Huawei launches new Kirin 980 super chip at IFA 2018

Kirin 980

Huawei designs its own Kirin systems-on-a-chip (SoC). The company says it gives them an edge over using off-the-shelf solutions from other makers. The 7nm Kirin 980 firmly cements its credentials as a silicon designer.

The new Kirin 980 (website here) has 6.9 billion transistors within a 1cm die size (1.6 times more than a Kirin 970 – all increases reference this SoC). It is 20% faster and 40% more efficient.

The Kirin 980 focuses on mobile AI – or rather to have enough ‘malleable’ on-demand power to perform AI tasks.

The Kirin 980 is powerful

SoCs usually have four-cores (two larger and two smaller. This Big/Little design allows two levels of power.

The Kirin 980 has eight cores. A pair of ARM Cortex-A76 is for processor intensive work. Another two A76 (lower GHz) and four A55 (lower GHz) scale up to three levels of power. Kind of a Bigger/Big/Little design allowing the CPU to adapt to heavy, medium and light-load scenarios by reducing its power consumption and giving users longer battery life.

It is smart

It, like the Qualcomm 845 has an NPU (numerical processing unit) – only it has two NPUs. For example, image recognition capability is up to 4,600 images per minute, up 120% Kirin 970. It has enough capacity to supports common AI frameworks such as Caffee, Tensorflow and Tensorflow Lite, and provides a suite of tools that simplify the difficulty of engineering On-Device AI.

Its 4-gen image signal processor allows more post-processing. Result – better photos

  • 46% increase in data throughput compared to its predecessor
  • Better support for multi-camera configurations
  • All-new HDR colour reproduction technology that can manipulate picture contrast to highlight objects on various parts of an image
  • Multi-pass noise reduction solution that accurately removes artefacts without scrubbing away image details, resulting in better quality on images taken in low-light scenarios
  • Improved motion tracking. It can still recognise a moving subject with 97.4%
  • A new pipeline dedicated to processing video captures, allowing the camera module to shoot videos with 33% shorter delay
Kirin 980

Gamers like it

The Mali-G76 GPU has 46% greater graphics processing power at 178% improved power efficiency. It also features an innovative clock boosting technology that utilises AI to intelligently identify gaming workloads and adjust resource allocation for optimal gaming performance.

Cat21 for 1.4GHz downloads

LTE Cat.21 with a peak download speed of 1.4Gbps. It supports carrier aggregation, even across frequency bands, allowing users to choose different mobile operators.

GadgetGuy’s take. Competition is healthy

Apple, Samsung and Huawei design their own chips. It allows them to step outside the standard offerings of Qualcomm, MediaTek or any of the other ARM foundries.

Currently, the 10nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 and the Samsung Exynos 9810 variant are considered the most powerful SoCs.

But chips constantly evolve. Qualcomm has its 7nm 855 in the starting blocks as does Samsung for its Galaxy 10 series for launch early next year. For now, Huawei can claim the ‘industry first’ mantle.

Mind you Qualcomm has never let the industry down taking quantum steps forward with each chip generation. It is then up to smartphone makers to wrap their designs, cameras etc. around it.

And to a large degree, new Android versions have a symbiosis with Qualcomm as well. Features required by Android are fed to Qualcomm to ensure its silicon can handle it. And vice versa as Qualcomm innovates in silicon its capabilities come to Android.

Huawei has no plans to sell its ‘tech’ to other smartphone makers. Neither does Apple or Samsung – it is their secret sauce. But it does mean that to harness its technology it will continue to have its own User Interface – EMUI. It is the only way it can make a holistic device that wrings every last ounce of performance out of the SoC.

So, while others wax on about the virtues of Pure Android and its updatability it also means it has limited customisation.

Huawei, like Samsung with its Tizen OS, could do so much more but would lose access to the Google Android ecosystem. Samsung has already tried Tizen OS in Russia and India with some success.

Huawei has been developing its OS since 2012 as a backup against being cut off from Android as ZTE found recently.

It’s only my opinion but I suspect that as the world’s two largest smartphone makers they now have the power give their own OS a go. At least in some markets!