Home / Opinions / Why being non-64-bit kills the Galaxy Note 4's futureproofing

Why being non-64-bit kills the Galaxy Note 4's futureproofing

Andrew Williams


Galaxy Note 4
Galaxy Note 4

What's wrong with the Galaxy Note 4?

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is here. It has one of the most impressive phone screens we’ve ever seen, a camera to rival the Galaxy S5, and Samsung has even toned down some of its usual naff design elements.

It’s a roaring success in most respects. But there’s something that we feel the need to mention, because few others seem to – the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is not 64-bit. Or, to be more precise, the version of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 we’re getting in the UK is not 64-bit.

To explain: there are two main versions of the Galaxy Note 4, each distributed in its own set of territories.

There are Exynos CPU Galaxy Note 4s and there are Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 Note 4s. It’s the same sort of Snapdragon/Exynos split we’ve seen in several other key phones, including the Galaxy S5 and Note 3. In the UK we’re going to get the Snapdragon kind of Note 4.

There’s nothing wrong with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors. Qualcomm has provided the engines for many of our favourite phones of the last few years, and it has a better track record than Samsung’s Exynos chipsets.

Normally we breathe a sigh of relief when Samsung offers us a Snapdragon rather than an Exynos.

Check out the Galaxy Note 4 in action below

Exynos vs Snapdragon

But this time we’re disappointed. Why? Because the Snapdragon 805 is fundamentally a 32-bit processor rather than a 64-bit one. The Exynos 5433 processor seen in Note 4s elsewhere across the world is a 64-bit chipset.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 may be fast, but isn’t much of a step up from the Snapdragon 801 of the Galaxy S5, which in turn isn’t all that much better than the Snapdragon 800 of the LG G2, released almost a year ago.

The truth: Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 805 is a chipset clinging onto a system architecture that is already in the grave and having dirt shovelled over its barely-moving limbs. You can bet next year’s Samsung Galaxy S6 won’t have anything like this processor.

Future proofing

Android LLet’s take a step back, though. At the moment, having a 32-bit processor is no bad thing. There’s currently no intrinsic benefit to having an Android phone with a 64-bit chipset.

However, that won’t be the case for that much longer.

Android L is going to offer native support for 64-bit processors, and that involves a substantial re-working of the system so it can make use of what those CPUs pack. This isn’t a tweak, it’s groundwork for the future.

And we’re not going to see 64-bit chipsets reserved for elite phones either. Qualcomm has already revealed the Snapdragon 610 for mid-range phones, and the Snapdragon 410 for those closer to entry-level.

It won’t just be the Galaxy S6 that’ll be looking down at the Note 4. It’ll be pretty much every new phone.

So why doesn’t the Galaxy Note 4 have a 64-bit CPU? It’s a case of timing.

Samsung does not rely exclusively on its ‘own-brand’ Exynos line for top-tier devices like the Note 4, presumably because it doesn’t have the capacity to roll-out the tens of millions of units required. And while Qualcomm’s low-end and mid-range 64-bit chipsets are due out by the end of the year, the top dog Snapdragon 810 isn’t set to arrive until 2015.

In order to arrive this year, the Note 4 had to be sacrificed. And now it has Jack syndrome, doomed to be old before its time (RIP Robin Williams).

32-bit vs 64-bit

Of course, we haven’t yet explained why having a 64-bit processor is going to be important, only that soon just about every new phone will have one.

So what’s the big deal? The main advancement offered by a 64-bit processor is that it exponentially increases the memory address space of a system. Apologies for using a techy term that seems about as impenetrable as a James Joyce novel with half the words missing (wouldn't that improve it? - Ed.), but it can be explained reasonably simply.

Address space refers to the total amount of physical memory that can be accessed by a CPU at once time. In a 32-bit system the total address space is around 4GB.

And that's the limit of any memory accessible, not just plain RAM. And that’s why we’ve more-or-less seen mobile phones hit a brick wall at 3GB – a 32-bit system cannot access more than this in one go. While the Snapdragon 805 has a special LPAE system in place that would allow 4GB to be used, the Note 4 is very much in 32-bit RAM territory.

With a 64-bit system, this address space is raised from 4GB to theoretical maximum that ranges in exabytes (a billion gigabytes). There is no real ceiling with 64-bit.

64-bit processors also feature many more registers, which allows for much greater simultaneous crunching of data. Many might argue this is actually more important than the address space issue.

It’s this that is going to put an end to the trend of simply upping clock speeds in CPUs – changes that have fairly little tangible benefit, and the reason why Android CPUs have barely progressed in the last year or so. CPU registers are where the actual data being worked on by the processor is stored, and more of them will allow a CPU to tackle more data simultaneously.

