Best Of IFA 2018: Huawei HiSilicon Kirin 980 Chip

Huawei's subsidiary HiSilicon delivered the most powerful mobile chip ever created, debuting a number of industry firsts which underline its engineering expertise.

While Huawei avoided major smartphone announcements at this year's IFA, its semiconductor subsidiary HiSilicon used the Berlin-based trade show as the launch vehicle for its next system-on-chip - the Kirin 980. And what an SoC did it deliver, at that; the Kirin 980 is both the world's first 7nm chip and consequently the most powerful mobile silicon ever created, featuring a wide variety of industry-first advancements which put it a clear step above the already highly capable Kirin 970.

The SoC is innovative in several aspects, starting with its core configuration, with HiSilicon resolving to ditch the traditional double array of quad-core clusters in favor of two dual-core setups and another quad-core module. Between a pair of super-big Cortex-A76 cores, another two big ones, and four Cortex-A55 cores, the Kirin 980 delivers an unprecedented level of versatility, allowing host devices to granularly control their performance levels based on the task at hand so as to be as energy-efficient as possible. In practice, this design should both improve app launches and other computational tasks — by up to 20-percent — and ensure longer battery life than what the previous-generation solution offered, with HiSilicon estimating the chip's energy-efficiency performance is now up to 40-percent greater.

The Kirin 980 is also the first chip in the world to utilize ARM's Mali-G76 GPU, as well as the first SoC with a Category-21 model allowing for mobile download speeds of up to 1.4Gbps and a maximum Wi-Fi downlink of 1.7Gbps. Possibly the most impressive industry first HiSilicon integrated into its latest offering is an array of two neural processing units, chips dedicated to on-device machine learning and general artificial intelligence computing. Last year's Kirin 970 offered one such module and was already capable of operating a car in controlled environments, so with twice as much AI processing power, its successor is promising to support even more amazing use cases. HiSilicon also delivered image signal processing improvements with the new chip, claiming the Kirin 980 is up to 46-percent faster than its predecessor in this regard. Finally, better memory support is part of the package as well, with the SoC being capable of leveraging LPDDR4X RAM clocked at up to 2,133MHz.

By most accounts, the Kirin 980 is a cutting-edge chip and a technological marvel which should be more than capable of powering the next-generation of smartphones. While it remains to be seen how the chip fares against Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 successor and particularly Samsung's Exynos 9820 that's said to be based on a more advanced 7nm process node using extreme ultraviolet lithography, it's undoubtedly one of the brightest highlights of IFA 2018, debuting no fewer than eight industry firsts and a wide variety of annual improvements, all of which underline HiSilicon's engineering capabilities. The Kirin 980 should first debut inside the Mate 20 lineup of Android flagships which Huawei is scheduled to announce in mid-October and are also expected to power the P30 series expected to launch in early 2019, as well as several handsets from the company's subsidiary Honor, including the upcoming Magic 2.

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