Huawei announces Kirin 980: the world's first 7nm phone chip

Huawei announces Kirin 980: the world's first 7nm phone chip
Huawei is one of the few phone makers that makes its own chip and it now not only makes chips, it leads the industry with the introduction of the world's first 7nm mobile chip: welcome the new Kirin 980, a remarkable piece of silicon that combines power and artificial intelligence.

The Kirin 980 is the world first in a few areas: the world first made on a super precise 7nm manufacturing process, the world first to implement ARM's powerful new Cortex A76 CPU, the first with a dual NPU, the first with Mali's new G76 graphics chip, the first with a super fast 1.4Gbps Category 21 modem and the first to support the faster, 2133MHz LPDDR4X RAM standard.

Quite an impressive list of credentials, don't you think?

Stretching Moore's Law: the road to 7nm

After 10nm, the new 7nm manufacturing process is more challenging to master

First things first, let's start with the journey to the Kirin 980. Huawei says that making a 7nm chip was the biggest engineering challenge it has ever faced. As we're running towards the limits of Moore's Law, this time Huawei had to start research on the new architecture some 3 years ago and go through more than 5,000 prototypes to finally reach mass production recently.

But enough about the difficulties, what are the actual improvements that you get with a 7nm chip over the previous generation 10nm silicon? Huawei says it reaches double digit growth in both speed and power efficiency, with a quoted up to 20% speed improvement and 40% reduction in the power consumption.

With a more precise and miniaturized manufacturing process like this here step to 7nm, Huawei is able to pack 1.6x the logic density and there are a whopping 6.9 billion transistors inside the Kirin 980.

And when you compare the new Kirin 980 against its predecessor, the Kirin 970, we're talking about 75% performance boost and a 58% power efficiency improvement.

Octa-core Proocessor That Is Smarter

big.LITTLE now gets a middle brother

The processor inside the Kirin 980 is an octa-core chip, but rather than using the familiar big.LITTLE arrangement of cores, it introduces a new tier of "Middle" cores.

The idea is to get even better segmentation between different loads on the processor and squeeze maximum efficiency. You have 2 big (2x Cortex A76 @ 2.6GHz) + 2 middle (2x Cortex A76 @ 1.96GHz) + 4 LITTLE cores (4x Cortex A55 @ 1.8GHz).

Huawei showed an interesting breakdown of how typical tasks are handled by different cores and here are some examples: playing back music only engages the little cores, social stuff relies on the little and mid cores, the browser, camera and gallery are typically handed to the mid cores, while heavy-load games and the gallery are typically handled by the big cores.

Along with the faster and more flexible processor, you have faster RAM with 20% more bandwidth, 22% lower latency, again double digit growth in these numbers over the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845.

In practical terms, this will be best seen in faster app launch times: Huawei says that it has squeezed out an average of around 0.2 seconds on launch times for popular apps like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Messenger, Snapchat, Twitter, and Line.

One for the Gamers: Mali G76

Huawei played NBA 2K18 and got double digit gaming improvements

The Kirin 980 is the first to implement the new Mali G76 graphics chip and this results in gains of 46% in performance and up to 178% in power efficiency of the GPU.

Helping with getting smoother gameplay is a new Huawei AI Loading prediction technology that more accurately predicts peaking power requirements and adjusts very efficiently to those changes.

In Huawei's tests with a real game (they used NBA 2K18), real game performance improves by 22% and power consumption is 32% less compared to the Snapdragon 845.

Cameras: New Dual ISP

The Kirin 980 also features a new dual image signal processor (ISP) that delivers the following improvements:

  • 46% camera processing speed improvement
  • 23% recording power efficiency
  • 33% latency improvement

Those numbers come in comparison with the standard ISP built inside the biggest competitor, the Snapdragon 845.

Huawei showed a few impressive shots handled by these new dual ISPs that clearly demonstrated a much higher dynamic range and much sharper detail in both day and night-time situations.

You also have a dual neural processing units (NPU) for the cameras, which put simply boils down to AI recognizing images. The Kirin 980 is probably the fastest in this aspect, recognizing some 4500 images per minute, while the Snapdragon 845 does 2371, and the Apple A11 settles on 1458. There are further improvements to AI performance with object recognition going from contour to whole particular objects, and AI now works not just for photos, but can be applied for recognition in video as well. We're curious how this plays out in smarter video apps.

World First 1.4Gbps Cat21 Modem

Last, but definitely not least, you get the world's first 1.4Gbps Category 21 LTE modem inside the Kirin 980.

Huawei is a networking company at its core and it leads the way with connectivity. The new chip features the following technologies:

  • 4x4 MIMO + 256QAM + 3CC CA = 1.2Gbps
  • 2x2 MIMO + 256 QAM + 1CC = 200Mbps, a total of 1.4Gbps

And for those who are not expertly-versed in networking, this simply means that you get faster speeds for streaming video and gaming. Huawei has also separately worked on ensuring you get less interruption when you go on the subway and high-speed rail with 10x smoother data streaming.

The Kirin 980 uses a in-house Wi-Fi chipset, the Huawei Hi1103 with supported downlink speeds of up to 1732Mbps, more than double the native Snapdragon 845 Wi-Fi module.

When is it Coming and in What Devices?

Two phones with the Kirin 980 are already announced

The Kirin 980 is already in mass production and it is coming in devices very soon.

The first phone to feature the new chip will likely be the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, which should be announced in a month or so in October. The second phone to come with this chip will be the Honor Magic 2, a revolutionary device with practically no bezels and no notch (and a slide-out camera).

