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Kirin 980 Vs Apple A12 – War of the AI Chips

This piece highlights the key differences, technical specifications, benchmarks, and a brief comparison between Kirin 980 Vs Apple A12

Kirin 980 Vs Apple A12
Source: Huawei

Inspiring from the Kirin 970’s success, HiSilicon (Huawei’s chip subsidiary) has been in the race to produce the advanced 7nm chip. The time came when Huawei released the Kirin 980 mobile processor along with the Huawei Mate 20 flagship smartphone.

In regards to the 7nm advanced chip, Apple and Qualcomm are the other chip vendors involved in designing high-end chipsets for new smartphones. The A12 chip uses the same 7nm process technology as the Kirin 980. However, at the press conferences, both speakers said that their chips are industry’s first ever 7nm chip (the smallest current transistor scale).

Before deep diving into the key differences and the performance prospects of each processor. Let’s take a look at the technical specifications of both high-end.


Apple A12 Has Better CPU Design

Apple’s A12 Bionic SoC (system-on-a-chip) embedded in Apple’s new XR, XS, and XS Max iPhones adopts the same six-core fusion CPU architecture of its predecessor the A11 Bionic. With two new performance cores called “Vortex” that are up to 15 % faster and four new efficiency cores called “Tempest” that are up to 50 % more efficient; the maximum clock is 2.49GHz. Apple spending a large chunk of its revenue in R&D, after becoming an architecture licensee of ARM CPU IP, Engineers at Apple have been designing powerful custom-designed CPUs to cater the ever-increasing demands of iPhone users.

On the other hand, Kirin 980 is world’s first chipset to integrate ARM’s Cortex-A76 CPU. The chipset has an eight-core ARM big.LITTLE CPU architecture comprising two 2.6GHz A76, two 1.92GHz A76, and four 1.8GHz A55, enabling a 75 % increase in performance and 58 % increase in power efficiency compared to its predecessor Kirin 970. Despite being an octa-core CPU, the customized CPU architecture of Apple A12 and the in-house iOS software optimization enables faster performances.

Apple A12 Has Better GPU Design

A12 Bionic’s four-core GPU is up to 50 % faster than Apple A11’s three-core GPU. The Kirin 980’s GPU is a high-end Mali G76 based on new ARM architecture that shows a 76 % performance increase over its previous generation. Again, Apple has an edge due to the customized GPU architecture as per the iOS and allied apps. As per the AnTuTu’s GPU score, Apple A12 scores more than Kirin 980.

AI Capabilities Is a Tie

AI is a broad term for cognitive technologies such as voice recognition, image recognition, machine learning, etc. Both vendors have a different approach and AI applications. Computational power has always been an important parameter to test the computing power of a chip’s AI. Kirin 980’s innovative dual Neural Processing Unit (NPU) can process 4500 pictures per minute, 2.2 times faster than the Kirin 970 NPU.

Huawei says the dual NPU performance is almost two times higher than the Snapdragon 980 and three times higher than the Apple A11. Whether it is commonly used face recognition, AI camera, or AI scenes such as object recognition, objects detection, and intelligent translation that Huawei pushes, Kirin 980 can easily do it.

On the other hand, Apple’s next-generation Neural Engine is designed to speed up the iPhone’s AI capabilities for Apple’s facial identification system FaceID, ARKit, and other machine learning tasks. The A12 Neural Engine adopts an eight-core design enables it to run up to five trillion operations per second compared to the A11 Bionic’s 600 billion.

Through the above three points, we can see that Kirin 980 and Apple A12 are both 7nm chips, but there are still great differences in specific architecture and technology patents. Both are OEM-specific chipsets designed to power their high-end smartphone line-ups.