The first die shot of Huawei's HiSilicon Kirin 9000s system-on-chip (SoC) published at Baidu reveals a monolithic die with a massive 5G modem, a huge image signal processor (ISP), a new neural processing unit (NPU) and custom CPU and GPU cores. Huawei's Kirin 9000S system-on-chip powers Huawei's new Mate 60 Pro smartphone. The chip is made by China-based SMIC using its 2nd generation 7nm-class process and stacking, then provided to Huawei in violation of US sanctions.
Huawei's HiSilicon Kirin 9000S SoC is a rather intricate SoC with four high-performance Taishan V120 cores and two Arm Cortex A510 energy-efficient cores, which shows that developers decided to take a different approach than Apple and packed more high-performance cores and fewer energy-efficient cores. By contrast, Apple's A17 Pro features two performance and four efficient cores. The SoC also features a quad-cluster Mailiang 910 GPU, which reportedly operates at a maximum clock of 750 MHz. While we do not have official information about the architecture that powers the GPU, Huawei likely uses Arm's Mali technology for its GPU.
While the CPU and GPU cores take up a substantial portion of Kirin 9000S's die size, it is noteworthy that the SoC also packs a large 5G modem and a huge ISP to enable advanced imaging capabilities.
According to TechInsights, the application processor is made on SMIC's 2nd Generation 7nm process technology, and it is a bit surprising that Huawei decided to integrate a modem rather than spend more die area on additional CPU and GPU capabilities.
Back in the day, Huawei's HiSilicon arm was known as a leading designer of smartphone system-on-chips that challenged application processors from Apple, Qualcomm, and Samsung. Because of the U.S. sanctions against Huawei, HiSilicon lost access to leading-edge production at TSMC, and the company had to put advanced SoC development on pause for a few years as it needed to wait for China-based SMIC to develop technologies comparable to those from TSMC.
As it turns out, the company not only released a rather interesting SoC with a novel approach to integrate more high-performance cores and fewer energy-efficient cores, but it has also managed to pack in a 5G modem, a chip that could be made separately to improve yields.