On September 6th, Huawei launched the latest generation flagship chip Kirin 990 series at the Consumer Electronics Show in Berlin, Germany, including the Kirin 990 and the Kirin 990 5G.
The release of Kirin 990 5G has caused great public concern and public attention. Small chips are the first in many industries. It is the world’s first flagship 5G SoC launched by Huawei. It is the industry’s smallest 5G mobile phone chip solution. Based on the industry’s most advanced 7nm+ EUV process, it integrates 5G Modem into SoC chip for the first time. It is the first to support NSA/SA dual architecture and TDD. /FDD full frequency band, fully respond to the hardware requirements of mobile phone chips under different networks and different networking modes, is the industry’s first full Netcom 5G SoC.
When it comes to Kirin chips, you can’t help but talk about its parent company, the rather mysterious Huawei HiSilicon. Huawei HiSilicon was founded in October 2004. Its predecessor can be traced back to the ASIC design center established by Huawei in 1991, which is responsible for the design of “Application-specific integrated circuit” (ASIC). HiSilicon’s English name is HiSilicon, Silicon is the meaning of silicon, semiconductor, and HiSilicon is the meaning of massive chips, we can see the goals and determination of HiSilicon in the semiconductor industry.
Today, HiSilicon has mastered the world-class IC design and verification technology, has advanced EDA design platform, development process and specifications, successfully developed more than 200 independent intellectual property rights chips, applied for more than 8,000 patents, and became the world leader. Fabless IC Semiconductors and Devices. In addition to mobile phone SoC chips, HiSilicon’s chips and solutions cover a wide range of fields, including communications, smart terminals, video, and the Internet of Things.
However, in the early days of its establishment, Hess faced a lot of pressure. After all, competitors upgraded from Ericsson, Nokia and other system companies to a series of international chip giants such as Qualcomm, Broadcom and Marvell. Two big mountains in trouble. How does Hess break the predicament step by step and achieve a full rise? Today, we dig deep into the history of Kirin chips to see how the chip giants climbed.
How hard is it to be a SoC?
SoC is the acronym for System-on-a-Chip, which is called “system on a chip.” Generally speaking, a smartphone chip is mainly composed of an application processor AP (ApplicaTIon Processor) and a baseband processor BP.
The AP is responsible for the processing of the operating system, user interface, and applications, including CPU and GPU, and its comprehensive level determines the performance boundary of the mobile phone product. The Modem mainly includes a baseband and a radio frequency part (RF). The baseband part is responsible for signal processing and protocol processing, and the radio frequency part is responsible for signal transmission and reception. Most of the time, manufacturers usually put the RF chip and the baseband chip in the same chip to realize the physical unity, which is called the baseband chip.
To sum up, the CPU, GPU, AP part where the ISP is located, the communication baseband, the BP part where the RF is located, and other chips (power management chip, audio, etc.) will be integrated to form a highly integrated SoC.
So how hard is it to be a SoC? Some insiders have expressed emotions. “Mobile phone chips are the most difficult to do in consumer goods. Basically, the most cutting-edge technology and the technology that most affects the user’s intuitive experience must be fully developed to the strength of competition.” Huawei Fellow Ai Wei also said that “every generation of products will encounter engineering and technical challenges, from Kirin 920, Kirin 930, Kirin 950, Kirin 960, Kirin 970, Kirin 980… all the way, even the feeling of nine deaths “.
Chip development is a road full of choices, process choices, nuclear options, including the choice of communication specifications, each step is like a thin ice. For HiSili, the result of one step error will not only affect its own development, but also directly affect thousands of Huawei mobile phone users. Such a thorny road that can only succeed in not failing is definitely a life of nine deaths!
Huawei Haisi independent research and development
System-on-chip (SoC) design is extremely complex to achieve most of the functionality of a human-sized mobile phone on a palm-sized smartphone.
First of all, a mobile phone SoC needs to integrate hundreds of IPs, and the design must be completed on time. The architecture design needs to avoid the mutual coupling of the modules to reduce the design complexity. At the same time, it is also necessary to ensure that the best performance can be achieved when each module works together. It is a big challenge for designers. Secondly, it is necessary to control the power consumption of the mobile phone, improve the endurance of the mobile phone, and achieve the best energy efficiency ratio of the mobile phone. In order to achieve these two points, in addition to accurately grasping the product development progress of ARM and other manufacturers, it is necessary to self-develop many core devices, and the software and hardware coordination capabilities need to be strong enough.
