Lenovo Unveils New ThinkPad X1 Carbon, X1 Yoga Laptops: 8th Gen Core, Dolby Vision HDR

enovo today announced its 2018 models of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon and the ThinkPad X1 Yoga notebooks. The new premium laptops from Lenovo received three noticeable upgrades this year: they have got quad-core 8th Generation Core i5/i7 CPUs, faster memory, as well as Dolby Vision HDR-supporting displays on premium models. Other new features include things like the optional ThinkShutter webcam cover, the Wake on Voice capability, Amazon Alexa voice assistant and some other.

The X1-branded products have always had a very special place in Lenovo’s product lineup. On the one hand, the X1 PCs are the top-of-the-range ThinkPad models that should support all the latest business features and offer decent performance in the thinnest and the lightest form-factor possible. On the other hand, the ThinkPad X1 is the flagship product for Lenovo, so they have to support all the latest and greatest technology in general and create the halo effect for the manufacturer. Obviously, integrating beefy technologies into ultra-thin laptops is a challenge, so Lenovo focused on different aspects of their designs in different iterations of their ThinkPad X1-branded products (rather than trying to improve everything at once). For example, the key features of last year’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon 5th Gen were its 14” display fir into a regular 13.3” chassis as well as a massive 15-hour battery life. Meanwhile, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga 2nd Gen was all about refinements to design and performance of the first gen launched a year before.

This year’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon 6th Gen and ThinkPad X1 Yoga 3rd Gen are not thinner or lighter than last year’s models. In fact, they have very similar chassis with their respective predecessors in general. When compared to 2017 models aesthetically, the new units feature blacked out logotypes, black hinges (X1C only), ThinkShutter cover (select SKUs), a slightly different placement of TB3 and Ethernet ports on the X1C as well as fewer USB-A headers on the X1Y.

Meanwhile, refinements of the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon and the ThinkPad X1 Yoga are all about higher performance due to Intel’s quad-core 8th Generation Core i5/i7 CPUs and faster LPDDR3-2166 memory, software features like Wake on Voice and Alexa, as well as new premium 1440p displays with the Dolby Vision badge on select SKUs. At this time Lenovo decided not to offer new ThinkPad X1 models with integrated 802.11ad (WiGig) enabled by Intel’s Tri-Band Wireless-AC controllers, whereas the ThinkPad X1 Yoga 3rd Gen will not offer SKUs with Intel’s Iris Plus iGPU as well as OLED displays. Now, let’s talk about the new models in more detail.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon 6th Gen

As reported above, the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon borrowed its chassis from its predecessor: it is 15.95 mm (0.62”) thick and it it weighs around 1.13 kilograms (2.49 lbs). Traditionally, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is developed to withstand spilled drinks, drops and hits, the chassis design has passed over 200 durability tests, so you can expect it to be rather rugged.

Inside the ThinkPad X1 Carbon 6th Gen are Intel’s quad-core Core i5/i7 CPU with built-in UHD Graphics 620, up to 16 GB of LPDDR3-2133 memory, as well as an SSD with up to 1 TB capacity. The new systems are outfitted with an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC + Bluetooth 4.2 controller, two Thunderbolt 3 ports (one can be used for charging, it is USB PD 3.0 compatible), two USB 3.0 headers, one docking connector for a native GbE, an HDMI output, a micro SD card reader, a TRRS audio jack for headsets, and a 720p webcam that now has the ThinkShutter. Select models will also feature the Fibocom L850-GL LTE-A modem for global mobile connectivity as well as an IR camera with Windows Hello support (but without the ThinkShutter).

Moving on to display options. The premium version of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon 6th Gen laptops will come equipped with 14” WQHD (2560×1440) IPS displays carrying the Dolby Vision badge and will support the respective HDR technology (more on this later). Lenovo does not detail its DV-supporting panels just yet, but says that laptops featuring such displays can work for 12 hours on one charge. “Basic” X1 Carbon laptops will keep their 14” FHD (1920×1080) IPS panels and such PCs are speced for up to 15 hours of battery life on MobileMark 2014. Due to popular demand, select ThinkPad X1 Carbon will come with touchscreens, but there is no official information about their resolution (I suspect, both FHD and WQHD options will be offered, but this is a speculation).

Lenovo plans to begin sales of the ThinkPad X1 Cabron 6th Gen later this month. The systems will start at $1709, black and metallic finishes will be available.

ThinkPad X1 Yoga 3rd Gen

The third iteration of the ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible looks and feels almost exactly as its predecessor: it is 17.05 mm (0.6”) thick and its weighs starting from 1.4 kilograms (3.08 lbs). The chassis remained the same as before (plus ThinkShutter cover, minus one USB port): we are dealing with a hardened design meant to withstand bumps and kicks of life and featuring Lenovo’s “rise and fall” keyboard that recesses and locks the keys when in tablet mode.

