Kirin 980 chipset: World’s First 7nm chipset from Huawei

by Bimal Man Shrestha
Kirin 980

On Friday, the Chinese tech giant Huawei announced its new flagship chipset, the Kirin 980. Announced at IFA 2018, the world’s first 7nm system-on-chip (SoC) is equipped with various AI capabilities. Unveiling the Kirin 980, Huawei has just proclaimed itself a winner in the race to deliver a 7nm chip.

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Besides the use of 7nm technology, Kirin 780 is also the first chip to use Cortex-A76 cores, dual Neural Processing Units (NPU), the new Mali-G76 GPU, a 1.4 Gbps LTE modem as well as the support faster RAM. The chip is manufactured on Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturer Company’s (TSMC) 7nm process. The new Kirin 980 uses a new octa-core architecture that mixes big, little and medium cores for more efficiency.

Kirin 980

The Cortex-A76 cores make the Kirin 980 75% more powerful and 58% more efficient than the previous generation.

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In an octa-core configuration, the CPU in Kirin 980 is comprised of two high-performance Cortex-A76 cores; two high-efficiency cores; and four extreme efficiency Cortex-A55 cores. The two big Cortex-A76 cores run at 2.6GHz and support high-intensive tasks like gaming. Two middle 1.92GHz Cortex-A76 cores support less-intensive processes like browsing or posting to social media. The four little 1.8GHz Cortex-A55 cores support background processes or playing music since they sap less energy. The processor is also capable of tap different types of cores at once to maximize performance and efficiency.

The TSMC 7nm process technology enables Kirin 980 to pack 6.9 billion transistors within a 1 square cm die size. This is up by 1.6 times from the previous generation.

Kirin 980 features

Huawei has integrated the Mali-G76 GPU into the Kirin 980 to deliver improved gaming experiences. Debuting with the Kirin 980 SoC, Mali-G76 offers 46% greater graphics processing power at 178% improved power efficiency over the previous generation. Mali-G76 utilizes AI to intelligently identify gaming workloads and adjust resource allocation for optimal gaming performance.

Photography performance is another major upgrade for the Kirin chip. Using a new dual ISP (Image Signal Processor), the Kirin 980 is 46% faster at camera processing than its predecessor, with a 23% improvement in power efficiency while recording, and 33% improvement in latency.

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Adding a dual NPU (Neural Processor Unit), Huawei has doubled down on its AI processing aspirations to the Kirin 980. The chipset can now perform AI-assisted image recognition tasks at a rate of 4,500 images per minute. By the same measure, the Snapdragon 845 reaches 2,371 and Apple’s A11, gets only 1,458. AI also aids the Kirin 980’s power efficiency. The new Kirin 980 can more accurately and intelligently predict load requirements, making it more responsive to the power needs of the user.

Kirin 980 Network

The Kirin 980 will offer the world’s fastest smartphone Wi-Fi speed, clocking in at 1,732Mbps. This is substantially higher than the Snapdragon 845’s best of 866Mbps with a Qualcomm modem or 1083Mbps with a third-party modem. So, by all metrics that matter to an end user, the new Kirin chip is shaping up to be a winner.

Apple is expected to introduce the A12 bionic chipsets in the next generation of iPhones, set to be announced in September. This will also be a 7nm chip, so it would be interesting to see if it will beat Huawei’s Kirin 980. Samsung and Qualcomm are also developing 7nm processors, but these may not be in devices until next year.

The Snapdragon 845 has been out for many months now, powering almost every Android flagship phone not made by Huawei. The Kirin 980, however, won’t be in any retail devices until next month at the earliest. Huawei, with the Mate 20, and its sub-brand Honor, with the Magic 2, are going to be putting the Kirin 980 into retail devices by the end of 2018.

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