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Kirin 990 First to Integrate 5G

October 1, 2019

Author: Linley Gwennap

Huawei is the first company to fully announce a smartphone processor with an integrated 5G modem. The Kirin 990, due to ship in phones later this year, comes in two flavors: the base model, which handles LTE (4G), and the Kirin 990 5G. The two chips are functionally similar, having the same CPU and GPU configuration as well as the same video, imaging, and memory specifications. In addition to the faster modem, the 5G version offers a more powerful neural engine and slightly higher CPU speeds. It uses TSMC’s 7nm+ technology to boost speed; the LTE version remains in the same 7nm technology as last year’s Kirin 980.

The new chip integrates Huawei’s Balong technology, which the company had earlier deployed in a standalone modem chip. Because Chinese operators are initially launching 5G in sub-6GHz bands, the chip’s peak 5G download rate is limited to 2.3Gbps, making it only 65% faster than the Kirin 980’s LTE modem. By integrating the modem, Huawei can reduce board area, power, and manufacturing cost relative to current 5G phones, which all require a separate modem chip. Qualcomm plans to announce an integrated 5G processor later this year, and other vendors expect to ship such products next year.

Although 5G is the headline feature, the Kirin 990 boasts other upgrades over the previous generation. For example, Huawei implemented a new deep-learning accelerator (DLA) based on its in-house DaVinci architecture, tripling performance versus the previous generation while adding a low-power mode. The CPUs employ the same Cortex-A76 design but increase the clock speed. The Mali-G76 GPU moves from 10 to 16 cores to improve both performance and power efficiency.

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