Huawei's Kirin 980 is the world's first 7-nm mobile SoC

Apple and Qualcomm might get the lion's share of attention for their smartphone SoCs, but Huawei and its HiSilicon arm have long been making leading-edge mobile processors of their own. At IFA, Huawei revealed the HiSilicon Kirin 980, its next-generation flagship SoC.

Richard Yu, Huawei's Consumer Business Group CEO, introduces the Kirin 980

According to Anandtech's detailed report on the chip, Huawei describes the Kirin 980 as the first mobile SoC to be fabricated on TSMC's 7-nm process. For general-purpose computing, it has four of the latest high-performance ARM Cortex-A76 CPU cores inside, as well as four more Cortex-A55 low-power cores. Huawei organizes the Cortex A76es in an interesting fashion, though.

Instead of allowing all four of those A76 cores to run all-out, Anandtech notes that Huawei's architects subdivide the A76es into a pair of max-performance cores running at 2.6 GHz and a pair of midi-performance cores running at up to 1.92 GHz. Combined with the high-efficiency Cortex-A55 cores running at 1.8 GHz, that arrangement gives the Kirin 980 plenty of options to let programs run on the right set of cores to balance performance against efficiency.

Huawei's internal performance benchmarks suggest the Kirin 980's high-performance cores will turn in a Geekbench 4 single-core score of 3360, compared to 2452 for the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoC that powers many of today's flagship Android devices. That's not quite enough to catch Apple's A11 Bionic, whose composite score of 4207 from publicly-submitted benchmarks is still likely to be the best in the industry, but it's a nice boost to see from a non-Apple flagship SoC. The Kirin 980 has an LPDDR4X memory controller capable of addressing 2133 MT/s RAM, another claimed first for this SoC.

For graphics power, the Kirin 980 implements ARM's Mali-G76 GPU block. The Mali-G76 doubles the number of SIMD lanes per execution unit, leading to a massive potential performance increase. Huawei claims a 46% performance improvement using an unspecified workload versus the Kirin 970, plus vastly better power efficiency—a 178% improvement for the Kirin 980 versus its predecessor.

Modern smartphone SoCs are also including more specialized functional units like AI acceleration engines, and the Kirin 980 is no exception. Huawei has included not one, but two neural-network accelerators for tasks like image classification, and the company claims it can handle up to 4,500 inferences per minute, or slightly less than twice that of the Snapdragon 845's performance on the same internal benchmark.

To talk to the outside world, the Kirin 980 includes a Cat.21 LTE modem with claimed download speeds of up to 1400 Mbps. The device also has a custom Wi-Fi chipset with support for 160-MHz 802.11ac channel widths, leading to a peak claimed speed of 1732 Mbps.

Huawei says the Kirin 980 will appear in its upcoming Mate 20 series of phones, launching October 16, 2018. We'll be curious to see what the company does with its slice of flagship silicon.

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