Huawei officially unveils the Kirin 950 processor


At a press briefing in Beijing today, Huawei officially unveiled their next high-end chipset, the Kirin 950. Huawei has gone with a big.LITTLE architecture using four ARM Cortex-A72 chips and four ARM Cortex A53 chips, along with a Mali-T880 gpu, to step up the performance of the processor compared to previous generation chips resulting in a processor speed of 2.53 GHz, which is better than previous reports had suggested. Although Huawei did not provide specifics as to which device may be the first to get the new Kirin 950, many believe the Huawei Mate 8 is in line for the distinction.

Besides utilizing the ARM big.LITTLE architecture, Huawei implemented a 16nm FinFET manufacturing process to produce the chips. Similar to recent chips in their Kirin line, the 950 fully supports 4G LTE and adds support for VoLTE. Huawei implemented some Heuristic Scheduling Algorithms (HSA) to better predict when a performance boost is needed. Altogether, Huawei is trying to ensure top-line performance while more efficiently managing heat and battery usage.  They estimate idle power consumption has been reduced from 90mA to only 6.5mA, which should be able to greatly improve standby times. A new processor call the i5, not to be confused with Intel’s line, is also included to provide an always-on sensing mode. The i5 also handles some functions like real-time location services.

The Kirin 950 should provide some good competition for Qualcomm and Exynos chips that are expected to power some flagship devices in 2016. Typically Huawei has been using their Kirin line in Asian markets, but as they expand into the North American and European markets, we may have a chance to see devices powered by the Kirin 950.

