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Kirin 950 Takes Performance Lead

November 24, 2015

Author: Linley Gwennap

HiSilicon’s latest custom processor, the Kirin 950, is poised to be the first Cortex-A72 device to ship in a smartphone. The new chip will outperform both the Snapdragon 810 and the Exynos 7420 on most mobile benchmarks, setting a new bar for smartphone performance. These two competing processors, which have been shipping in phones for several months, rely on the older Cortex-A57. The Kirin 950 is in production and will first appear in Huawei’s Mate 8 smartphone, due to ship in December.

The new chip is the third smartphone processor, after the 7420 and Apple’s A9, to take advantage of FinFET manufacturing. TSMC builds it in a 16nm FF+ process. According to HiSilicon, this technology reduces power (per unit area) by 58% compared with the foundry’s previous 20nm SoC process, which the Snapdragon 810 uses. FinFETs employ a vertical design to improve channel control and reduce power (see MPR 2/2/15, “Foundries Find FinFETs at 14nm”).

The Kirin 950 is a Big.Little design with four Cortex-A72 CPUs running at up to 2.3GHz and four Cortex-A53 CPUs running at up to 1.8GHz. It’s a big step up from the previous Kirin 930, which has eight A53s but no “big” cores. The company says the new chip’s quad-core Mali-T880 GPU will double graphics performance relative to the Kirin 930. The 950 integrates other high-end features, such as a 4K video engine, an LPDDR4 memory controller, and an LTE Category 6 modem.

HiSilicon is a subsidiary of Huawei, which has been the only customer for previous Kirin chips. Huawei has been gaining share and now ranks as the world’s third-largest smartphone supplier. This volume helps justify the cost of in-house processor designs. Getting the A72 to market ahead of the competition will help the Chinese company further increase its smartphone share.

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