Benchmarks of the Exynos 5433, the processor used in the 64-bit version of the Galaxy Note 4, comfortably outperforms the Snapdragon 805 one already. And that’s without any real 64-bit optimisation in the Android system.

Where do the benefits come?

Of course, phones aren’t going to suddenly leap into the stratosphere in terms of power and RAM allowance. We won’t see mainstream phones with 16GB of RAM released next tear. However, there are some real short-term and mid-term benefits that could come from 64-bit phones. And they’re ones we’ve already seen elsewhere.

With iOS 7 and the iPhone 5S, Apple’s iPhone series went 64-bit in one great big go.

You might not notice it in day-to-day use, and flashy mobile games certainly aren’t things that really need 64-bit support. However, there were immediate doors opened in creative apps when the iPhone went 64-bit.

GaragebandMusic sequencer Garageband allows 32 simultaneous music tracks with a 64-bit iPhone 5S, but just 16 with a 32-bit iPhone 5C. You’d see the same sort of doors opening with art apps, where you might be able to create greater canvases with more layers, allowing for more complicated creations.

Here’s where we’re getting to the pointed end of our issue – the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 needs to be pioneering this stuff. If there’s any mobile phone that can promote creative apps and get developers to add worthwhile 64-bit optimisation to their software, it’s this.

There are already handfuls of apps on Google Play that have specific versions to cater for Galaxy Note phones. But now that the Note 4 audience has been split between 32-bit and 64-bit worlds, we can’t imagine many app developers splitting capabilities between devices of the same name. Why would you when it’s just going to piss people off?

Holding back the future

Without the Note 4 on-board the 64-bit train, it looks as though it is going to be up to tablets to really promote the benefits of the new generation of processors.

As we’ve seen with the iPhone 5S and its lack of 64-bit optimised apps following a brief flurry of ones immediately post-launch, you need more than just capability. You need to have the right hardware to suit those skills.

The Galaxy Note 4 has the right hardware exterior – the S Pen and giant screen are ripe for the stuff 64-bit phones would excel at – but, sadly, it just doesn’t have the chops to really take that hardware to the next level. And unfortunately it’s the enthusiast, the sort of person that might be reading this article, who is going to miss out.

If the Galaxy Note 4 isn't for you, how about the Sony Xperia Z3


September 5, 2014, 11:39 am

"a chipset clinging onto a system architecture that is already in the grave and having dirt shovelled over its barely-moving limbs."

Next paragraph:

"At the moment, having a 32-bit processor is no bad thing. There’s currently no intrinsic benefit to having an Android phone with a 64-bit chipset. "

I love a bit of contradiction.

I don't.

I do love people not exaggerating. Realistically the move the benefits of 64bit will be slow. Years. Maybe only two, but certainly more than one year before enough programs are written to take advantage (but still work on a 32bit chipset). It's beneficial that the more devices are released with 64bit architecture, beause as always there's an element of chicken/egg with hardware and software support.

My main point is this - 32bit is only just starting to choose a plot where it should dig it's grave. It's not even bought the shovel yet, never mind dead and buried. calm yourself down.

Prem Desai

September 5, 2014, 12:45 pm

Enough with the 64-bit nonsense. The 64 bit architecture lets you see more than 4Gb of memory. No phone has this.

Whilst I won't be getting the Note 4 for other reasons, the 64-bit thing is not an issue.

Ray Donnelly

September 5, 2014, 9:31 pm

A 64bit processor in a system with <= 4GB RAM is altogether pointless. It increases the number of transistors and the size of program data and executables (each pointer being 2x as big), which leads to less efficient cache usage.

The reason that a specific 64bit chip may run faster than a specific 32bit one is that the 64bit one is probably more recent. Tangibly this means they are fabricated using newer process technology allowing faster clock rates and also benefit from more recent CPU design research.

In other words a 32bit CPU with the same cache sizes, instruction set and architectural design will outperform a version of that CPU where the only change is to double the register and bus width.

As soon as we get >4GB RAM in a phone or tablet then 64bit is useful. And sure, getting the tooling is in place for when this happens is a good thing.

The bit about garage band seems to be an attempt to imply that if you double the register and bus width you can double some user-facing property.

The suggestion that clock speed increases don't lead to tangible improvements is completely wrong. Faster clock rates lead to better frame rates in CPU intensive games, or to completing tasks more quickly so that reduced power modes can be enabled more quickly saving battery.

It's as if 64bit is some magic pixie dust that makes everything so much better, even the audio sounds better and the colours are more vibrant.


September 5, 2014, 10:25 pm

To the other commenters, it's not about the RAM guys, it's about the registers.

In the PC space it was all about the new registers and new instruction sets (e.g. SSE) that came with x64. That's where the performance benefits came from, and for code compiled for x64 the benefits could be substantial. When I used to dabble in Z80 machine code a few more registers would really have come in handy (in machine code you put data directly into the registers yourself; it's less fun than it sounds).

