IFA 2019 | Huawei's Kirin 990 5G sticks to Cortex-A76 but offers faster clocks, integrated 5G modem, and a new NPU design
Huawei has announced the Kirin 990 SoC at IFA 2019 event and as expected, the 5G version comes with an integrated 5G modem. Given that not all markets are ready to make the transition to 5G in the immediate future, Huawei decided to bifurcate the Kirin 990 into two offerings — Kirin 990 and Kirin 990 5G. Both these variants are largely identical and the differences boil down to the integrated 5G modem, clock speeds, and NPU architecture.
Kirin 990 is still based on Cortex-A76
Although Samsung is the first to announce an integrated 5G modem in its Exynos 980 SoC, Huawei would be the first to market such an implementation with the Kirin 990 in the upcoming Mate 30 (Pro 5G?). The Kirin 990 5G is being fabricated on TSMC's 7nm FinFET+ EUV process with a total transistor count of 10.3 billion (Kirin 990 has ~8 billion transistors).
Both the Kirin 990 and Kirin 990 5G have a similar CPU configuration. The Kirin 990 5G features 2x Cortex-A76 cores at 2.86 GHz, 2x Cortex-A76 cores at 2.36 GHz, and 4x Cortex-A55 cores at 1.95 GHz whereas the Kirin 990 has lower clocks on one of the Cortex-A76 pairs (2.09 GHz) and the Cortex-A55 cluster (1.86 GHz). Both use the same 16-core Mali-G76 MP16 GPU at 700 MHz and support LPDDR4-4266 memory with low latency cache.
Huawei said that ARM's latest Cortex-A77 design could not achieve the required frequency on TSMC's 7nm process, which made the company stick to A76 cores. The A76 cores could be clocked at much higher frequencies on the same process and Huawei said there's not much difference in power efficiency of the faster A76 vis-à-vis the A77.
New NPU design based on Da Vinci
Huawei is moving from the Cambricon-based designs for its NPU to the new in-house Da Vinci architecture. Da Vinci is a form of big.LITTLE configuration that is seen on the CPU side of things. Two 'big' cores support both INT8 and FP16 operations resulting in faster inference while the 'tiny' core is used for less-heavy AI tasks such as wake-on voice or adaptive charging. The Da Vinci architecture is fully NNAPI-compliant (which means Android can natively take advantage of its features) and Huawei has already readied the software stack for most available neural networks.
The Kirin 990 5G has a 2+1 Da Vinci configuration whereas the Kirin 990 settles for a 1+1 arrangement. It will be interesting to see how Huawei and third-party developers leverage this AI power for apps and device-specific features.
SA+NSA Balong 5G modem
Huawei hasn't gone into too much of detail about the integrated 5G modem but did say that it would support both non-standalone (NSA) and standalone (SA) implementations. The company said that the Kirin 990 5G offers up to 20% better power efficiency compared to Qualcomm and Exynos's external 5G modem implementations.
The Kirin 990 and Kirin 990 5G will be available on Huawei and Honor phones well into 2020. The first glimpse of the Kirin 990 in action will be seen in the Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro, which are slated to launch on September 19th at an event in Munich. The Kirin 990 5G could feature in later devices depending on 5G infrastructure availability.