Huawei HiSilicon Kirin 980 more than a year behind Apple's A12 Bionic in performance

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Following Apple's A12 Bionic powering iPhone XS and iPhone XR models, Huawei has released its own custom 7nm ARM System on a Chip. But despite using the same fab process, Huawei's Kirin 980-powered Mate 20 Pro flagship lags far behind Apple's iPhone XS A12, turning in performance scores well below last year's A11 iPhone X.


Huawei's Kirin 980 isn't just behind Apple's A12 Bionic, it's also struggling to keep up with last year's A11

Apple in the SoC War

Apple's introduction of new iPhones this fall included the announcement of its new A12 Bionic chip, with significant CPU and GPU core advancements, as well as a major advancements of its Neural Engine NPU and Image Signal Processor, a faster Secure Element powering Face ID, improvements to its memory and storage controllers, and fabricated using the most sophisticated fabrication technology available for production mobile semiconductors: 7nm.

Initial SPEC2006 benchmarking by Andrei Frumusanu for Anandtech concluded that the A12 Bionic wasn't just faster than other mobile chips including Samsung's Exynos 9810 and 8895 or Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 and 835, but actually bumping up toward the performance of desktop processors.

That report stated that Apple had delivered "one of the most major performance jumps in recent generations," and said the company was "really underselling the improvements" it had made to its custom CPU core design.

Only one other gunslinger in the 7nm shootout

However, as the first 7nm SoC used in a mobile device, Apple's A12 Bionic really needs to be compared against am SoC built to the same process, as shrinking the size of circuits just by itself can deliver gains in performance and efficiency.

Qualcomm and MediaTek, two of the largest SoC producers, were reported in September to have postponed their own 7nm chip launches until 2019. UMC is thought to have shifted its investments into "mature" and specialty process nodes while Globalfoundries has put its own 7nm FinFET technology development on indefinite hold.

Samsung is believed to be working on its own 7nm process in an attempt to win back orders from Apple that had transitioned away to TSMC over the last few years. Intel is several years behind in its own effort for 10nm, but promises that they will arrive in volume in 2019.

The only other chip designer to have completed a 7nm SoC in mobile production is Huawei's fabless design subsidiary HiSilicon. Both Apple and Huawei are using TSMC to fabricate their custom chip designs. However, 7nm itself isn't a benchmark for performance. Apple has been besting the performance of rival SoCs built using the same process for years.

Kirin 980
Kirin's 980 SoC, portrayed as if a modular desktop CPU


While Apple designs its own CPU and now GPU cores, Huawei's Kirin 980 uses reference design cores designed by ARM: Cortex-A76 and A55 architecture CPU cores and ARM's Mali-G76 GPU. Huawei also added dual ISPs and NPUs (the neural processor unit) and integrates a Cat.21 modem, similar to Qualcomm's Snapdragon. In contrast, Apple continues to use an external modem from Intel.

Kirin 980 isn't even beating all the Androids

Writing for PhoneArena, Victor Hristov compared performance benchmarks of the Kirin 980 against Apple's A12 Bionic. While Huawei targeted its chip to beat Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845, in GeekBench single core scores Huawei's Mate 20 Pro fell behind Samsung's Galaxy Note 9 (powered by an 845), in addition to both Apple's latest iPhone XS and even last year's iPhone X.

The Mate 20 Pro's Kirin 980 was significantly faster than other premium-priced Androids like Google's Pixel 3XL, which also uses a Snapdragon 845, but comes with less RAM than either the Note 9 or Mate 20 Pro. Android requires lots of RAM; Apple's iPhones were faster with less RAM.


Source: Victor Hristov, PhoneArena.com


In multi-core benchmarks, the Mate 20 Pro pulled ahead of other Androids but was still significantly behind last year's iPhone X. In the combined CPU/GPU score from AnTuTu, Huawei's Mate 20 Pro turned in a benchmark above iPhone X but far behind Apple's latest XS.

In the GPU-specific GFXBench scoring, Huawei's Mali graphics showed performance distantly lagging both iPhone X and newer iPhones. The site noted that Huawei's chip "strangely produces vastly different results with every run of this benchmark," noting that it used only the highest scores it produced, which were still not competitive with Apple's custom GPU-- or even the similar Mali graphics used by Samsung's Note 9.

Hristov wrote that "the Mate 20 Pro with the Kirin 980 is a big step forward for Huawei," but that while it was "the fastest chip on Android in most areas, but it's no match for the Apple A12 Bionic."

