09 Sep

Huawei presents Kirin 990 chipset with inbuilt 5G modem

Speaking at the IFA 2019 opening keynote, Huawei’s Consumer Business Group CEO Richard Yu explained that the new system on a chip (SoC) was built for the future with impressive AI capabilities (combining real-time onboard and cloud AI processing), the option of a built-in 5G modem, and much-improved efficiency.

The Kirin 990 (5G) processor, manufactured by Huawei’s semiconductor subsidiary HiSilicon, is the first 5G SoC powered by 7nm+ extreme UV lithography. It contains over 10.3 billion transistors: an increase of almost 50 per cent on the Kirin 980 (6.9 billion transistors).

The Kirin 990 contains two ultra-large cores (Cortex-A76 at 2.86GHz), two large cores (Cortex-A76 at 2.36GHz), and four small cores (Cortex-A55 at 1.95GHz), in addition to an ARM’s Mali-G76 GPU. It is the first 8-core chipset to include the Mali-G76.

The Kirin 990’s impressive AI credentials are in part due to its “big-tiny core” or “Da Vinci” architecture, which uses a combination of large and tiny neural processing unit (NPU) cores. The large cores are intended for computationally expensive processes, while the tiny core structure is ideal for low consumption processes. According to Yu, this allows the Kirin 990 to deliver significantly more efficient AI; for instance, efficiency for facial recognition has increased 24-fold on the previous model.

“We are introducing a very innovative new architecture, we call it the big-tiny core architecture,” said Yu. “Inside is the new generation, world-first ‘Da Vinci’ architecture: the most powerful AI processor in the world. With the big and tiny combination we will bring that high performance but also low power consumption.”

While the first 5G phones have relied on a pairing of 4G SoC and 5G modem, the Kirin 990 (5G) comes with a built-in 5G modem. The modem is based on Huawei’s Balong 5G design, which was presented in its initial iteration as the first commercial 5G modem. It will provide a peak downlink rate of 2.3 GBps and an uplink peak rate of 1.25 GBps, which Yu described as “lightning super-fast 5G speed”.

He added that the chip tackles the big 5G challenges of weak signal, high power consumption and unreliable speed while on the move through a range of adaptations, including a “smart uplink split” to optimise communication with nearby 5G infrastructure, and an adaptive receiver to secure 5G speed while on the move (which reportedly allows for a 19 per cent faster download speed when travelling at 120km/h).

“This Kirin 990 5G is not designed only for today’s 5G but also for the future of 5G. The future of 5G network should be [standalone] architecture which has better performance and lower latency so we support this in our chipset for the future,” Yu said.

Huawei – which is competing with Google, Apple, and Samsung to offer consumers the most outstanding smartphone photography – has also built a new image signal processor into the Kirin 990 which allows for DSLR-level noise reduction and impressive real-time video processing based on AI segmentation. In a series of demonstrations and comparisons of the image- and video-processing capabilities of the chip, Yu said that the Kirin 990 could allow users to, among other things, measure their pulse and breathing rate from just a short video of their face.

Huawei has used a new Kirin chipset in each generation of its Mate series; the Kirin 990 is expected to be included in its upcoming Mate 30 range. The Mate 20 series (launched last autumn) featured the Kirin 980; the first commercial phone SOC chipset made with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company’s 7nm process, which improved process density by 1.6 times compared to its previous 10nm process.

For the past few years, Huawei has presented a new chipset at the Berlin-based consumer tech show, with the Mate 20’s Kirin 980 launched at the 2018 IFA, and the Mate 10’s Kirin 970 at the same event in 2017. This year, the announcement of the Kirin 990 was confirmed ahead of the public opening of the show with at least billboard depicting the new chipset.

During his keynote speech, Yu also announced a pair of AirPod-like earbuds (FreeBuds 3’), which include a patented ‘aerodynamic mic duct’ which reduces distortion due to wind; presented a new dual matte-glossy casing for the P30 Pro which comes in Mystic Blue and Misty Lavender; and gave a sneak peak at the upcoming EMUI OS update, which will be based on Google’s Android 10.

E&T was hosted by Huawei at IFA 2019.

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