Not sure if we get new instruction sets here though; new registers alone should give a decent benefit but probably won't set the world alight.

Jack Reynolds

September 6, 2014, 4:49 am

If a vendor offers a 64-bit OS and matching hardware that is significantly faster than its older 32-bit stuff, that is reason enough to move to 64-bit. It will be a long time before you need many Apps that take advantage of 64-bit capabilities. If you doubt that take a quick look at the world of Windows apps. In most instances very little code was changed to convert Apps from 32-bit to 64-bit and performance of the two is similar. Server programs are a different matter.

Raoh shiro

September 6, 2014, 7:37 am

Isn't their some type of bug that will prevent 32 bit systems from working in 2015 -2018? If so, they gave the Note 4 an early physical death! Good job Samsung!!!

Dr. Mark Lipschitz

September 6, 2014, 8:05 am

What exactly is "Future Proofing"? Can you give me an example of any phone that has been "Future Proofed"? There is no such thing. OEMs and carriers want you to stay on a cycle of replacing your phone.

Ilya Mischenko

September 7, 2014, 3:42 am

exynos 5433 is 32bit too. Quad a15/a7

Muffy Puffin

September 7, 2014, 7:38 am

Can not agree more with the author. I was expecting Samsung to use Exynos 64-bit exclusively, and use a Cat 6 LTE modem from Intel in them, even if it was more expensive.
I have not found any official announcement from Samsung that Exynos on Note4 is 64-bit.And even if it is whether they will enable it upon updating to L.Even if Note4 does go 64 bit, having a 32 bit brother somewhat destroys the branding of Note.
Advantage of 64 Bit?:-

Muffy Puffin

September 7, 2014, 7:47 am

I don't know what it is.
But using 32 bit processor in October of 2014 A.D. isn't.
The next note will come in a year.If within 5 months you think $300 64-Bit device is obviously better than the $600 for Note4, then Note4 is not "Future Proof" (Assuming depreciated/reduced price for Note4).


September 8, 2014, 3:03 pm

Yeah this is the stupidest thing I've heard yet. You're not going to upgrade the Note4 .. you're going to buy the Note5. And unless you have a very specific reason for 64-bits other than buzzwords like "future-proofing" then you're losing out rather than gaining, since binary sizes are bigger and you're paying more. The Note4 has only 3GB of RAM, so pushing to 64-bit just to say you have it would be moronic.

This article is pure uninformed drivel.


September 8, 2014, 9:08 pm

I deal with this question a bit more in the last third of the article. The issue is that 64-bit Android isn't really the 'future' but 'tomorrow' in tech terms. And I'd love to have seen the Note 4 lead the charge. It really could have done so, but Samsung has had to release now in order to keep to a pretty rigid upgrade cycle.

It doesn't mean the Note 4 is bad. But it is a shame.


September 8, 2014, 9:13 pm

A very amusing comment, and I do get your point. But don't you think the Note 4 could have spurred on some early 64-bit development, even if it's specific to the device? We need phones to prove that it's worthwhile. Because you could easily argue that none of it is really necessary.

Dr. Mark Lipschitz

September 9, 2014, 4:23 am

The next Nexus phone(Shamu, Nexus 6 or Nexus X) is rumoured to have the same exact processor with 3 gigs of ram. It is THE reference device for the next year and it has not even been revealed yet. It is running L. Again, I think you are overreacting. The shame is that people keep trying to make themselves feel better by not upgrading their phone because it is not 64 bit, isn't waterproof, is a little heavier, still has a small bezel, only has 3 gigs of ram, etc, etc. This phone is a beast!

Dr. Mark Lipschitz

September 9, 2014, 4:31 am


Raoh shiro

September 9, 2014, 5:30 am

I think I may be getting confused with the Year 2038 problem? But I could have sworn I heard of a bug that would effect 32-bit computers in the years 2015 or 2018?

DOS, Windows API and FAT filesystems are going to have a big problem in the years 2099. Anything signed with a 32-bit integer is going to be a real bad day to be a computer!

That's less then 85yrs from now BTW!

"There’s currently no intrinsic benefit to having an Android phone with a 64-bit chipset"

I find this quote quite funny and frankly immature from such professional journalism!


September 9, 2014, 8:59 am


The Note 4 isn't really any different from any other device that doesn't have 64bit chipset. Some device will start the trend soon and then the ball will start rolling - I don't really see it being important to one device in particular.

You could certainly argue none of it is really necessary. Even the point you made about Garageband. Anyone who takes music production even the tiniest bit seriously wouldn't use their iPad/iPhone for that purpose; and those who use it for a bit of fun won't need more than 16 tracks anyway! So what's the point?
The point is the more the development continues the closer the ARM chips are getting to being a fully-functional computer in your pocket. Although, I personally see the other side of the battle (x86/x64 chipsets getting smaller) to be more exciting.


