Kirin 990 5G vs Snapdragon 865 vs Exynos 990: Comparing 2020’s Flagship SoCs

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Last year in December, Qualcomm unveiled its latest flagship Snapdragon 865 SoC for low-powered devices. It is supposed to see a 25% uplift in CPU performance and a 20% uplift in GPU performance compared to last year’s Snapdragon 855. Xiaomi’s Mi 10 will be among the first devices to sport the SoC.

Huawei’s recent flagship Mate 30 Pro also comes with the latest Kirin 990 5G and is expected to power the Huawei Mate 40 Pro, as well as the foldable Mate Xs.

Samsung has also announced the Exynos 990, which will be featured in Samsung’s latest S20 lineup of flagship devices.

Now that we are entering the 5G era, all of the SoC comes with 5G network support. However, having 5G in flagship mobile SoCs is not as important as performance among smartphone users right now. Since there aren’t any devices with the latest SoCs except Kirin 990 5G, we can’t show you how they perform in synthetic benchmarks. But, considering that we have detailed information on each chipset’s capabilities, readers can have a vague idea of the chipset’s capabilities.

In this article, we are going to compare the Huawei Kirin 990 5G, Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, and the Samsung 990 in a few categories.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 HiSillicon Kirin 990 5G Samsung Exynos 990
CPU Microarchitecture 1x Kryo 585 (Cortex-A77): 2.85 GHz

2x Kryo 585 (Cortex-A77): 2.42 GHz

4x Kryo 585 (Cortex-A55): 1.8 GHz

2x Cortex-A76: 2.86 GHz

2x Cortex-A76: 2.36 GHz

4x Cortex-A55: 1.95 GHz

2x Mongoose 5th-gen

2x Cortex-A76

4x Cortex-A55

Memory LPDDR4X/[email protected] MHz [email protected] MHz [email protected] MHz
GPU Adreno 650 Mali-G76 MP16 Mali-G77 MP11
Camera Support Up to 200MP (64MP with ZSL) + Dual 25MP 64MP Up to 108MP + Dual 24.8MP
DSP Hexagon 698 with AI Engine Da Vinci NPU Dual-core NPU
Video Recording 8K/30fps

4K/120fps

720p/960fps

4K/60fps 8K/30fps

4K/60fps

Modem X55 5G (External), 2.5 Gigabit LTE Balong 5000 5G (Integrated), 1.6 Gbps LTE Exynos Modem 5123 (External), 3 Gbps LTE
Charging Quick Charge 4+ Huawei SuperCharge Adaptive Fast Charging

CPU & Memory

If you take a look at the table above, you should notice that all the chipset manufacturers have adopted a tri-cluster architecture design for its processors. The tri-cluster consists of higher-clocked cores for heavy workloads, medium-clocked cores for medium workloads, and lower-clocked cores for handling lighter workloads. This system creates a fair balance between performance and power efficiency.

The only exception here is Snapdragon 865, which utilizes four of the newest Cortex-A77 cores. A single one of them is clocked higher than the other three Cortex-A77 cores.

On the other hand, Huawei Kirin 990 5G combines the previous-gen Cortex-A76 cores, with a higher clock to match the Cortex-A77. Huawei’s decision to not include the newer Cortex-A77 cores is because of higher power consumption.

Samsung’s Exynos 990 uses 2x 5th-gen Mongoose cores for heavy tasks, combined with 2x Cortex-A76 cores for regular tasks. There isn’t much information on the 5th-gen Mongoose cores, but Samsung claims that it has seen a 20% performance boost compared to the previous-gen Mongoose cores found in Exynos 9820.

Since Exynos 9820 was previously ahead of Snapdragon 855 in terms of single-core performance, we expect to see the same this year. However, it is yet to discover how Samsung manages thermal throttling on its chipset, a major issue that plagued the flagships last year.

In the memory department, both the Snapdragon 865 and Exynos 990 supports the latest LPDDR5 memory standard. Kirin 990 5G is still maxed out at LPDDR4X. Hence, Huawei will get lower scores in memory-dependent benchmarks due to its lower memory bandwidth.

For storage, all three of the SoCs support UFS 3.0 storage that provides ultra-fast read and write speeds.

Graphics

Now that Snapdragon 865 and Exynos 990 supports UHD displays and high-refresh rates at up to 144Hz, the GPU performance has to be strong to deliver decent framerates in graphic-intensive games. At the time of this writing, Huawei still hasn’t disclosed any information on Kirin 990 5G’s max resolution and refresh rate support.

The GPU performance is always a strong suit for Qualcomm, delivering industry-leading graphics performance on low-powered Snapdragon chipsets for several years now. The integrated Adreno 640 on last year’s Snapdragon 855 offered 900 Gflops of computing power. Snapdragon 865 comes with a 25% boost in GPU performance, in case you are wondering.

The Snapdragon 855 Plus had already improved the GPU performance by 15% over the original Snapdragon 855, so it is a 10% improvement overall from the previous generation to the current one.

Both Huawei and Samsung uses Mali graphics for their chipsets. This year, Samsung is using the latest Mali-G77 MP11 on Exynos 990, where ‘MP11’ signifies the number of GPU cores. It is based on the new Valhall architecture.

Exynos 9820 featured Mali-G76 MP12 GPU, providing 607 Gflops of computing power. The Mali-G77 on Exynos 990 supposedly brings 20% better GPU performance.

