Samsung Galaxy S4 tear-down reveals it’s costlier to make than SIII

Upgraded display, processor and new sensors push S4’s Bill of Materials to $236.

Comments Off on Samsung Galaxy S4 tear-down reveals it’s costlier to make than SIII March 20, 2013
by Design Engineering Staff

According to a preliminary virtual teardown conducted by the IHS iSuppli Mobile Handset Cost Model Service, the HSPA+ version of Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy S4 smartphone carries a $236 bill of materials (BOM), up significantly from last year’s model–the Galaxy S III.

“Although its hardware is not radically different from the Galaxy S III introduced in April of 2012, the Samsung Galaxy S4 includes some critical component updates that enhance its functionality as well as its BOM cost,” said Vincent Leung, senior analyst for cost benchmarking at IHS. “Among the upgrades are a larger, full high-definition (HD) display; a beefed-up Samsung processor; and a wealth of new sensors that set a record high for the number of such devices in a smartphone design. And despite the larger display and other changes, the Galaxy S4 has roughly the same width and the same ease of handling as the Galaxy S III.”

The most expensive component, says iSupli, is new touch-screen, a full-HD active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) display from Samsung Display with a pixel format of 1,920 by 1,080. This compares to the 1,280 by 720 WXGA resolution display in the S III. Accordingly, the new display and touch-screen subsystem is estimated to carry a cost of $75.00, up from $65.00 for the S III. This represents the single largest area of cost increase for the S4 compared to the S III.

“While many brands have released smartphone models using full-HD LCD displays, the S4 represents the first with an AMOLED display at this resolution,” said Vinita Jakhanwal, director for small & medium displays at IHS. “Reaching a true pixel density greater than 300 ppi has been a challenge for AMOLED display makers. However, Samsung was able to enhance AMOLED display performance by implementing new technologies that also drove up the cost of the display.”

The HSPA+ S4 also houses 16 gigabytes of NAND flash memory, which costs $244.00 when the $8.50 manufacturing cost is added in. The BOM of the HSPA+ version of the S4 is $30.40 higher than for the equivalent version of the Galaxy S III, a 15 percent increase.

For the S4’s apps processor, Samsung is believed to be employing an Exynos 5 Octa solution, an eight-core chip using its own design, and manufactured with Samsung’s own 28-nanometer process. This compares to the quad- core Exynos processor in the Galaxy S III. The cost of the Galaxy S4’s processor is estimated at $30.00, compared to $17.50 for the chip in the Galaxy S III.

The Galaxy S4’s eight-core Exynos processor uses ARM’s big.LITTLE microprocessor architecture. The architecture employs a hybrid approach generally referred to as heterogeneous computing, whereby two central processing units (CPUs)–a quad- core Cortex-A15 CPU and a quad-core Cortex-A7 CPU–are integrated into the same chip.

“With big.LITTLE, there is a computing and power consumption tradeoff, in which less computing-intensive tasks, such as phone calls and social media apps, can be handled by the more power- efficient but slower A7 cores,” said Wayne Lam, senior analyst for wireless communications at IHS. “This allows the bigger, more powerful and energy-draining A15 cores to remain idle when they are not needed, preserving battery life. The A15 cores go into action only for more computing-intensive applications, like video gaming or decoding video.”

This is a unique approach compared to Nvidia’s 4+1 Tegra setup or even Qualcomm’s asynchronous Krait-cores in the Snapdragon, where the processing cores are evenly matched.

The 4G LTE version of the Galaxy S4 employs a different apps processor and baseband, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600, a quad-core apps processor and LTE radio solution. Samsung had a similar hardware differentiation with the LTE version of the Galaxy S III. Given the different apps processors between the Samsung Exynos-powered S4 and the Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered Galaxy S4, some variances in the software capabilities and application performance for the two models are expected. However, that has yet to be verified by Samsung.

In addition to its beefier processor, the Galaxy S4 also integrates an array of different sensors, including the accelerometer, RGB light, geomagnetic, proximity, gyroscope, barometer, IR gesture and even temperature and humidity varieties.

The humidity and temperature sensor as well as the IR gesture sensor are new in the Galaxy S4 compared to the Galaxy S III. Because of these new capabilities, the user interface and sensor subsystem of the Galaxy S4 carries an estimated cost of $16.00, up from $12.70 in the Galaxy S III.

Although the LTE version of the Galaxy S4 employs a more advanced mobile radio than the HSPA+ version, its total BOM cost is slightly lower, at $233.00. The LTE Galaxy S4’s wireless section costs $25.00, higher than the $16.00 for the HSPA+, because it supports the new 4G LTE air interface standard as well as up to six global LTE bands.

However, the LTE version keeps expenditures down by using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 solution, which costs $20.00. An additional cost benefit of using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 solution comes from the use of a lower-cost wireless LAN/Bluetooth/FM/GPS subsystem.