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Key Messages of Kirin950 Press Briefing
On November 5, 2015, Huawei showcased its latest smartphone SoC, the Kirin950, at
a press briefing in Beijing.
1. Kirin SoCs powers 4G+ commercialization around the world
In June 2014, Huawei released the world’s first 4G+ SoC, the Kirin920, and the first
LTE+ smartphone, the Honor 6. Today, all Kirin 900 series chips can support 4G+,
including the Kirin920, Kirin930, Kirin950. More than 50 percent of smartphones in
China are powered by Kirin SoCs today.
2. Kirin950 supports VoLTE, delivering a better HD voice experience
With the debut of the Kirin 930, Kirin SoCs continued to enhance the user experience
on 4G+ networks. The Kirin 930 further optimized 4G+ Internet browsing and the Kirin
950 now delivers an HD voice experience to users via 4G+ networks.
Upgraded 4G+ networks and increased bandwidth have created more opportunities
for HD voice applications. Voices can be transmitted with higher integrity, making
them sound more realistic. Kirin 9xx SoCs support VoLTE technology, which has
doubled the voice sampling rate, increased the spectral range by 100 percent,
improved video call quality by 10 times, and enabled users to make calls while surfing
the Internet. Compared with legacy voice technologies, Kirin 950 VoLTE delivers a
much higher call quality and much lower network latency, to better meet the needs for
multi-party calls and ensure call quality.
To provide users with a better voice experience, the Kirin SoC team worked with
leading mobile operators in China, Europe and Korea to complete a two-year VoLTE
test. CMCC’s VoLTE commercialization pace is the fastest in China. Kirin950 received
the earliest VoLTE verification from CMCC. China Mobile has announced that VoLTE
will be put into commercial operation across its entire network by the end of 2015, and
Kirin 920/930/950 SoCs support VoLTE. Among VoLTE devices put into commercial use
lately across various provinces, the Kirin 920-based Mate 7 is a benchmark model.
3. Kirin 950 achieves a breakthrough in energy efficiency.
Managing power consumption is one of the smart phone industry’s biggest challenges.
Kirin SoCs take a balanced approach to managing performance and power
consumption, and the Kirin 950 has achieved breakthroughs both in performance and
user experience compared with its predecessors.
3.1 16nm FinFET plus process technology
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The process technology is the foundation for user experience. The Kirin 950 is among
the first SoCs to employ the 16nm FinFET plus process node, and is the first SoC in the
industry to commercialize the TSMC 16nm FinFET plus technology. The
commercialization of the 16nm FinFET plus technology faced major challenges:
The number of transistors on a single chip has increased from 2 billion to 3
billion, thus doubling the difficulty of metal interconnection
The 3D transistor structure makes the process much more complex
The photolithography limitation entails the dismantling of the mask, thus
increasing the mask layers by nearly 30 percent
The number of design constraints has increased from 10000+ to 40000.
The decision to move to a cutting-edge process means overcoming many engineering
challenges before commercialization. At the end of 2013, the Kirin SoC team started to
work closely with TSMC to solve the mass production issues for the advanced process.
The process taped out in April, 2014 and entered mass production in January, 2015.
3.2 Outstanding performance
To achieve a breakthrough in performance, Kirin 950 features the industry’s first ARM
4*A72+4*A53 big.LITTLE architecture and its new MaliT880 GPU. Compared with A57,
the performance of the new ARM Cortex A72 core has improved by 11 percent, and its
power consumption has decreased by 20 percent. The graphic rendering capacity of
Kirin 950’s new GPU ARM MaliT880 is 100 percent higher than its predecessor, and its
GFLOPS is also 100 percent higher than its predecessor. In addition, the Kirin 950’s
new architecture also includes a new LPDDR4, a new GIC500, and a new bus and FBC
applications, providing the Kirin 950 with a more powerful hardware performance
3.3 Fine tuning
Kirin 950 focuses on the user’s actual performance experience. A study shows that
quick responses and smooth operations are two key factors that affect user experience.
Quick responses depend on an SoC’s boost performance, while smooth operations
depend on its continuous performance. The Kirin SoC team optimized boost and
continuous performance. When the user triggers an operation, the SoC can respond to
it within 100ms, thus enabling a quick-response experience to the user. In active mode,
each frame can be rendered within 1/60 second to deliver a smooth-operation
In addition to its powerful hardware performance, the Kirin 950 employs Heuristic
Scheduling Algorithm (shortened for HSA) to fine-tune the system to address
Android’s native issues and two performance requirements: when the boost
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performance is required, it can make an accurate prediction and recover quickly; and
in normal scenarios, it can make most accurate performance predictions without
generating additional heat. Compared with its predecessor, the Kirin 950’s boost
performance has improved by 100 percent, and its continuous performance has
improved by 56 percent.
4 i5, the co-processor, enable chip-level intelligent positioning
The Kirin 950 contains a newly upgraded i5 co-processor which is based on the latest
M7 cores. Compared with M3, the performance of M7 has improved by 4 times, making
it the most powerful co-processor in the industry. As the tiny core of the Kirin 950’s
innovative big.LITTLE plus tiny core architecture, i5 can collaborate with big A72 cores
and little A53 cores to share resources. Under the intelligent scheduling by the main
system, when the master CPU is required, i5 in always-sensing mode can quickly wake
up the main CPU, thus greatly reducing the CPU start-up time. The i5 can put the
phone in always-sensing mode with an ultra-low power, and can receive data from
sensors continuously even if the phone is in sleep mode. Its power consumption is
much lower than that of the main CPU.
The algorithmic strength of a location service is much higher than that of a calculator
application. Specifically, its real-time requirements for floating point arithmetic cannot
be fulfilled by the previous M4/M3-based solutions. The M7-based i5 processor is
highly scalable in terms of architecture, making the Kirin 950 the first SoC that can
provide real-time location services for combined GPS, base station, WiFi and sensor
positioning in indoor environments, on viaducts and among buildings. It is a
hardware-based solution, reducing the power by 90 percent from 90mA to 6.5mA.
5 The self-developed ISP enhances Kirin 950’s camera feature.
With the Kirin 950, Huawei has introduced its own ISP technology to achieve a
premium level of performance. It supports 14bit dual ISPs, increasing the throughput
by 4 times to 960MPixel/s for quicker focusing. It also supports online dual 13M Pixel
Sensors, up to a 32MPixel Sensor, and can collect more complete image information.
The dedicated image post-processing DSP can deliver the best image quality and
effects. It integrates a high-end FD for fast and accurate face scanning, which can
identify up to 35 faces continuously in automatic face-scanning mode.
6 A new in-house RF chip supports more bands for global roaming.
Huawei’s new in-house RF chip provides features that could only be delivered by two
previous-generation chips. A single chip can support carrier aggregation with higher
integration and lower power. Compared with its predecessor, the new RF chip
supports more bands from 450MHz to 3.5G which satisfies roaming demands in more
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It is reported that Huawei’s latest flagship deviced based on Kirin 950 will be launched

About the Author: Jeff Causey

Raised in North Carolina, Jeff Causey is a licensed CPA in North Carolina. Jeff's past Android devices include an HTC EVO, a Samsung Note II, an LG G3, and a Motorola Moto X Pure Edition along with a Samsung Galaxy Tablet 10.1. He currently uses a Samsung Galaxy S8 and (very rarely) a Nexus 7 (2013). He is also using a Verizon-branded Motorola Moto Z Play Droid supplied by his job. Jeff used to have a pair of Google Glass and a Moto 360 Sport in his stable of gadgets. Unfortunately, his kids have all drunk the Apple Kool-Aid and have i-devices. Life at home often includes demonstrations of the superiority of his Android based devices. In his free time, Jeff is active an active runner usually training for his next marathon, owns a MINI Cooper, and plays Dungeons & Dragons. Jeff has three mostly grown kids and a golden retriever.