With the launch of the new HiSilicon Kirin 990 the ball is rolling for all the new phones of 2020. This gives a glimpse of what to expect for the year to come. Qualcomm will announce their new chipset in December, which will likely offer similar performance and features, this will then be followed by Samsung and their new Exynos chipset, probably in January/February for MWC.

So for now, the HiSilicon Kirin 990 is king of the hill, so how does it compare to the existing flagship chipsets on the market?

While the SD855+ and Exynos 9825 are technically newer chipsets, the SD855 is just a clock bump and the Exynos 9825 is only on one phone.

The below comparison is based on the Kirin 990 5G, it was quietly announced towards the end keynote that there is a none 5G Kirin 990.

Fabrication Process

The Kirin 990 uses the 7nm EUV (Extreme ultraviolet lithography) fabrication process, this is not the first chipset to use it, the recently launched Exynos 9825 is manufactured this way. When the 9825 launched it promised up to 20-30 percent higher transistor performance while consuming 30-50 percent less power.

The none 5G version still uses the normal 7nm fabrication process we saw on the Kirin 980, and the same as Qualcomm.

CPU Layout

The Kirin 990 (5G) uses the same architecture as the Kirin 980, but with higher clocks.

The Kirin 990 (5G) now uses:

  • 2x Cortex-A76 @ 2.86GHz
  • 2x Cortex-A76 @ 2.36GHz
  • 4x Cortex-A55 @ 1.95GHz

The Kirin 980 had

  • 2x Cortex-A76 @ 2.6GHz
  • 2x Cortex-A76 @ 1.92GHz
  • 4x Cortex-A55 @ 1.8GHz

But then they announced the Kirin 990 without 5G which has lower clocks for the 2 middle cores and two lower cores.

While the ARM Coretex A77 has been announced, Qualcomm stated that even though A77 hits higher peak performance, the power efficiency of the A77 and A76 on 7nm is practically identical. As they have more experience with the A76 they have been able to achieve higher clocks than what would have been achievable on the A76.

HiSilicon Kirin 990 5GHiSilicon Kirin 990HiSilicon Kirin 980
Process7nm EUV7nm7nm
CPU CoresOcta-Core, 64-bitOcta-Core, 64-bitOcta-Core, 64-bit
CPU2x Cortex-A76 @ 2.86GHz2x Cortex-A76 @ 2.86GHz2x Cortex-A76 @ 2.6GHz
2x Cortex-A76 @ 2.36GHz2x Cortex-A76 @ 2.09GHz2x Cortex-A76 @ 1.92GHz
4x Cortex-A55 @ 1.95GHz4x Cortex-A55 @ 1.86GHz4x Cortex-A55 @ 1.8GHz

GPU

The GPU remains the same technology, the Mali-G76 but this has now been upgraded to 16-cores compared to 10-cores of the previous generation.

The GPU performance sounds a little disappointing if anything, while they did not announce any hard numbers they claim only a 6% improvement over the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855. Obviously we will have to wait and see how the SD865 improves on the graphics department.

HiSilicon Kirin 990 5GHiSilicon Kirin 990HiSilicon Kirin 980
GPUMali-G76 MP16Mali-G76 MP16Mali-G76 MP10

5G Capabilities

The Kirin 980 had no native 5G capabilities, this was added via the Balong 5000 modem, similar to how the Snapdragon 855 also requires a X50 modem.

The Kirin 990 is the first native 5G chipset with the modem built into the chip. This is quite important because if you look at the Mate 20X vs the Mate 20X 5G, they had to drop the battery size ad change the speaker layout just to fit in a 5G modem.

There will also be a none 5G version (which he sneakily announced towards the end).

Imaging and Video

A 5th generation ISP with claims of professional DSLR level image noise reduction.

AI

With the 5G integration, Huawei are now claiming the chipset will do on-device AI processing, but then real-time cloud AI processing.

Huawei claims this will allow them to achieve 3 times the Ai performance compared to the Exynos 9820.

They have adopted a big little approach with the NPU to provide power savings. So for the 5G model, there are 2 big NPU's and 1 smaller one which will be used for less power-intensive tasks. The none 5G model has just 1+1.

During the keynote, Huawei showed off some impressive AI features for photo editing which included people were playing musical instruments, and the smartphone camera could detect both the people from the background, and the people from each other. This allowed the software to change the background, from an indoor scene to an outdoor scene and such. What this also enabled was that individuals could be deleted, moved, or resized.

Some early benchmarks have come out for the AI performance via Ai-benchmark.com and this shows that the Kirin 990 scoring double what the Snapdragon 855 Plus is capable of and a three-fold improvement over the previous generation the Kirin 980. If this level of performance cross over to real world usage, it will be astonishing.

Charging, Wi-Fi and more

The SD855 was the first to support Wi-Fi 6 but is only being used in the Samsung S10. The Kirin 990 should support this natively offering speeds up to.

