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Meet the Hisilicon Kirin 990, Huawei's new miracle chip for the Mate 30

Meet the Hisilicon Kirin 990, Huawei's new miracle chip for the Mate 30

At the IFA 2019 in Berlin, Huawei revealed the new Kirin 990 processor, which brings 5G, artificial intelligence and plenty of power with it. The Kirin 990 will soon celebrate its premiere in the Mate 30 Pro.

Huawei CEO Richard Yu was not stingy with superlatives at the presentation of the Kirin 990 at the IFA. The mobile chip manufactured by subsidiary Hisilicon is the first Huawei chip to be manufactured using the 7nm process with FF+ EUV. This enables Huawei to shrink the chip, which is 36 percent smaller than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 or Samsung's Exynos 9825. More than 10.3 billion transistors are installed on the tiny part. The Kirin 980 from the previous year had 6.9 billion, so it's a significant increase.

Kirin 990 with built-in 5G

The Kirin 990 is the first high-end processor for smartphones with a built-in 5G modem. Huawei expects this to result in significantly lower power consumption than with a separate modem. The 5G unit in the Kirin 990 doesn't master a mmWave, but with up to 2.3 Gbps for downloads and 1.25 Gbps for uploads, it can achieve record-breaking speeds. The modem not only supports 5G, but also LTE, 3G and GPRS. The so-called uplink split is intended to make the connection faster and more stable with a weak 5G signal than with Qualcomm's X50 modem by combining it with 4G. The AI in the Kirin 990 also provides improved beamforming and thus a more stable signal at higher speeds in the car.

Huawei is also making a version of the Kirin 990 without a 5G modem, which is not only reduced in the radio technology, but also in two other places.

More artificial intelligence

With the Kirin 970 Huawei introduced the first mobile processor with an NPU, the Kirin 980 was the first with a Dual-NPU. With the Kirin 990, Huawei switches to the Da Vinci architecture and uses a small AI core ("Tiny Core") and two large ones ("Big Core"). This should result in 4.76 times better machine learning performance than the Kirin 970. According to Huawei, the Kirin 980 was 1.88 times faster than its ancestor. It's clear that Huawei is convinced that Apple and Qualcomm AI chips are clearly inferior. The Kirin 990 is supposed to work up to 24 times more efficiently in AI activities than the chips of the other suppliers and thus also save electricity.

The Kirin 990 4G version has only a large AI core and a small one, so it is nominally weaker for machine learning tasks than the Kirin 990 5G.

Iaremenko Sergii shutterstock 755009773
AI and 5G in one chip, this is the Kirin 990 / © laremenko / Shutterstock.com

Lots of power

The Kirin 990 comes with a total of eight cores (two Cortex-A76 with 2.86 GHz, two Cortex-A76 with 2.36 GHZ, four Cortex-A55 with 1.95 GHz) and a graphics unit with 16 cores (Mali-G76). That should give you a lot of power. Huawei promises 10 percent more performance than the Snapdragon 855 in the single-core rating and nine percent more in multi-core applications. The two middle computing cores, which carry the main load for many apps, should even work 35 percent faster than the competition. According to Huawei, the GPU is six percent faster and 20 percent more efficient. Thanks to DSLR technology, which is being used here for the first time in the mobile sector, the new Dual-ISP will make 30 percent less picture noise with photos and 20 percent less with videos.

The 4G version of the Kirin 990 is also a bit weaker with regard to the clock frequency, by the way; the values just mentioned all apply to the 5G version. The middle cores in the slimmed-down Kirin processor have 2.09 GHz instead of 2.36 GHz, the weaker ones run at 1.85 GHz instead of 1.95 GHz. It remains to be seen whether this will also be noticed in everyday life and not only in the benchmark results.

A debut in the Huawei Mate 30 Pro

The first smartphone to be equipped with the Kirin 990 will be the Mate 30 Pro, and we won't have to wait long for that. On September 19, the new smartphone will be presented at an event in Munich. Only then will it be possible to really see what the new miracle of Huawei really can do.

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  • I feel overall we customers are the loosers in this trade war because Huawei makes great smartphones and I would like to buy one after they improve upon their EMUI experience.