Kirin 990

What you need to know

  • Huawei has announced the processor that will power its next flagship Mate 30 series of phones.
  • It boasts 10.3bn transistors, 2.3Gbps download speeds and a 16-core GPU, among other upgrades.
  • We'll see it first in the Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro, launching September 19.

As is traditional before the launch of a new Mate phone, Huawei has today unveiled the chipset that'll power its next flagship series. And if the tech specs of the new Kirin 990 and 990 5G processors are any indicator, the new phones will offer a significant bump in AI, 5G, graphical and photographic performance over the Kirin 980 used in phones like the P30 series.

The Kirin 990 series is built on a 7nm FinFet UEV process for improved power efficiency over the current 980. The CPU is an octa-core affair, with two big (high performance) Cortex A76 cores, two mid-performance A76 cores and four low-power A55 cores. Meanwhile, Huawei's focus on AI continues in the new chipset, with a new big-plus-tiny NPU (neural processing unit) configuration. And for improved graphical throughput, the 990 uses a 16-core ARM Mali G76 GPU — up from a 10-core G76 in the previous generation.

Huawei's continues to build out its AI capabilities in the new chip, with the new NPU configuration allowing gains in efficiency and peak performance. At the high end, Huawei says to expect double the AI number-crunching power of current chips like the Snapdragon 855 and Kirin 980 from its new flagship.

Machine learning is also leveraged in the inbuilt 5G modem, the presence of which lets Huawei claim the 990 5G as the "first flagship 5G processor." In addition to impressive data speeds, the firm says that by applying the chip's AI capabilities to the modem's power consumption, it can deliver a 5G connection with "4G-like" power draw. When it comes to data throughput, the 5G version of the chip is rated for speeds of up to 2.3Gbps down and 1.25Gbps up.

While both the 4G and 5G version are very similar, it's worth pointing out that there are performance differences between the two. The 5G variant enjoys slightly higher clock speeds in its CPU, along with boasting a second "big" NPU core.

Kirin 990 vs Kirin 990 5G specs

Category Kirin 990 5G Kirin 990
Process 7nm + EUV 7nm
CPU 2x Cortex A76 derivative @ 2.86GHz
2x Cortex A76 derivative @ 2.36GHz
4X Cortex A55 @ 1.95GHz
2X Cortex A76 derivative @ 2.86GHz
2X Cortex A76 derivative @ 2.09GHz
4X Cortex A55 @ 1.86GHz
GPU 16-core Mali G76 16-core Mali G76
NPU 2 big core + 1 tiny core 1 big core + 1 tiny core
UFS UFS 3.0, UFS 2.1 UFS 3.0, UFS 2.1
Networks 2G/3G/4G/5G 2G/3G/4G

Photography and videography have also received special attention in both Kirin 990 variants, particularly when it comes to noise reduction. The new fifth-generation dual ISP (image signal processor) supports BM3D (Block-matching and 3D filtering) for improved noise reduction in stills — a feature which Huawei says puts its noise reduction on par with that of far more expensive DSLR cameras. For improved video clarity, the new ISP also supports dual domain noise reduction.

That's likely to be a good match for the much larger image sensors we're expecting to see in the Mate 30 series when they land in a few weeks. The current rumors point to a whopping 40-megapixel, 1/1.55-inch sensor for that phone's main camera.

The Huawei Kirin 990 and 990 5G will debut in the Mate 30 series, which is due to be unveiled at an event in Munich, Germany on September 19. Android Central will be live from the venue to bring you full hands-on coverage.