September 14, 2014, 5:56 am

a fact to mention is that iphone 6 still has 1 GB of RAM which if that is boosted to 4 GB would improve garage band sequencer's speed. but why do that if i can use windows pc tablets full 64 bit AVID music that is also touch screen enabled on the go. try that with ipad air... or is that just a bigger version of iphone 6

Keith Wright

September 23, 2014, 3:25 am

Oh, no. Not YOU again...

Keith Wright

September 23, 2014, 3:28 am

Don't tell that to the Dr.!

Dr. Mark Lipschitz

September 23, 2014, 3:50 am

You are spending an awful amount of time researching the Note 4 for someone who doesn't think that it is a worthy upgrade. Are you just looking for reasons to keep your Note 3?


September 23, 2014, 8:58 am

This opinion is completely idiotic in every aspect, because it looks like author has no clue at all what he is talking about.
First of all, we can speak about understanding, how much RAM is needed. If
author thinks that having 4+ gigs of ram equals better "something", than
author needs to understand basic concepts of what ram is and what it
used for. 2 gigs of ram are way more, than we can load to 100% use,
second. Having 4 gigs of ram is pure marketing and is a costly one. Ram
is physically expensive and it increases price (when everything
considered) and noticeably. Having 2 gigs of ram in any way will not
lead to decreased performance, even on 4K gaming. Having 4+ gigs of ram does not lead to better functionaity or better peformance or user experience. If I am wrong, I would love to see some proof or else please know when you
speak such nonsense, like "exynos is better, because of being able to
use more ram"..which will not even be used by most of people, who
rarely use more 1 gig of ram (not speaking about samsung now, where
touchwiz eats up to gig of ram). If I am not correct with my arguments
about having more expensive useless RAM is worse, than you will have to
prove that, not just blabbering about "it is good". It is bad. Being
useless, expensive, more power hungry, etc are real arguments. "3 gigs
are a wall, exynos has more ram!!1" is not a real advantage. Nor it is
argument at all


September 23, 2014, 9:05 am

Other arguement is "being able to feature many more registers". Do you even know, what registers are? What are they used for? How much of an advantage this is? Not even compairing, I just want to see where is that confidence about "blah blah and it is better" coming from. If being able to feature more registers is an advantage, please be more specific. Not just telling more registers are better. Proof, please proof that 64 bit is not just marketing.


September 23, 2014, 9:14 am

I have my personal opinion about Exynos. Exynos 5 has a history of being totally unreliable and just a bad processor in many ways. First, SGS4 with Exynos CPU had worldwide problems with something I dont remember the name, but which is something with switching tasks from A15 to A7 cores, which led to huge battery drain. Totally uncomparable to S600, sorry. New and powerful Exynos 5 processor in Galaxy Tab S has its own problems, which lead to reduced gaming peformance and reducing battery life insanely to just 2.5-3.5 hours (plus almost melting back panel, but that is not the case). Totally uncomparable to S800-801, sorry again. What we have now with exynos is "exynos doing better than it was doing" and not "exynos being better than snapdragon 805". As for why is S805 is better then Exynos, I can show you real arguments, which were here for a long time already and why exynos is left far from reaching it.


September 23, 2014, 9:31 am

First, no matter what exynos did in the past showed any advantage in battery life. Mostly, the opposite. Speaking about Note 4 specifically - it is very funny to compare 20nm Exynos and 28 nm Snapdragon. That is sarcasm. If Note 4 with Exynos will show battery life comparable to N4 with S805, that will be very strong reason to laugh Samsung with their Exynos in the face.
Next, CPU part and 64 bit. First thing first, more benchmarked CPU peformance, does it lead to better real peformance? Not at all. Everybody should understand, that it depends on SAMSUNG (or any manufacturer) to do optimisations of their OWN software to work better with hardware. We've seen alot of times, for example, where nowadays pretty awerage HTC One m7 was losing insanely to SGS4 with S600 in benchmarks, but totally trashing it in real-world usage, by being almost lagless.
Now, about CPU in note 4. Okay, I agree, that new Exynos is stronger CPU in benchmarks. Questions is, how good is it going to be with new a53-a57 transitions, will it be the same as SGS4, eating battery like crazy? Will it work XTRA smooth with advantage in cpu horsepowers? I belive, that noticable something comes not from max peformance, as we have long passed that point, where we needed more peformance, but from using power more optimal.
Tegra 3, for example, was insanely powerfull at that time. Was eating battery like crazy and heating like crazy. But in benchmarks, yeah, it trashed everybody else for a long time.

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