For example, the full-link QoS technology ensures that the memory access performance of the CPU & GPU is optimized, and there is no display screen, photo screen, etc.; again, the packaging capability, the Unicorn high-end SoC adopts the mainstream POP (Package On Package) packaging technology. The 3D stacking of DRAM and SoC is a very complex packaging technology that improves integration, ensures light and thin products, and guarantees high-performance high-speed storage. Finally, advanced manufacturing processes cannot be ignored, requiring chip vendors to follow up from a technical and application perspective.
The CPU of the Kirin chip is designed based on the ARM instruction set, but the Kirin SoC is not a fully adopted public version CPU. The core provided by ARM is only a standardized soft core. The entire SoC infrastructure includes three parts: CPU, interconnection and Memory system. In the current Kirin SoC, interconnection and Memory are all done by HiSili. Hardware such as ISP and communication modem is also developed by itself. In particular, the self-developed communication Modem improves the efficiency and reliability of data interaction between the communication module and the system, enabling Huawei and the Glory mobile phone to achieve a high balance of performance and power consumption. It can be said that the ability of baseband integration represents the level of SoC development of chip manufacturers, and Kirin chip has no doubt stood in the world’s leading first camp.
In 2007, Huawei Haisi launched the first chip of the Baron series. In the 3G era, Barron Modem has begun to explore and gradually solve technical problems in terms of performance, power consumption, transmission delay and cost, and communication specifications are constantly upgraded. It is worth mentioning that in the 3G era, Baron quickly entered the world’s top operators in the form of network card products, and received favorable comments on a global scale. The LTE chip launched in the 4G era is leading the way in many core technical specifications.
With these precipitation and accumulation, the Baron chip can make a blockbuster in the 5G era, stand the first echelon of communication Modem, and launch the world’s fastest 5G chip Barong 5000, with the first rate and specifications.
Kirin chip development history is a history of communication technology climbing
Huawei HiSchip has been developing for more than ten years, from the initial struggle of K3V1 to the launch of the leading industry mobile phone SoC Kirin 990. Behind it is the long-term accumulation of Huawei Haisi, consistent efforts, and a phased leap from different time nodes.
As early as 2009, the first-ever Haisi has launched an AP chip, the K3V1. In 2012, it launched the industry’s smallest high-performance quad-core A9 architecture processor K3V2. Its performance has caught up with the mainstream level, and Samsung Orion Exynos 4412. Quite, in terms of communication, this chip is even ahead of Qualcomm’s LTE Cat.4 in April 2013 for a year and a half, and the strength is quite good.
In 2014, HiSilicon launched the first mobile phone SoC Kirin 910, which first appeared in the SoC market. Using the mainstream 28nm HPM process technology at the time, it took a critical step toward the design of the chip. However, the development process of Kirin 910 is full of difficulties. In particular, the specifications of the TD-SCDMA system have faced major difficulties. At that time, Hess had no manpower, no experience, no technical reserves in this specification. The development of a communication system requires hundreds of people, but it is understood that HiSili has only used a team of dozens of people to overcome this challenge. Even in the snowy days, the R&D personnel drove themselves out to run the field. Testing, this courage and responsibility that is not afraid of challenges is an important basis for the success of Hess.
In June 2014, Haisi officially released the Kirin 920. The world’s first commercial LTE Cat.6, the industry’s most advanced 4*A15+4*A7 eight-core heterogeneous architecture, the performance is very strong, to meet the needs of users on the Internet experience from 3G to 4G conversion period. In that year, the glory of the Kirin 920, the glory 6plus, and the Mate7 became the first generation of the gods. The glory 6 Plus became the first dual-camera phone, and Mate7 became the gift of the national leader for the foreign guests. The industry generally believes that the success of Kirin 920 and several mobile phones equipped with it has initially established the market position of Kirin chips in the 4G era, and also played an important role in the rise of Huawei and glory mobile phone brands.
