The pattern of next-generation mobile processing technology has begun to take shape. Major manufacturers Apple, Huawei, and Qualcomm have released their latest flagship chips, which are all based on the most advanced 5nm process technology. Therefore, in the next few months, high-end smartphones equipped with Apple A14 Bionic processors, Huawei Kirin 9000, and Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 will compete fiercely. When these three processors were released, the officials announced that they had improved performance, energy efficiency, and machine learning capabilities, but what if the three were compared horizontally?
Although they are all based on 5nm process technology, there are still big differences between these three processors. First of all, Apple uses customized Firestorm and Icestorm cores on the A14. At the same time, Qualcomm and Huawei’s HiSilicon use ARM’s off-the-shelf architecture. However, Snapdragon 888 uses the newer high-end Cortex-X1 and Cortex-A78, while Huawei uses the previous generation Cortex-A77.
In terms of single-core performance, Apple has maintained its lead over Android mobile phone processors for many years in this regard. And Apple claims that the single-core performance of the A14 is 21% higher than the A13, while Qualcomm said that the Snapdragon 888 is 25% higher than the Snapdragon 865, and Huawei’s Kirin 9000 is 10% higher than the previous generation chip.
Judging from the paper parameters of these performances, Apple seems to be still leading in single-core performance, while Qualcomm has narrowed the gap slightly, but 2021 Android phones still lag behind Apple phones in this regard. However, in terms of multi-core performance, the three-cluster structure adopted by Qualcomm and Huawei chips is likely to make them more competitive, and may even overwhelm Apple in terms of energy efficiency and battery life.
Graphics and gaming performance may be the closest year for these chips. Apple’s official statement is that the graphics performance of the A14 is about 8% higher than that of the A13, and the benchmark test also proves that this is the least progress of the A14. Qualcomm claims that the graphics performance of Snapdragon 888 has been greatly improved by 35%. If this result can be maintained in actual tests, then it will narrow the gap with A14, and may even surpass Apple. Huawei also claims that this generation of GPU has been greatly improved, which is 52% stronger than last year’s Snapdragon 865 Plus.
Of course, we have to go through a lot of benchmark tests and record the actual frame rate performance to know which chip is more suitable for games in general.
Before next year, we may not see the emergence of smartphones equipped with Snapdragon 888, and the iPhone 12 and Huawei Mate 40 series have already demonstrated the capabilities of these two 5nm chips. According to the above benchmark test, it is obvious that Huawei’s chips do have a good improvement. With the transition from Kirin 9000 to ARM Mail-G78, the problem of sluggish GPU performance of Kirin 990 has been resolved. However, even so, in this benchmark test, this chip can only barely compete with the Snapdragon 865, but it is slightly better than the Snapdragon 865 in terms of CPU and mixed load performance. Of course, relatively speaking, the graphics performance of Kirin 9000 is greatly improved compared to Huawei’s previous generation processors.
And the first 5nm performance crown is likely to be picked by Apple or Qualcomm unless Samsung has something special. If Qualcomm’s predictions of CPU and GPU improvements are true in real machine performance, then Snapdragon 888 will threaten Apple’s A14.
Nowadays, pure competition between CPU and GPU performance has become more and more obsolete. Memory speed, image processing, machine learning, and other hardware components have an increasing impact on device functionality, performance, and battery life.
For example, supporting LPDDR5 in Snapdragon 888 and Kirin 9000 is not only faster than LPDDR4X but also reduces energy consumption by 30% compared to the previous generation. This will greatly help battery life and improve multitasking and gaming. performance. Similarly, AI and machine learning capabilities also help realize new software functions.
Apple A14 has 11TOPs of AI processing performance, which is 83% higher than A13’s 6TOPs. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 has 26TOP AI computing capabilities, which is 73% more than the 15TOP of Snapdragon 865. Huawei claims that its NPU’s AI processing capability is 2.4 times stronger than Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 in performance. On paper alone, these three chips have a significant leap in AI performance, and machine learning is a significant improvement point for this generation of processors.
Image processing capabilities are equally important for smartphones. Supporting multi-shot, multi-frame image processing and increasing video shooting capabilities have played a certain role in creating a powerful camera. For example, Snapdragon 888 and Kirin 9000 support multi-exposure HDR video, object segmentation and enhanced noise reduction technology. Qualcomm now also supports 10bit HEIF images and simultaneous three-shot processing. At the same time, Apple’s A14 introduced ProsRAW editing and 60fps Dolby Vision video, and similar processing performance improvements.
These three chips all provide sufficient power to improve the photography capabilities of mobile phones, but Qualcomm and Huawei have a slight advantage in processor settings. However, in the final analysis, the picture quality performance is the final result, and it also depends on the sensor and lens hardware in the smartphone. However, in 2021, mobile phones using Apple, Huawei, and Qualcomm chips will take very good photos.
5G support is another key competitive point for flagship products. Here, one difference between the three chips is that Apple A14 still relies on an external modem to achieve 5G connections. Both Snapdragon 888 and Kirin 9000 use integrated modems to improve energy efficiency and take up less internal space in the phone. And they also provide some newer and more futuristic 5G features.
The A14 on the iPhone 12 series uses the old Qualcomm Snapdragon X55 5G modem. The Snapdragon X60 modem inside Snapdragon 888 introduces 5G voice transmission (VoNR) function, which is characterized by enhanced carrier aggregation across sub-6GHz and mmWave technology to obtain faster speeds. In addition, there is FDD-TDD sub-6GHz carrier aggregation and support for newer, faster, and more efficient mmWave antenna components.
Kirin 9000 uses integrated Barong 5000 5G components and supports mmWave and sub-6GHz at the same time. The chip supports carrier aggregation, FDD, and TDD spectrum access, and the speed can reach 7.5Gbps when mixed 4G and 5G signals. It is on the same level as the competition, but Huawei has been polishing this modem for several years, and the supported functions are different from the latest Snapdragon modems, but they are already preparing for the future non-independent 5G network.
Apple was one year behind its competitors in entering the 5G market, and one generation behind in modem technology. For the convenience of battery life and development, a more modern integrated solution is undoubtedly a better choice.
The shift to 5nm not only means an increase in energy consumption and area compared to last year’s 7nm chips, but the increase in transistor density also allows chip designers to improve performance through larger core designs. As we expect, all three flagship chips have major improvements to provide the basis for creating eye-catching high-end smartphones. Apple’s A14 continues to benefit from its internal CPU and GPU architecture, and it seems that it still maintains the leading performance in some benchmark tests, especially single-core performance. At the same time, Qualcomm and Huawei have put more effort into graphics, which will further narrow the gap between them and Apple processors.
Similarly, the three companies have once again strengthened their image processing and machine learning capabilities, which provide a foundation for top-level photography and cutting-edge machine applications. But the most important thing is the performance of the real machine. Both Apple and Huawei use their own chips in their mobile phones, which allows them to give play to the best performance of these chips. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 is more for OEM manufacturers to use, and before the new phone is released, it will be debugged with the manufacturer, and we will soon see the emergence of mobile phones equipped with Snapdragon 888.
In any case, the high-end market is still a long-term competitive situation, and it seems that every flagship chip released this year can win its own market.