Huawei has once again cut corners on the GPU side of Kirin 990 5G, which has the same older Mali-G76 GPU, but with 16 GPU cores instead of 10 found on Kirin 980. It seems that Huawei has also chosen to lower the GPU clock speed to compensate for thermal throttling. But the boost in GPU cores might help Kirin 990 5G to keep up with the rest of the SoCs in graphics performance.

One thing where Qualcomm has made a considerable leap is driver updates. They announced to push frequent graphics driver updates via Play Store. This is a much welcoming addition, especially among mobile gamers and the retro-game emulation communities. In general, Qualcomm’s Adreno GPU performs excellently in emulation-based workloads.

Connectivity

As previously mentioned, all three of the SoCs support 5G cellular network. There is support for the 2G/3G/4G network bands as well.

The Kirin 990 5G does not support mmWave 5G, which is currently being used by Verizon and T-Mobile for the nationwide rollout of 5G in the US. mmWave 5G is present on both Snapdragon 865 and Exynos 990.

Despite the absence of mmWave 5G, Kirin 990 5G does integrate the 5G modem on the chipset instead of using an external modem like Snapdragon 865 and Exynos 990. By integrating the 5G modem directly on the SoC, Huawei has managed to minimize heat and power consumption.

The variation between Snapdragon 865 and Exynos 990 is minimal in terms of uplink and downlink speeds. The Snapdragon 865 hits 7.5 Gbps downlink speeds, where Exynos 990 manages to reach 7.35 Gbps. The Kirin 990 5G has an uplink speed of 2.3 Gbps, a significantly lower score compared to the other SoCs from Qualcomm and Samsung.

Since 5G technology is still in its immature phase, don’t expect to hit the blazing-fast 5G speeds anytime soon.

Snapdragon 865 also comes with 802.11ad Wi-Fi, which is rated to deliver up to 4600 Mbps data throughput at 60 GHz frequency. Unfortunately, Samsung’s Exynos 990 maxes out at 802.11ax Wi-Fi standard. Huawei didn’t disclose any details on the matter for its Kirin 990 5G.

Bluetooth 5.1 support is there too for Snapdragon 865, which is not seen on Exynos 990.

Camera

Camera compatibility is also where we see Snapdragon 865 dominating the rest of the SoCs. Without post-processing, it can process up to 200MP of raw image data. It even can handle 64MP with zero shutter lag and dual 25MP image sensors.

Due to Snapdragon 865’s exceptional processing capabilities, it can handle 8K/30fps, 4K/120fps, 4K HDR/60fps, and 720p/960fps slo-mo video recording. We have previously seen Samsung using an additional DRAM module to manage 960fps recording, but Snapdragon 865’s new dual 14-bit Spectra 480 ISP does it without extra hardware.

Samsung’s Exynos 990 maxes out at 108MP image processing. However, it supports dual 24.8MP image sensors and up to six cameras. Samsung claims that the Exynos 990 can process data simultaneously from three camera sensors.

Following the previous-gen Exynos 9820, the Exynos 990 does keep up with 8K/30fps, 4K/120fps, and 720p/960fps video recording.

The Kirin 990 5G does have the capabilities to handle a quad-camera setup, something we have already seen on the Mate 30 Pro. But, its image processing tops out at 64MP, as well as 4K/60fps video recording. Despite the shortcomings, the dual ISP setup can deliver BM3D noise reduction, which decreases the amount of noise from images and videos taken in low-light situations.

Overall, Snapdragon 865 and Exynos 990 offers better camera processing capabilities over the Kirin 990 5G.

AI

The ‘AI’ might seem like a buzzword these days, but it is actually an essential feature in processors.

The Snapdragon 865 embeds the latest Hexagon 698 DSP engine, which can execute 15 trillion operations per second. (TOPS).

Exynos 990 utilizes a dual-core Neural Processing Unit (NPU), claiming to deliver 10 TOPS of AI processing.

Huawei was always a strong contender in the AI department, and Kirin 990 5G is no exception. It uses the tri-core ‘Da Vinci’ NPU that supposedly has seen a 1.88x improvement over the Kirin 980’s NPU. There isn’t any official info on its TOPS processing power, but it is significantly faster than Snapdragon 865 and Exynos 990.

There is no proper use-case of NPU processing on smartphones yet, but you might notice faster voice recognition and face unlock.

Verdict

Since there aren’t any devices launched with the Snapdragon 865 and Exynos 990 yet, it is impossible for us to show you the benchmark scores and decide which one is the best SoC for smartphones in 2020.

However, judging by the detailed specifications and popularity among smartphone manufacturers, we chose the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 as the all-rounder SoC for low-powered devices in 2020. Thanks to its uplift in both CPU and GPU performance, as well as upgraded connectivity options and exceptional image processing capabilities, it is an obvious winner.

But, this is not the end of the road for Samsung Exynos 990 and Kirin 990 5G. The integrated Mali-G77 GPU in Samsung Exynos 990 is definitely a lot closer to the performance of Adreno 650 GPU. And although Huawei’s Kirin 990 5G falls behind the Snapdragon 865, the NPU is undoubtedly a lot faster than the rest.

After smartphone manufacturers launch their devices with the latest Snapdragon and Exynos SoCs, we will return with a benchmark comparison to see if our early speculations were correct or wrong.

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