Huawei is rolling out a new high-end system-on-chip (SoC) that will power its upcoming flagship Mate 30 series. Announced at IFA 2019 in Berlin, the new Kirin 990 lineup includes a version with built-in 5G connectivity, the Kirin 990 5G, in addition to a non-5G variant. Both are said to run faster than Huawe's previous flagship chipset, the Kirin 980.
The new SoCs are built on an advanced 7-nanometer+ (nm+) extreme ultraviolet (EUV) manufacturing process. Both also sport eight ARM Cortex cores, including two "ultra-large" A76-based cores, two "large" A76 cores, and four "small" A55 cores. However, while similar in overall makeup, there are some key differences between the Kirin 990 and Kirin 990 5G beyond the addition of 5G support in the latter.
For one, the clocks are different between the two. In both models, the A76-based cores are running at 2.86GHz, but the regular A76 cores run at 2.86GHz on the 5G variant and 2.09GHz on the regular SoC. Likewise, the A55 cores are a little faster on the Kirin 990 5G at 1.95GHz, versus 1.86GHz on the standard Kirin 990.
Both chips also benefit from the inclusion of a neural processing unit (NPU) based on the Da Vinci architecture. This provides another area of separation between the Kirin 990 5G, which pairs two big NPU cores with a single tiny core, and the Kirin 990, which uses a single big core and single tiny core configuration. In both cases, the NPU is used for machine learning and AI chores.
These are impressive slices of silicon, and complex ones as well—the Kirin 990 5G packs 10.3 billion transistors into a die size measuring over 100mm2 and the Kirin 990 consists of around 8 billion transistors into a die size in the neighborhood of 90mm2. As a frame of reference, an 8-core AMD Zen 2 processor pairs a 7nm chiplet (around 74mm2) with 3.9 billion transistors to a 12nm I/O die (around 125mm2) with 2.09 billion transistors.
The 5G version is what Huawei is really hanging its hat on, however. According to Huawei, the Kirin 990 5G is the world's first flagship 5G SoC, and it will make its debut in the Mate 30 Pro that is due to launch later this month.
"Kirin 990 5G is the world's first 5G SoC, and it will enable end users to access superb 5G connectivity experience one step ahead in the first year of 5G commercialization." said Richard. "To meet users’ requirements for enhanced 5G experiences in the 5G era, Kirin 990 5G has been fully upgraded in terms of performance and power efficiency, AI computing, and ISP, extending mobile phone experiences to a new level."
Huawei views itself as a leader in 5G adoption, and believes its position in the 5G landscape is the real reason why the US government has taken the company to task over supposed security concerns.
"The US government has a loser’s attitude. They want to smear Huawei because they can’t compete with us. The US has abandoned all table manners," Huawei stated in an interview with The Financial Times earlier this year.
Regardless of how Huawei's relationship with the US government plays out, the Chinese telecom is forging ahead with new chipsets and smartphones. The Kirin 990 series will find its way into flagship phones from both Huawei and Honor, while the Mate 30 Pro and Mate 30 are both expected to launch during a scheduled press event on September 19.