The chipset will support both UFS 2.1 and 3.0, with the storage used being device-dependent. I would expect all Huawei flagship devices will now use UFS 3.0.

Benchmarks

An early benchmark has been leaked which appears to be for a phone using the none 5G variant as it lists the base frequency of 1.86Ghz.

The results are not overly impressive, with the chipset scoring a little above what the Snapdragon 855 Plus can achieve.

However it is worth noting that the none 5G model is perhaps more closely related to the Kirin 980 & Snapdragon 855 than it is a next gen chipset. It uses the same fabrication process as the previous generation and clocks the two sets of A76 cores higher. Earlier leaks indicated a Kirin 985 chipset that was due to launch, and I would regard this as a more accurate representation of this chipset.

Kirin 990 (not 5G)

  • Single Core – 3842
  • Multi-core – 11644

Snapdragon 855 Plus

  • Single Core – 3623
  • Multi-core – 11365

Challenges

How good this chipset performs is almost moot at the moment, we all know it will be fantastic, and it will be the best chipset until the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 launches.

The biggest issue Huawei and HiSilicon face is the political landscape, with continued problems from the US, which at the moment means the new Mate 30 can't launch with Google Apps.

How well this chipset performs matters less than how Huawei can either resolve or work around this issue.

Huawei appears to be ploughing forward like there are no issues, the Mate 30 is scheduled for launch on September the 19th, it could be they have an adequate solution for the problems faced, who knows.

Kirin 990 vs Kirn 980 vs Snapdragon 855 vs Exynos 9820 Specification Comparison

 HiSilicon Kirin 990 5GHiSilicon Kirin 990HiSilicon Kirin 980Snapdragon 855Exynos 9820
Process7nm EUV7nm7nm7nm (N7)8 nm LPP (Low Power Plus) FinFET
CPU CoresOcta-Core, 64-bitOcta-Core, 64-bitOcta-Core, 64-bitOcta-Core, 64-bitOcta-Core, 64-bit
CPU2x Cortex-A76 @ 2.86GHz
2x Cortex-A76 @ 2.36GHz
4x Cortex-A55 @ 1.95GHz
(4MB shared L3 cache)
2x Cortex-A76 @ 2.86GHz
2x Cortex-A76 @ 2.09GHz
4x Cortex-A55 @ 1.86GHz
(4MB shared L3 cache)
2x Cortex-A76 @ 2.6GHz
2x Cortex-A76 @ 1.92GHz
4x Cortex-A55 @ 1.8GHz
(4MB shared L3 cache)
1x Kryo 485 Gold (A76)
@ 2.84GHz 1x512KB

3x Kryo 485 Gold (A76)
@ 2.42GHz 3x256KB

4x Kryo 485 Silver (A55)
@ 1.80GHz 4x128KB
2x Custom CPU
2x Cortex-A75
4x Cortex-A55
GPUMali-G76 MP16Mali-G76 MP16Mali-G76 MP10Adreno 640 @ 585MHzARM Mali G76 MP12
NPU2+1 NPU with real time cloud AI1+1 NPUDual NPUYes (Hexagon 690 DSP)Yes
RAMLPDDR4X @ 2133MHzLPDDR4X @ 2133MHzLPDDR4X @ 2133MHz4x 16-bit CH @ 2133 MHz
LPDDR4x
34.1GB/s
LPDDR4x
ISPISP 5.0ISP 5.0Dual ISPDual 14-bit Spectra 380 ISP
1x 48MP or 2x 22 MP
Dual ISP
Video Playback & Codecs4K @ 30fps - capture
4K @ 60fps playback
4K @ 30fps - capture
4K @ 60fps playback
4K @ 30fps - capture
4K @ 60fps playback
2160p60 10-bit H.265
HDR10, HDR10+, HLG
720p480
2160p60 HEVC & H.264 Decode
2160p30 Encode
HDR10
Modem5G 2.3Gbps5G 2.3GbpsLTE Cat 21
1.4Gbps down / 200Mbps up
Snapdragon X24 LTE
(Category 20)
DL = 2000Mbps
7x20MHz CA, 256-QAM, 4x4
UL = 316Mbps
3x20MHz CA, 256-QAM
LTE-A Cat.20 8CA (2Gbps download)
Cat.20 3CA (316Mbps upload)
Wi-FiTBCTBCHi1103 WiFi chip supports 1732Mbps with Wi-Fi and, Multi-gigabit Wi-Fi ac/b/g/n with MU-MIMOSupport for WiFi 6 standard (802.11ax) as well as the new 60GHz “Wi-Gig” 802.11ay, enabled by an external WiFi combo chipset.Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
ChargingTBCTBCSuperCharge 4.5V / 5A low-voltage fast chargingQuick Charge 4+ (USB PD Compatible)Samsung Adaptive Fast Charge, Fast Wireless Charging (Qi & PMA)