Huawei unveils the Kirin 990 with integrated 5G for the Mate 30

Huawei unveils the Kirin 990 with integrated 5G for the Mate 30

Most of the major announcements so far in 2019 have centered around 5G, the next advancement in network technology. Most semiconductor companies have jumped onto the 5G bandwagon, facilitating smartphone OEMs to produce devices that can take advantage of the improvements in network infrastructure. However, most 5G-enabled SoCs released so far have basically been 4G chips with an extra 5G modem to enable 5G functionality. Samsung just announced the Exynos 980 SoC with an integrated 5G modem, and now, Huawei is right after it with its own 5G integrated flagship SoC. Meet the HiSilicon Kirin 990 5G by Huawei, which has been released alongside the Kirin 990 at IFA 2019.


Specifications – Kirin 990 and Kirin 990 5G

SpecificationsKirin 980Kirin 990Kirin 990 5G
Process7nm7nm7nm+ EUV
CPU
  • 2x Cortex-A76 @ 2.6GHz
  • 2x Cortex-A76 @ 1.92GHz
  • 4x Cortex-A55 @1.8GHz
  • 2x Cortex-A76 @2.86GHz
  • 2x Cortex-A76 @2.09GHz
  • 4x Cortex-A55 @1.86GHz
  • 2x Cortex-A76 @2.86GHz
  • 2x Cortex-A76 @2.36GHz
  • 4x Cortex-A55 @1.95GHz
GPUMali-G76 MP10Mali-G76 MP16Mali-G76 MP16
NPU2 Cores, Cambricon Architecture 1 Big Core + 1 Tiny Core, Da Vinci Architecture 2 Big Core + 1 Tiny Core, Da Vinci Architecture
Modem4G4GBalong 5000, 5G

The Kirin 990 5G earns the distinction of becoming one of the world’s first flagship 5G SoC. But, irrespective of the hype around 5G, the practical ground reality is that the network technology is still in its growth stages, and it will take quite some time for 5G to become as commonplace as 4G is right now. For a large number of consumers, this means that the existence of 5G on their smartphone will just be a feature that they cannot use, and it just makes sense for these users to not spend extra on unnecessary hardware. Huawei recognizes this, because of which the company has released a non-5G/4G-only version of the flagship SoC. For the most part, the standard Kirin 990 is the same as the Kirin 990 5G, but there are a few differences. To avoid confusion, we shall be appending 4G to the standard Kirin 990.

The Kirin 990 5G is built on a 7nm Extreme Ultra-Violet (EUV) lithography process, while the 4G variant loses out on the EUV lithography process and is instead built on the same TSMC 7nm as the Kirin 980. Huawei claims that the Kirin 990 5G with its integrated Balong 5G modem is smaller than Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 with the X50 5G modem. The chip also supports full-frequency 5G Non-StandAlone (NSA) and StandAlone (SA) architectures, along with full frequency TDD/FDD bands. The Balong 5000 integrated modem allows this flagship SoC to achieve a peak downlink rate of 2.3Gbps and a peak uplink of 1.25Gbps.

For performance, both the new Kirin 990s come with a CPU setup comprising of two Cortex-A76 prime cores, two Cortex-A76 large cores, and four Cortex-A55 small cores. Frequency setup changes between the two chipsets, essentially letting the 5G variant come out on top by a small margin. GPU duties are handled by the Mali-G76 with a 16-core setup. Both the SoCs come with a new system-level Smart Cache that enables “intelligent flow distribution”, aiming to save bandwidth and consume less power. There is also an upgraded Kirin Gaming+ 2.0 onboard, though it isn’t immediately clear what this translates into beyond marketing speak.

Another key differentiating point between the 5G variant and the 4G variant is the NPU, as the 5G variant comes with a dual large core plus one small core NPU, based on the Da Vinci architecture, while the 4G variant makes do with “just” one large core and a small core. The large cores achieve high performance and power efficiency in heavy computing scenarios, while the tiny core structure empowers ultra-low power consumption NPU applications.

The Image Signal Processor also sees an upgrade, as Huawei claims that the Kirin 990 series comes with a “brand new” ISP 5.0 that utilizes block-matching and 3D filtering (BM3D) for hardware-based noise reduction, letting phones theoretically capture brighter and sharper images in low light. Considering how the Huawei P30 Pro was one of the best low-light shooters available, we are inclined to believe Huawei on their word in this area. Kirin 990 series also is the first to use dual-domain video noise reduction for more accurate noise processing for videos. There is also real-time video post-processing and rendering based on AI segmentation, which can adjust image color frame by frame.

The new Kirin 990 and Kirin 990 5G will be present inside the upcoming Huawei Mate 30 series smartphones, that are expected to launch on September 19, 2019, in Europe. We should also see the flagship SoC series being used in other future Huawei and Honor flagships in 2019 and 2020.


With additional inputs from AnandTech