Beyond benchmarks

While benchmarks have historically shown various competitors inching ahead of each other with each new chip produced, Apple has been unique in increasingly pulling ahead of its rivals, in large part due to its relentless investment in new silicon technologies. These include the A7's jump to a 64-bit architecture and last year's A11 Bionic introducing both Apple's first custom GPU and the all-new Neural Engine, custom silicon devoted to machine learning features.

The development of new technologies and fabrication process are expensive. Android phone makers once had a number of chip makers to choose from, but as Google pushed its licensees downmarket to produce ever cheaper devices with only basic GPUs and commodity parts, the market for sophisticated processors has shrunk.

Texas Instrument's OMAP architecture and Nvidia's Tegra once powered flashy Android flagships, but after a series of product flops, both companies exited the mobile space entirely.

That has left Qualcomm and smaller chip makers to service the demand for mobile chips. But rather than Android makers pooling their resources to tackle Apple's lead, individual licensees have pursued their own chip development, notably Samsung's Exynos and Huawei's HiSilicon subsidiary designing the Kirin series.

The extreme expense of these duplicative efforts is difficult to sustain unless they are contributing toward premium sales. Samsung's own efforts to sell high-end Galaxy S and Note models has faltered since its peak sales back in 2014. The fact that its mobile unit is now losing money makes it increasingly difficult to shovel more resources into the speculative development of high-end chips.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro
Huawei's expensive new Mate 20 Pro flagship copies Apple's design and price, but sells in a market where Androids are cheap


Huawei is just now trying to sell devices priced like a Galaxy Note or Apple's iPhone lineup, and the Kirin 980 was hoped to rival Apple's latest chip tech in sophistication. Yet Huawei still only makes a tiny fraction of the profits of Samsung, let alone Apple.

Meanwhile, Apple continues to sell well over 200 million high-end iPhones every year, along with premium iPad and iPad Pro models that pay for the development of ever faster custom silicon design.

Not even Samsung ships a comparable number of premium phones. In fact, Apple has solidly owned the majority of sales of premium phones not just in the U.S. but even in China, where a variety of brands exist and sell lots of units, but generate very little profit because they are focused on huge volumes of low-end models.

Year after year, Apple's harvest of the majority of premium phones and tablets that are sold globally is funding advanced development of mobile processors, their GPUs, new specialized processors like the Neural Engine, and advanced memory and storage controllers. What was once Apple's primary competition in SoCs, Qualcomm, is now running into licensing fights throughout the industry even as Android makers who have set their targets on selling premium devices peel away to work on their own custom chip designs.

That indicates that Apple is not just ahead this year by more than a year of development, but will continue to break away and advance not just in SoCs targeting smartphones, but also in chips optimized for tablets, for wearables and other new product categories, where no Android maker has established any commercially significant, profitable business at all.
TomEtmaywatto_cobra
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 95
    Wait, so benchmarks and specs matter now? Or only matter because they’re ones where Apple comes out on top? How about doing a review of the phone using this chip and compare everyday usage to the XS. Is the OS fast and smooth? Do apps and websites launch quickly? How’s the camera? How does their version of portrait mode compare to Apple’s? Geekbench scores means nothing to most people.
    singularitygatorguyavon b7revenant
  • Reply 2 of 95
    asciiascii Posts: 5,928member
    I want to see how well the A12 performs in a laptop form factor, where it can be paired with a big copper heatsink and a fan.
    edited October 18 wonkothesanewatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 95
    Paging Avon B7. Paging Avon B7. You're needed in Damage Control ASAP.
    tmaycutykamuStrangeDayscorrectionsradarthekatmagman1979Rayz2016watto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 4 of 95
    silvergold84silvergold84 Posts: 31unconfirmed, member
    Finally someone that wrote the reality. An honest article. Often forum and websites of news just make publicity to huawei. World need honestly and knowledge 
    racerhomie3StrangeDaysmagman1979watto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 5 of 95
    Wait, so benchmarks and specs matter now? Or only matter because they’re ones where Apple comes out on top? How about doing a review of the phone using this chip and compare everyday usage to the XS. Is the OS fast and smooth? Do apps and websites launch quickly? How’s the camera? How does their version of portrait mode compare to Apple’s? Geekbench scores means nothing to most people.

    They've always mattered. It's the Android side that used to always bring up benchmarks way back when they were ahead. Since Apple started crushing them, suddenly they don't matter.

