Teardown: Samsung Galaxy Note 3: still the category leader

Teardown: Samsung Galaxy Note 3: still the category leader

Technology News |
In 2011 Samsung defined a new category with its 5.3" diagonal Galaxy Note phone. The original Note was so large it was considered by many as a phone that aspired to be a tablet, hence the term "phablet" was coined.
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The Galaxy Note’s monstrous screen was so out of place in the phone marketplace that the competition didn’t event mount a comparable rebuttal for nearly 12 months. Now nearly every manufacturer offers a five-inch plus device. But they all still struggle to unseat the category leader.

With the third iteration of the Galaxy Note, Samsung has refused to add kitschy features. Rather it has focused on improving the human interaction elements in using this device as an all-in-one communications device. First off the "S-Pen" continues to be linked into more of the embedded Samsung software and features, while the new Galaxy Watch promises further improvements to the ways the user interacts with the device’s proven functionality.

This TechInsights teardown isn’t about the software updates. Rather our interest continues to lie under the hood. With that in mind, we crack open the Galaxy Note 3 to examine the horsepower needed to bring all these features to bear for the device’s user.

Galaxy Note 3 board back

Galaxy Note 3 board front

Design wins and processors: Teardown highlights and initial cost estimates

TechInsights’s initial bill of material costs for the Galaxy Note 3 amount to $237.50. This is an increase of nearly $20 over the costs of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 HSPA device. We estimate this increase in cost is directly related to the improved and larger display module of 5.7 in. versus the previous version at 5.5 in. and the use of the Qualcomm MSM8974 baseband/applications processor. Other significant improvements are also noted in the NAND and SDRAM where the amount of memory has increased by 100% and 50% respectively.

To provide a reference of how the Galaxy Note 3 compares, we have included a comparative view against the previous generation (Galaxy Note 2 (2012)) and the recently launched Samsung Galaxy S4 LTE smart phone.

Major design wins

TechInsights has noted design wins from the following integrated circuit manufacturers. The following are highlighted in the board shots we have gathered from the device.

Processor: Qualcomm still the benchmark solution

Qualcomm secures the baseband/applications processor design within the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 with the Snapdragon 800, package MSM89747AB.

Manufactured in TSMC’s 28 nm HPM process, the MSM8974 is the new flagship applications/baseband processor from Qualcomm. Marketed as the ‘Snapdragon 800’, it features four processor cores and an LPDDR3 interface. It has design wins with several high-end smart phones, including Samsung’s Galaxy S4 LTE-A and now the Galaxy Note 3 N9005 LTE. With fierce direct competition from Nvidia and vertically integrated vendors like Apple, Qualcomm continues to push the limits of performance through architectural changes and the use of advanced process nodes.

Comparing die photos and die marks, the MSM8974 looks identical to the one TechInsights previously analysed (although the previous device was marked 2012, and this one is marked 2013).

Additional information on the Qualcomm range of processors with detailed process and technical analysis can be found here:

Logic Detailed Structural Analysis of the Qualcomm MSM8974 Snapdragon 800 SoC

Memory: Samsung packages twin stacks of LPDDR3 DRAM

From the x-ray image below, we can see Samsung’s packaging solution for 3 Gbit of LPDDR3. You can see the two stacks of three dice, each wire bonded to the memory substrate. Although there is still plenty of talk about moving to TSV (through-silicon-via) solutions for mobile DRAM, we can see here that wire bonding is still a viable solution.

Galaxy Note 3 DRAM die photo

Galaxy Note 3 DRAM package

Galaxy Note 3 DRAM x-ray

Die size is 6.53×6.08 mm = 39.7 mm2 and the Die mark is K4E4E324ED

Addition information on the Samsung range of LPDDR3 DRAM can be found here:

CircuitVision Analysis of All of the Circuitry on the Samsung K3QF2F200C-XGCE 16 GBit LPDDR3 SDRAM

Display: Better images are "PenTile"-tastic

The reason this phone is special is because of its screen. The original Galaxy Note measured 5.3" diagonally, the Galaxy Note 2 measured 5.5", and the latest iteration stands tall at 5.7" of Super AMOLED beauty.

As seen in our teardown of the Galaxy S4, the Super AMOLED display is no longer an RGB matrix, but rather Samsung’s PenTile. Without going into the specifics on the PenTile, the focus of Samsung with this new display technology has been to further develop the rendering of photos, videos, and screen input data while at the same time further reducing power consumption.

Super AMOLED pixel dimensions, front view

Super AMOLED circuit layout, back view

Addition information on the Samsung AMOLED display technology can be found at the links below.

A CircuitVision Report of the Peripheral and Pixel TFT Circuitry for the AMOLED Display in the Samsung SG-1747 Galaxy SIII Smartphone

CircuitVision Analysis of S6E37G0X01 AMOLED Driver Circuit used in Samsung GT-I91000 Galaxy SII Smartphone

The Bill of Materials Cost: Solid margins for category leader in a growth market

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 retails for $699, but TechInsights Teardown costing estimates that the production of each device is less than $240.00. Our pricing research shows that the display module and baseband processor making up the largest components of cost. This reflects a healthy margin for the industry’s leading phablet device.

This number translates into the potential for significant revenues for Samsung as the Galaxy Note 2 shipped around 28 million devices and combined with sales of the original Galaxy Note shipments have reached around 38 million. In fact the CEO of Samsung, JK Shin has said, "Galaxy Note 1 and Galaxy Note 2 were sold for a total of over 38 million. We believe Galaxy Note 3 will outdo its predecessors."

Galaxy Note 3 bill of materials comparison

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