All in all, Huawei seems to finally have a chip that can compete with the best out there. We can't wait to see it and try it in real-world devices soon.



1. AmashAziz

Posts: 2934; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

Thank you Huawei....for including the new A76 instead of the older A75 (something you did last year with the A73 on Kirin 970)! And I also like that new Mali G76. Hopefully it will provide real-life performance similar to the Adreno 630 if not close to the GPU in the SD 855.

20. umaru-chan

Posts: 372; Member since: Apr 27, 2017

This is going to be a good comparison between this SoC and upcoming Qualcomm flagship SoC. Both will be using TSMC's 7nm manufacturing so it will be interesting to seeWho will implement A76 better. Who's GPU will be better, ( aderno will probably win here) and who's Efficiency will be better for entire SoC.

27. vincelongman

Posts: 5745; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

980 vs 855 will be interesting to see Will show that CPU performance isn't just plug and play from ARM e.g. the importance of caches, memory latency/bandwidth and firmware/kernel

2. delta

Posts: 80; Member since: Jan 29, 2015

Will see, I'm no expert but in cpu department 2x2.6ghz looks worst than 4x2.8ghz in the sd 845 and the Exynos 9810, and regarding gpu the so called Mali G76 for sure will be better than the Mali g72 on exynos 9810 and kirin 970, but will see if it's really more powerful than the adreno630...

5. AmashAziz

Posts: 2934; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

Android phones hardly use more than 2 cores at once. So Kirin 980 will be fine. What it does actually helps it in using less power than the 970. So power efficiency is what makes this chip quite exciting!

22. Macready

Posts: 1829; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

Wait what? Most of the time 4 to 8 cores are active. Even browsing uses all 4 cores actively and efficiently (balancing load).

28. vincelongman

Posts: 5745; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Lol Even back in 2015 Android already showed signs that it would benefit from tri-cluster design and more than 8 cores

19. walauweh

Posts: 9; Member since: Aug 08, 2018

exynos only 1 core using 2.7ghz, 2nd core 2.3ghz, 3rd n 4th core 1.8ghz for big cores. meanwhile, sd845, eventhough the clock is higher, 4x2.8ghz,but l2 cache is 256kb,half of a76 in kirin 980,n its l3 cache also double, 4mb compare to sd845, 2mb.

25. vincelongman

Posts: 5745; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Different CPU microarchitecture, can't simply compare GHz Plus its -2x A76 @ 2.6GHz + 2x A76 @ 1.96GHz vs -4x A75 @ 2.8ghz Those 2GHz A76s will probably actually perform close to the A75s due to major microarchitecture improvements

3. monkeyb

Posts: 413; Member since: Jan 17, 2018

How is this the first 7nm chip again? Is it out in the general public hands? Seriously announcing something does not make anyone first.

4. toukale

Posts: 662; Member since: Jun 10, 2015

You’ve got to love when companies do crap like this. The A12 in the iPhone actually is the first 7nm chip. TSMC have been manufacturing them since June, and it will be in the first shipping products in a couple weeks. But those guys love to jump and say first when it won’t even be in a shipping product for months.

9. ZombieHunter

Posts: 266; Member since: Oct 13, 2013

Always an Apple fanboy around when you don't want or need them.... Don't be "That guy"

12. cmdacos

Posts: 4302; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

"The Kirin 980 is already in mass production and it is coming in devices very soon." How is this any different than TSMCs claim?

16. monkeyb

Posts: 413; Member since: Jan 17, 2018

Again A12 is widely rumored to have a 7nm chip. It is not yet confirmed till September 12th. So no, Apple is also not first "YET". No one should publish the word "first" before anything goes into consumers hands.

29. worldpeace

Posts: 3135; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

Yay, finally we have someone with common sense here..

6. andrewc31394

Posts: 300; Member since: Jun 23, 2012

someone needs to test this thing using GFX Bench 5.0

8. Avieshek unregistered

A55 Cores are just unnecessary then.

26. vincelongman

Posts: 5745; Member since: Feb 10, 2013


10. meanestgenius

Posts: 22388; Member since: May 28, 2014

Nice. The Kirin 980 seem like it's going to be a winner. If the performance of my Mate 10 Pro is anything to go by, then I can't wait to get my hands on a Huawei smartphone powered by the Kirin 980.

18. Taphius

Posts: 104; Member since: Aug 20, 2018

Looking forward to it. Mate 10 was indeed stellar.

11. Sparkxster

Posts: 1240; Member since: Mar 31, 2017

Simply amazing Huawei! What an impressive upgrade for the Kirin SoC!! It will definitely outperform the SD 845 most likely be on par with the SD 855. Glad it is using the new Mali G76 gpu and can't wait to see how it performs. Well done Huawei.

13. sirohunter

Posts: 209; Member since: Sep 23, 2017

Woah something new I learned today with this article. I had no idea that phones only use 2 cores at once, I thought the more cores the better the performance since they’re all used at once

23. Macready

Posts: 1829; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

They don't. They use 4 to 8 cores most if the time, the article just tells us which cores handle the bulk of the load for certain tasks.

21. AbhiD

Posts: 851; Member since: Apr 06, 2012

Huawei also promised 60% performance improvement and 30% more efficiency with GPU Turbo "Technology". What a lie it turned out to be!

24. kevin007in

Posts: 327; Member since: Oct 28, 2015

Now that is Competition!!!! good job huawei

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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