, 2019 - link

    Can someone please clarify this for me - Unlike x86, the graphics IP is independent of architecture? I mean the same graphics if it is scaled down works with ARM CPUs on a phone and the same will work as a graphics card alongside a x86 processor?
  • brakdoo - Monday, June 3, 2019 - link

    As long as it can be accessed through OpenGL/Vulkan/DirectX drivers and offers all necessary operations, YES.
  • Teckk - Monday, June 3, 2019 - link

    Thanks ! 1 more thing though, why was this not tried so far or was it tried but hasn't worked? (Nvidia?) Do GPU designs scale so easily across power envelopes?
  • Death666Angel - Monday, June 3, 2019 - link

    Nvidia put Geforce "cores" on their Tegra SoCs and it worked well. Tegra 2 was a good SoC at the time, Tegra 3 was fine but suffered from being a bit power hungry. And then they didn't iterate fast enough to compete with basic ARM CPU and GPU cores or Qualcomm offerings. It was also a rather low profit margin business, so not much money was invested into R&D. Nvidia SoCs were very capable but really needed that extra 5W horsepower (10W compared to 5W on smartphones) to shine. So only Nvidia and Nintendo used it in stationary or non-standard tablet formfactor. AMD used to own Adreno and sold it off to QC. Guess they see another shot at bringing in some money by doing this. And judging by their semi-custom suceess business model, it might for out well for everyone involved (AMD, Samsung and the consumer).
  • tk11 - Monday, June 3, 2019 - link

    Between process shrinks and a more scalable architecture the constrains that have prevented more powerful GPUs from being practical in mobile devices are slowly disappearing. If an RDNA based GPU does find its way into a phone it'll likely offer leading performance but still come at the expense of battery life relative to traditional mobile GPUs.
  • evolucian911 - Monday, June 3, 2019 - link

    Adreno on Qualcom used to be AMD graphics for mobile devices as well so it has been done long before
  • eastcoast_pete - Monday, June 3, 2019 - link

    Yup. Let's remember that "Adreno" was "Radeon" with the letters reshuffled. The question now is whether AMD's GPU team can catch up with QCs efforts quickly enough. It's been a long time since Radeon on mobile...
  • Wardrive86 - Monday, June 3, 2019 - link

    Very true but more competition in the market is always a good thing.
  • dromoxen - Tuesday, June 4, 2019 - link

    The question now is whether SAMSUNGSs GPU team can catch up with QCs efforts quickly enough.
    They are buying the basic building blocks but its up to them to build and engineer the sillycon.
  • 1llumi - Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - link

    Actually not so simple. AMD acquired a company named Bitboys in 2006. And that's where Adreno comes from. Bitboys committed to mobile graphics computing as complementation. So Adreno was born for mobile.

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