    What's really pathetic is sites like Anandtech or TomsHardware (who have a long history of testing CPUs and GPUs) where the comments were filled with discussions about architectures and how they affect performance. Now that Apple is producing the world's most advanced processors all those reasoned discussions have disappeared replaced by bickering and whining. Funny how hatred can destroy a persons ability to think logically.
    edited October 18 tmayracerhomie3StrangeDaysradarthekatmagman1979redgeminipawatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 6 of 95
    Wait, so benchmarks and specs matter now? Or only matter because they’re ones where Apple comes out on top? How about doing a review of the phone using this chip and compare everyday usage to the XS. Is the OS fast and smooth? Do apps and websites launch quickly? How’s the camera? How does their version of portrait mode compare to Apple’s? Geekbench scores means nothing to most people.
    Not really. They don't matter, but now when Apple comes consistently on top (for the last, like 5-6 years), Sammy and Android fanboys decided that those specs are not important, which is ironic since they were the ones who started the spec war! 
    Sammy was the one who was selling their devices based on spec sheets, unlike Apple.That was quite evident by what information was put out on Sammy and Apple's devices commercials and in key notes.
    So, please, stop trying to gaslight everyone here, simply 'cause you are just butt hurt.
    edited October 18 tmaylkruppnetmageracerhomie3StrangeDaysradarthekatmagman1979redgeminipawatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 7 of 95
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 6,442member
    Yeah, but where’s the new Mac Mini with slots? /s
    edited October 18 watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 95
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,163member
    Wait, so benchmarks and specs matter now? Or only matter because they’re ones where Apple comes out on top? How about doing a review of the phone using this chip and compare everyday usage to the XS. Is the OS fast and smooth? Do apps and websites launch quickly? How’s the camera? How does their version of portrait mode compare to Apple’s? Geekbench scores means nothing to most people.
    It always matters. If the SoC isn’t up to snuff, there’s only so much you can do otherwise. You know that. Read the far more comprehensive Anandtech review, they cover it all.
    tmaymagman1979watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 95
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,163member

    Paging Avon B7. Paging Avon B7. You're needed in Damage Control ASAP.
    Wait. He’s looking for the Anandtech article on Huawei’s SoC cheating to prove his point.
    StrangeDaysradarthekatmagman1979watto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 10 of 95
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,163member

    Wait, so benchmarks and specs matter now? Or only matter because they’re ones where Apple comes out on top? How about doing a review of the phone using this chip and compare everyday usage to the XS. Is the OS fast and smooth? Do apps and websites launch quickly? How’s the camera? How does their version of portrait mode compare to Apple’s? Geekbench scores means nothing to most people.

    They've always mattered. It's the Android side that used to always bring up benchmarks way back when they were ahead. Since Apple started crushing them, suddenly they don't matter.

    What's really pathetic is sites like Anandtech or TomsHardware (who have a long history of testing CPUs and GPUs) where the comments were filled with discussions about architectures and how they affect performance. Now that Apple is producing the world's most advanced processors all those reasoned discussions have disappeared replaced by bickering and whining. Funny how hatred can destroy a persons ability to think logically.
    I read, and often comment on the posting in Anandtech. Most of the posts about Apple’s A series are serious and impressed. Only a small number are anything else. A lot of the whining there is about why Android SoC manufacturers don’t keep up.
    tmaygatorguywatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 11 of 95
    For those wanting to read more of DED’s work head on over to his website: roughlydraftedbeta.com
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 95
    brucemcbrucemc Posts: 1,444member
    Wait, so benchmarks and specs matter now? Or only matter because they’re ones where Apple comes out on top? How about doing a review of the phone using this chip and compare everyday usage to the XS. Is the OS fast and smooth? Do apps and websites launch quickly? How’s the camera? How does their version of portrait mode compare to Apple’s? Geekbench scores means nothing to most people.
    You always state this drivel each time such an article is posted.

    And the answer is always the same.  Of course "performance" matters - it always has.

    As I have stated many times, what isn't as relevant are pure component "specs" (which is what the PC heads always liked to trumpet), as that is only a part of of performance, and it depends on implementation.
    - number of transistors
    - clock speed
    - amount of RAM
    tmayhubbaxStrangeDaysthtmagman1979watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 95
    Wow, after few years of 64bit Socs coming out by apple they are still way ahead then all the other companies in the world. It is really amazing to see but still some comments here are that benchmarks don’t matter anymore. Well they definitely do. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 95
    lkrupp said:
    Yeah, but where’s the new Mac Mini with slots? /s
    Errr... What happens if the first A-series-powered computer ends up being the Mac Mini. That would be rather sad. With Apple, you just never going to know what direction they're taking. The Mac Mini may end up as some high-end AppleTV.

