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Here's why the Kirin 990 uses the Cortex-A76, not the newer A77

Why does the Kirin 990 use the Cortex-A76 when the Cortex-A77 is the newer microarchitecture?

Published onSeptember 6, 2019

Kirin 990 between fingers

HUAWEI officially revealed the Kirin 990 chip at IFA 2019 in Berlin. Curiously, the new chip comes with the 2018 Cortex-A76 microarchitecture, which is not the newest version. Why doesn’t it come with the 2019 Cortex-A77?

Android Authority had the chance to sit down with Richard Yu, the consumer CEO at HUAWEI, and get this question answered.

It turns out the answer is all about battery life. According to Richard, the speed of the 990 is already “more than you need,” and using the Cortex-A77 architecture only increased that already-too-much speed by a nominal amount.

To get that nominal upgrade in speed, you would need to make a bit of a trade-off in energy efficiency, which negatively affects battery life, according to Richard. In other words, HUAWEI decided that consumers would rather have a phone that gets slightly more battery life at a slightly slower speed than what’s possible rather than less battery life at the fastest speed available.

Richard conceded that when the trade-off makes sense, future Kirin chips could use the Cortex-A77 architecture. He mentioned it was possible that that could happen when the move to 5nm processing comes around (the Kirin 990, like all other current flagship chips, is based on a 7nm process).

Related: HUAWEI Mate X tipped to arrive with Kirin 990 chipset, better camera

For what it’s worth, Arm promises a roughly 20 percent improvement for the Cortex-A77 over the Cortex-A76, while offering the same power consumption. However, it appears HUAWEI’s findings don’t support this claim. It’s also possible that HUAWEI simply needed more real estate inside smartphones, as the A77 is slightly larger than the A76.

The Kirin 990 is now the top-end chip from HUAWEI and is expected to debut in the upcoming HUAWEI Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro series of smartphones,  although the company would not confirm that information during the IFA event.

It will be interesting to see how this decision regarding the A77 architecture works out in the long run for HUAWEI, considering we expect the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 to land in just a few months, and it will undoubtedly use Cortex-A77. By that time, the Kirin 990 could be a year behind in performance, at least when compared to its primary competitor.

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