Huawei's most powerful chip does not use ARM's most powerful CPU core

Huawei's most powerful chip does not use ARM's most powerful CPU core
Just a couple of days ago, Huawei rolled out the Kirin 990 SoC. Designed by Huawei's HiSilicon unit and manufactured by TSMC using its 7nm+ EUV process, each chip contains 10.3 billion transistors and has an integrated 5G modem chip. The component will be powering the new Mate 30 line and the delay in releasing the foldable Mate X has allowed Huawei to stuff that device with its new chipset as well. Originally, the Kirin 980 SoC was designed into the niche device.

The Kirin 990 has eight CPU cores; four are powerful Cortex-A76 cores (with two running at a clock speed of 2.86GHz and the other two at 2.34GHz). And there are four Cortex-A55 cores with a clock speed of 1.9GHz for general housekeeping. The one question that many are asking is why Huawei didn't include ARM's latest and greatest Cortex-A77 core inside the Kirin 990. And when that question was asked of Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei's consumer group, he gave some interesting responses according to GizChina. And no, it has nothing to do with the U.S. supply chain ban.

Huawei's own testing contradicts ARM's claims about the Cortex-A77 CPU core


The Huawei executive said that since the performance of the Kirin 990 is "beyond the user’s needs," trading additional power in exchange for a shorter battery life is not worth it according to Yu. Even though ARM says that the Cortex-A77 provides a 20% boost in performance with no additional power consumption, Huawei's testing contradicts ARM's claims.

Yu did note that Huawei will probably use the Cortex-A77 CPU core once production shifts to the 5nm process, which is expected to begin next year. The smaller the process size, the larger the number of transistors that can fit inside a chip. The more transistors inside an integrated circuit, the more power, and energy-efficient it is. Consider that chips produced using the 5nm process will contain 171.3 million transistors per square millimeter.


Unless Huawei's name is removed from the U.S. Commerce Department's Entity List, at some point, Huawei is going to have to look at replacing ARM's architecture with something else. That's because being on that list prevents the company from accessing its U.S. supply chain and even though ARM Holdings is headquartered in the U.K., it does use U.S. technology. However, Huawei does have a license it signed with ARM prior to May 16th when it was placed on the list, and this allows it to create new chipsets using the Cortex CPU cores for the time being.

Huawei spent $11 billion to obtain supplies from U.S. firms last year and was Micron Technology's biggest customer in 2018. The company was placed on the Entity List because it is considered a national security threat in the U.S. There is concern from lawmakers in the states because the communist Chinese government can demand that Huawei gather intelligence from its customers. That has led to speculation about backdoors placed in the manufacturer's devices that will send information about American companies and consumers to Beijing. While Huawei has always denied this, the U.S. has indicted the company on various charges related to doing business with Iran and a subsequent cover-up. In addition, Huawei is accused of stealing trade secrets from U.S. firms like T-Mobile. And late last month, U.S. prosecutors said that they were investigating claims that Huawei stole intellectual property from "multiple people and companies" over the last few years. So Huawei could end up banned from obtaining U.S. components and software for some time.

The first devices to be powered by the Kirin 990 SoC, the Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro, will be unveiled on September 19th.

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16 Comments

1. Guseinguliev

Posts: 115; Member since: Mar 04, 2019

Richard Yu gives too much false information.

15. Ashoaib

Posts: 3282; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

This is called "Grapes are sour". Huewei is banned from using newest ARM cores and they have no other choice except to use last year's A76. Huawei is trying to under play this point. Remember LG G6?? Same thing happened to LG when they were not able to release the phone with the latest of that time, snapdragon sd835 and proclaim snapdragon 820 as equally optimized to the level of sd835. But LG G6 was no match for the latest cores of that time.

16. mikebauer

Posts: 1; Member since: Sep 10, 2019

en.pingwest.com/a/1908 its not that bad yet they have ARMV8 licenced permanently and who know what will be in 2 years or when Trump the retard is in retirement we have switched from Apple overpriced China made Phones to Huawei first class China made Phones P30Pro and Mate20 and cant wait for the new P40 and Harmony system ( even if it wont work as good as Android in the beginning )

2. Guseinguliev

Posts: 115; Member since: Mar 04, 2019

If you look back, you can see how much false information he gave.

3. AbhiD

Posts: 787; Member since: Apr 06, 2012

There are hardly any gains of Kirin 990 over SD855. And most likely in actual testing, i doubt if there will any gains seeing what lackluster claims Huawei put out. Last year they claimed over the top, yet results were inferior to Snapdragon. SD865 will straightaway murder it, forget about matching it.

10. w1000i

Posts: 246; Member since: Jul 22, 2015

but battery efficiency is WAY better

12. vincelongman

Posts: 5689; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

I'd hope so as the 990 is ~9 months newer than the 855, on a newer process and a larger die size Will be interesting to see how the 990 compares with the 865 in ~3 months time

13. yalokiy

Posts: 988; Member since: Aug 01, 2016

more like 5-6 months.

14. BlackhawkFlys

Posts: 914; Member since: May 07, 2014

I would happily trade a better battery life for overkill performance.

4. technut

Posts: 205; Member since: Aug 03, 2012

His claims are false. I call BS

5. airoid

Posts: 128; Member since: Dec 13, 2016

Their Geekbench single score cant even beat Exynos 9820, and their 5G modem dont cover whole worldwide bands. Qualcomm still make the best modem in the world. I never trust shady-communist Chinese.

9. QuantumRazer

Posts: 115; Member since: Apr 27, 2019

Kirin 980 was already better than 9820 in terms of overall CPU performance, so now I expect Kirin 990 to surpass Exynos 9825 in both CPU and GPU because of enhanced graphics performance over Kirin 980(Mali-G76 MP10 -> MP16). Samsung can have the single core GB score all they want but more advanced benchmarks suggest that Samsung's M4 is still behind Qualcomm's Kyro 485 and stock Cortex-A76 cores in terms of overall efficiency and performance.

6. antroid

Posts: 392; Member since: Jan 24, 2018

Huawei is basically will become Apple in a long term, it will have manufacturer its own hardware and software which is very impressive at this time. I hope the we will have more compatation in the mobile market

7. JohnMac3

Posts: 1; Member since: Sep 08, 2019

"The more transistors inside an integrated circuit, the more power, and energy-efficient it is." This is just a correlation, it's the physical smaller size that reduces power consumption. Pretty sure you just copied the first google search result without checking if it was actually true.

8. QuantumRazer

Posts: 115; Member since: Apr 27, 2019

I'm assuming that the real reason for this is the increased die size - Kirin 990 5G is over 33% larger than the previous generation Kirin 980 due to larger NPU and significantly increased GPU core counts, and I suspect they could not fit A77 cores otherwise the die size would be simply way out of control, similar to why Exynos 9820/9825 use A75 cores for the middle CPU cluster instead of A76. It also explains why they are planning to use the new core design once 5nm process node is established(Smaller node = better space efficiency).

11. meanestgenius

Posts: 22000; Member since: May 28, 2014

I do agree that power efficiency is better than straight up more power. What good is adding more power if the battery life becomes shorter?

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