    I don't think we'll ever see a Mac Mini Pro with upgradeable components and definitely no PCIe slots. Unfortunately for Mac followers, Apple seems to have given up on the simple standards most PC manufacturers use. Apple keeps trying to redefine computers and I'm not sure it's in a good way.
    edited October 18
  • Reply 16 of 95
    dws-2dws-2 Posts: 202member
    Apple's chips are amazing. I think the challenge for Apple is figuring out how to do something with that power that otherwise would not have been possible. I just bought an iPhone XS from an iPhone 7, and I honestly don't notice any speed difference, mostly because the iPhone 7 was already very fast, especially with iOS 12. 
    cutykamumuthuk_vanalingammagman1979gatorguyracerhomie3watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 95
    High benchmarks are nice but I believe most consumers are more concerned with what the total package brings them.  Most people I know have no interest in benchmarks and certainly they don't choose their smartphones based on benchmarks.  Most of their choices seem to be based on some sort of price/feature selection.  Many are happy with products that are just 'good enough' for their needs.

    No matter how fast the A12 Bionic is, very few consumers in India will never get their hands on one.  Same goes for Brazil or Russia.  The smartphone that's going to win in those countries is the one most consumers can afford to purchase.

    Although the A12 Bionic is a monster SoC, when flagship smartphones are tested next to one another, they're usually within milliseconds of each other when performing routine app launch tests.  Seriously, most consumers are not going to pay a couple of hundred dollars more for a gain or loss in milliseconds.  Apple's OS animations are very fluid but many times some Android smartphone can launch an app slightly quicker.  Apple just needs to keep making the whole iOS platform and ecosystem better and that will make the biggest difference in what smartphone consumers will purchase.  I'll always prefer an overall balanced package but that's just me.  As long as Apple doesn't keep pricing the iPhone much higher, Apple will do quite well selling a nicely balanced iPhone product.
    muthuk_vanalingamrogifan_newgatorguy
  • Reply 18 of 95
    cutykamu said:
    Wow, after few years of 64bit Socs coming out by apple they are still way ahead then all the other companies in the world. It is really amazing to see but still some comments here are that benchmarks don’t matter anymore. Well they definitely do. 
    In terms of showing raw power of the chips (if that is what SoC benchmarks measure), then yes. But not all benchmarks are like that. Some of them use resolution to offset the score, even though a device itself performed extremely poorly at that resolution. I am looking at you, Antutu.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 95
    Although the A12 Bionic is a monster SoC, when flagship smartphones are tested next to one another, they're usually within milliseconds of each other when performing routine app launch tests.  Seriously, most consumers are not going to pay a couple of hundred dollars more for a gain or loss in milliseconds.  Apple's OS animations are very fluid but many times some Android smartphone can launch an app slightly quicker.
    Can you point me to where you have seen this lately? I've been looking for one of those test videos where they put the latest iPhone up against, say, the latest Galaxy and then launch the same apps on each one, in sequence and then repeat the process, while noting the time the whole thing takes. I haven't seen one of those lately but the last time the difference was not within milliseconds, it was actually quite significant.
    racerhomie3watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 95

    While DED got most of the facts right, there is one small correction required in this article. The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 single core score of 3600+ does NOT come from the Snapdragon version. It is for the Exynos 9810 version. The single core score for snapdragon version is around 2400 only, like all other Android phones using the same SoC. And Samsung's Exynos SoC could not sustain its peak performance for even shorter period as per deep-dive by AnandTech. In short, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 was the best SoC in Android phones before Kirin 980. 


    Kirin 980's single core score (~3300, much higher than Snapdragon 845's score of ~2400) is pretty good IF it is sustainable, which we will come to know once AnandTech does a deep-dive. I won't be surprised if Snapdragon 845 continues to be the best all-round SoC (CPU, GPU, ISP, sustained performance etc) in Android phones even better than Kirin 980 once AnandTech completes their deep-dive of Kirin 980. The title of the article is absolutely spot-on though. Huawei's latest and greatest SoC's (Kirin 980) performance is more than 1 year behind Apple's latest and greatest SoC (A12).

    thtmykem
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