After Kirin 920, Haisi quickly launched the Kirin 930. The chip integrates the 8-core A53, which is the industry’s first processor to support the 64-bit ecosystem of the Android platform. This approach is ahead of Qualcomm for half a year, and is the beginning of the mobile phone chip entering the 64-bit era. In 2015, when faced with process selection, Hess boldly chose the most advanced 16nm FF+ process to reduce power consumption, becoming the world’s first 16nm mobile phone SoC. In the generation of Kirin 950, Haisi finally achieved the world’s first commercial 16nm process, and for the first time in the process of the industry is at the forefront. It can be said that before the Kirin 950, Hai Si was still a grasshopper era; after Kirin 950, Hai Si entered the first camp. In the subsequent advanced process evolution roadmap, Kirin chip technology has been in the leading position in the industry, Kirin 960 continues to improve on 16nm, Kirin 970 and Kirin 980 have achieved the world’s first commercial 10nm and 7nm. The leading edge of the process effectively guarantees the optimal performance and energy efficiency of the Kirin SoC, laying a solid foundation for more complex chip design.
2016 is a very important year for HiSilicon. Its comprehensive performance in all aspects of Kirin 960 has reached the industry’s first-class level. The Kirin 9 series chips are also officially among the top chip markets in the industry, forming a three-pronged situation with Qualcomm and Apple. At that time, the Mate 9 series, P10 series, glory 9, glory V9 and other mobile phones equipped with Kirin 960 achieved great success in the market, and the Kirin 960 contributed.
By the release of the Kirin 970 in September 2017, the artificial intelligence computing platform NPU was integrated in the SoC for the first time, creating a precedent for the end-side AI industry. It is understood that in the initial development of the AI camera scene, when the NPU and ISP are concurrent, the power consumption is very high, and the internal once intended to give up the NPU. Later, the solution team of Hess thought of the solution, the AI for the majority of users. The photo experience provides technical support. Not only that, Kirin 970 also innovatively designed the HiAI mobile computing architecture, which is the first architecture in the industry to inherit the full-featured AI service, and maximize the energy efficiency and functions of NPU, GPU and DSP. It is from the Kirin 970 that Haisi officially opened the road of AI exploration and laid a solid technical foundation for Huawei’s full-scenario wisdom strategy.
The launch of Kirin 980 is another important step in the evolution of AI smart phones. It achieves the strongest performance in the 7nm size approaching the physical limit of silicon-based semiconductor technology. HiSilith has let the industry see the development of chip performance. space. In terms of AI experience, Kirin 980’s stronger AI computing power brings a more real-time AI experience, such as AI portrait color retention, real-time AI calorie recognition, AI shopping and other functions to bring revolutionary smart experience to mobile phone users.
Kirin 990 5G: The world’s first flagship 5G SoC chip
The Huawei Mate30 series, which is equipped with the Kirin 990 series chip, will be released globally on September 19th in Munich, Germany. This indicates that Huawei’s end-to-end 5G experience will enter the hands of users and truly enter the commercial stage.
In the past ten years, Huawei has continued to increase its investment in 5G related technologies on the side (terminal), management (network), cloud (cloud service), and core (chip) side. As of the end of March 2019, Huawei has more than 2,000 expert engineers engaged in 5G research and development, and has established more than 10 5G research centers around the world, and declared 2570 basic patents in the 5G field to the European Telecommunications Standardization Institute ETSI, accounting for 17% of the global field. , ranking first in the world. At present, Huawei has obtained 46 5G commercial contracts in 30 countries around the world, and 5G base stations have shipped more than 100,000 units, ranking first in the world.
Standing on Huawei’s 5G strategy, Huawei continues to build 5G end-to-end experience from different dimensions such as end, management, cloud and core. The release of Kirin 990 also heralds the beginning of a new era. It is not only the world’s first flagship 5G SoC chip, but also the first 5G commercial to provide consumers with a superior 5G experience. At the same time, it is also an important part of Huawei’s 5G strategy. The new generation of 5G communication technology will continue to reduce social costs, improve social efficiency and narrow the digital divide by virtue of its high speed, low latency and high reliability. It will also The birth of more powerful new technologies and new applications will make the intelligent world of Internet of Everything more promising.