Samsung to shut down CPU R&D offices

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Samsung to shut down CPU R&D offices

Samsung Electronics is closing down its research centers for central processing unit (CPU) core development in the United States, the company confirmed Tuesday.

As these were Samsung’s only research centers in the CPU sector, experts interpret the move as a sign that the electronics company may be stopping CPU core development for good. Samsung did not confirm its plans.

Samsung confirmed that its Samsung Austin R&D Center in Austin, Texas, and Advanced Computer Lab in San Jose, California, will see layoffs. According to media reports, around 300 employees will lose their jobs at the two sites starting from Dec. 31. Manufacturing staff in Austin will not be affected.

“The decision is part of a reshuffle to focus our capacity on other next-generation chip products,” said a Samsung spokesman.

A CPU is essentially the brain of a computer or smartphone. The core is a key CPU part that performs calculations according to received instructions. Samsung had invested in developing its own CPU core technology to power its mobile application processor (AP) - the chip that enables various apps on a smartphone to work like a computer. APs consist of mobile CPUs and graphics processing units (GPU), which are in charge of visualizing images on the screen.

At the core of this investment was the CPU development team in Austin. This was the team that successfully added Samsung’s own CPU core to its mobile AP Exynos 8 in 2015. The Exynos series continued to be inserted into Samsung smartphones including its Galaxy S and Note lineups.

Industry watchers say the likely reason Samsung decided to stop developing mobile CPU cores is because despite its investment, its products weren’t reaching the quality offered by competitors like Qualcomm, a leader in mobile APs. Samsung CPU cores fell short in areas like thermal management and energy efficiency.

Instead, Samsung is expected to focus its capacity to develop GPUs and neural processing units (NPU), which specialize in processing vast amounts of calculations at once. Both are chips deemed to have big growth potential in the era of artificial intelligence (AI).

The company recently announced that it would increase the workforce dedicated to NPU development by tenfold to 2,000 employees by 2030. Last June, it also signed a multi-year partnership with AMD to develop low-power, high-performance GPUs.

At an AI forum at its Seoul R&D Center on Tuesday, Samsung reaffirmed its focus on AI.

“In a hyperconnected society via 5G, AI and Internet of Things, a company that innovates user experiences will be a global business leader,” Koh Dong-jin, head of the IT & mobile communications division at Samsung Electronics, said. “5G and AI will lay the ground for technology innovations for smartphones, wearables, speakers, Internet of Things, augmented reality and virtual reality and provide a turning point for our everyday lives.”

The decision to stop CPU core development doesn’t mean Samsung will completely stop developing APs. As well as using its own, Samsung has licensed out mobile CPUs to apply to its APs before. A frequent partner was British chipmaker ARM, a global leader in CPU cores. Among the eight APs under the Exynos 990 lineup introduced late October, six used ARM’s CPUs.

The company is set to roll out its first AI mobile processor with an integrated 5G modem later this year.

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