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Kirin 990: What you need to know about the Huawei Mate 30's processor

Huawei has confirmed that the Mate 30 series – soon to be announced in Munich – will be powered by the all new Kirin 990 processor. We don’t know much else about the phone yet, but we do know that this processor will unlock even faster performance and some pretty incredible camera AI trickery. 

Huawei is one of the few Android phone makers who develops and builds its own smartphone processors, rather than use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips or the more affordable MediaTek options. For the Kirin 990, Huawei focussed a lot on AI speeds and – of course – 5G. 

5G modem in the chip

One of the biggest new features of Huawei’s Kirin 990 is that it’s the first to have a 5G modem incorporated into the processor itself, as part of the same silicone. 

Every 5G phone so far has its 5G modem chip separate from the phone’s primary processor; commonly referred to as the SoC (system on a chip). Or in other words: the brains of the smartphone that makes everything work. 

Even Huawei’s current Mate 20 X 5G has its modem separate from the processor. But bringing it into the same processor should mean better efficiency, which will – hopefully – mean that 5G phones won’t all be as big as they are now, thanks to easier thermal management and the fact that there are simply fewer chips on the logic board. 

On that note, the Kirin 990 – which will be powering the Mate 30 – will also be available as a 4G version. That means we could see both 5G and 4G models of the Mate 30/Mate 30 Pro, depending on the market. 

What’s also interesting about the way it handles 5G is that it can make use of 4G and 5G simultaneously in areas where the 5G signal might be weaker. Effectively increasing the range, making it more useable than you might find on other smartphones. 

As for speeds, Huawei claims a theoretical top download speed of 2.3Gbps and a peak upload speed of 1.25Gbps. While we’re unlikely to ever see those kinds of numbers in real life networks around our busy, congested cities, it does mean you’ll get faster performance than you’d get from your wired internet at home. That is – of course – if the network you’re on even supports speeds as high as that. 

What’s the Kirin 990 based on? 

As with so many other processors, the Kirin 990’s core design is based on those from ARM. Just like the Snapdragon 855, the Kirin 990’s heavy lifting cores are based on the ARM Cortex-A67 7nm cores. 

With it being a multi-core chip, however, that’s not all there is to it. The Kirin 990 5G chip has eight cores in total. Two “big cores” are the A67 cores clocked at 2.86GHz, two “middle cores” are the same A67 cores, but clocked at a lower 2.36GHz, while the four “little cores” are Cortex-A55 clocked at 1.95GHz. 

As for the 4G version, the makeup is similar but slightly different. It has the same two “big cores”, but the Cortex-A67 middle cores are clocked at 2.09 GHz, and the Cortex-A55 “little cores” are clocked at 1.86Ghz. 

The idea behind this is that the smaller cores do the menial, less power intensive tasks, and so help conserve battery, while the bigger cores are the heavy lifting beasts capable of running the most demanding tasks. 

When asked why Huawei was continuing to use the Cortex-A67 versus a newer A77 design, the company claimed that it saw no reason to, until it could switch to a more power efficient 5nm design. 

Camera improvements

The one other major improvement you’re likely to actually notice is when you use the camera. As well as improving its ISP (image signal processor), Huawei has made big strides with its NPU (neural processing unit) in order to enable much better images and video, as well as some crazy sounding object recognition capabilities. 

Kirin 990 enables what Huawei calls DSLR-level noise reduction. In reality that should mean that even in low light shots, you’ll see a lot less grain, instead seeing a smooth, detailed shot. 

Huawei has used AI alongside its cameras for the past couple of years, and the instances you’re mostly likely to see it work is when shooting in auto, and the phone recognises the type of scene you’re shooting. Whether it’s sunset, blue skies, greenery, food or whatever, you’ll have seen a little bubble pop up on the screen telling you what it recognises. It then adjusts colours, contrast, brightness, depth of field and all manner of other settings to make the most of that particular scene. 

It can also currently recognises a person within a shot, and separate them from the background, enabling you to create a custom backdrop for them. With the Kirin 990, that level of processing is increasing tenfold. 

With the Kirin 990 5G chip inside – which has twice the neural processing power of the 4G version – the camera will be able to recognise and distinguish ten different people or objects at once. So if you want to remove a dustbin from a shot – for example – you can. Or if you want to move/remove people from the shot, you will be able to. 

What’s interesting is that this limit of 10 objects and people is purely software limitations. The actual processor itself is capable of handling even more, but the software needs to catch up. Needless to say, Huawei is exploring more here. The company imagines a future where you’ll be at a busy tourist attraction, and be able to remove everyone from the photo but yourself. 

The only downside to this is that it’s powered by an interface that’s only available in China for now. So while the Kirin is capable of doing this, the actual software is location restricted at the moment. 

Faster, stronger

It goes without saying that the Kirin 990 will be more powerful and faster than the Kirin 980. When combined with the added fluidity and speed of EMUI 10 – Huawei’s newest version of smartphone software – that should mean a very speedy, smooth experience from any phone that has the chip installed. 

Huawei has incorporated what it calls a Smart Cache system within the processor too, and in real daily use, that means even better performance for graphically intense games that need as much real-time memory as possible. By adding this smart cache, it can load more data, quickly and help keep your intense gaming sessions smooth and free of stutter. 

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