Huawei CEO Richard Yu announces the Kirin 980 chipset at IFA. Photo by Lynn Greiner.

Published: September 7th, 2018

BERLIN, Germany – Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. has thrown down the gauntlet with the introduction of its new Kirin 980 system-on-a-chip (SoC), aiming squarely at the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 that powers many popular flagship phones such as the just-released Samsung Galaxy Note 9.

Huawei Consumer Business Group CEO Richard Yu announced the chipset, the world’s first 7 nm SoC, during his keynote at the IFA consumer electronics and home appliance show in Berlin, Germany last week. Apple is expected to announce its own 7 nm processor during its iPhone launch next week, and Qualcomm’s 7 nm 855 is expected to arrive early in 2019.

“Last year, we showed the world the potential of On-Device AI with the Kirin 970, and this year, we’ve designed an all-round powerhouse that not only features outstanding AI capabilities, but also brings cutting-edge raw performance to consumers,” said Yu. “Equipped with all-new CPU, GPU and Dual NPU, the Kirin 980 is the ultimate engine to power next-generation productivity and entertainment applications.”

Huawei’s chipset is the result of three years of development, and is about 20 percent faster, and with a 40 percent power reduction over its predecessor, the Kirin 970. It packs about 6.9 billion transistors into a package the size of a fingernail.

Yu said that the SoC contains dual NPUs (neural processing units), compared to last year’s single NPU, letting it offer 220 percent faster image recognition speed than its predecessor. Its 4.5G LTE modem is 16 percent faster. Huawei will also make a 5G solution available.

A new image signal processor (ISP) provides better support for multi-camera configurations, new HDR colour reproduction technology, noise reduction to improve low light images, and improved motion tracking, according to the company. It also offers a 46 percent increase in data throughput compared to last year’s Kirin 970.

The 980 reportedly has a faster frame rate than the Snapdragon 845 (60 frames per second, versus the 845’s 30 frames per second), and offers 22 percent better game performance while using 32 percent less power. In an image recognition demo, the Kirin 980 took half as long as the 845 to complete the test, recognizing up to 4600 images per minute compared to the Snapdragon’s 2371.

Overall, Huawei claims that the 980 is 135 percent faster than the 845, and 88 percent more efficient, and that its WiFi has twice the throughput (1732Mbps, vs the 845’s 866Mbps).

The Kirin 980 supports common AI frameworks such as Caffee, Tensorflow, and Tensorflow Lite, and Huawei provides a suite of tools to help developers tap into the processing power of the NPUs.

The Kirin 980 will first hit the shelves in Canada in the Mate 20 series phones, launching in October, and is also expected to power the successors to this year’s P20 and P20 Pro (which was recently named Best Smartphone of 2018 by the European Image and Sound Association).

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