The innards of the ThinkPad X1 Yoga are pretty much similar to the hardware used for the ThinkPad X1 Carbon — Intel’s quad-core Core i5/i7 processors with integrated UHD Graphics 620, up to 16 GB of LPDDR3-2133 memory, up to 1 TB SSD. Since Intel has not released an 8th Generation Core i5/i7 processors with GT3-class graphics, Lenovo will not be offering a version of the new ThinkPad X1 Yoga with the Iris Plus 640 GPU and customers seeking for higher-performance graphics on an X1Y will have to get last year’s model instead. Of course, this option means sticking to a dual-core CPU, which is not exactly a good thing for many reasons. Connectivity of the X1Y is similar to the X1C: two TB3 ports, USB 3.0 Type-A headers, HDMI, Wi-Fi, optional LTE-A modem and so on.

As for display options, there will be two of them. Premium versions of the convertible will be equipped with the same 14” WQHD (2560×1440) IPS touchscreens carrying the Dolby Vision badge as the premium flavours of the X1C. Basic versions will come with 14” FHD (1920×1080) IPS panels and will offer a greater battery life. Lenovo deprecated the OLED display option, which might be an indicator that the new IPS LCD can do the job rather well.

The new ThinkPad X1 Yoga 3rd Gen convertible notebooks will hit the market this month at prices starting from $1889.

Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon 6th Gen and ThinkPad X1 Yoga 3rd Gen
ThinkPad X1 Carbon 6th Gen ThinkPad X1 Yoga 3rd Gen
Display 1920×1080 IPS
2560×1440 IPS with Dolby Vision HDR
Touchscreens on select SKUs
1920×1080 IPS w/ touch
2560×1440 IPS with Dolby Vision HDR w/ touch
CPU Intel’s 8th Generation Core i5/i7 processors with four cores.
Select SKUs will be powered by vPro-enabled CPUs
Graphics HD Graphics 620 (24 EUs)
RAM up to 16 GB LPDDR3-2133
Storage up to 1 TB PCIe SSD
Wi-Fi Intel 2×2 802.11ac Wi-Fi
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.2
WWAN Fibocom L850-GL LTE-A modem for global mobile connectivity
Thunderbolt 2 × USB Type-C TB3 ports
USB 3.1 2 × Type-C (via TB3)
3.0 3 × Type-A 2 × Type-A
HDMI 1
GbE Native, with a dongle
Fingerprint Sensor Yes
Webcam 720p webcam with ThinkShutter
720p webcam with IR for Windows Hellop
Other I/O Microphone, stereo speakers, audio jack, Utranav, trackpad, card reader, etc.
Battery unknown unknown
Battery Life 12 hours with WQHD LCD
15 hours with FHD LCD
12 hours with WQHD LCD
15 hours with FHD LCD
Thickness 15.95 mm
0.62”
17.05 mm
0.67”
Weight 1.13 kilograms
2.49 lbs
1.4 kilograms
3.08 lbs
Gallery: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga 3rd Gen

Dolby Vision HDR

If you put aside the quad-core CPU, faster LPDDR3-2166 memory, Alexa, Wake on Voice and some other features, the key improvement of the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon and the ThinkPad X1 Yoga notebooks is their premium display panel option that supports the Dolby Vision HDR capability. Dolby Vision content is currently available from Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Vudu in the U.S., so owners of 2018 ThinkPad X1 Carbon and ThinkPad X1 Yoga will be able to enjoy it (but it is unclear whether only on the built-in display, or on external too). Regrettably, Lenovo does not disclose almost anything about the new displays, so let’s recap what the technology is about in a bid to understand what we can expect from them.

The Dolby Vision HDR tech in general is considerably more sophisticated than the widespread HDR10 spec. As opposed to HDR10’s static metadata, Dolby Vision supports dynamic HDR metadata that can change from frame to frame and ensure that they are portrayed as accurately as possible (it also supports static metadata). Dolby Vision specification also supports 12-bit color depth and a color gamut close to the Rec 2020 standard (but for broadcast purposes 10-bit color depth is recommended due to bandwidth concerns). Dolby requires all Dolby Vision content to be mastered using displays with at least 1000 nits brightness and supporting the DCI P3 color space. Meanwhile, it does not look like the company has any requirements for typical brightness or color spectrum of PC displays.

Ideally, a display supporting the Dolby Vision technology should feature a high brightness (at least 500 nits, preferably higher), a high contrast ratio and a larger-than-sRGB color gamut. Since Lenovo does not quantify anything at this time, the only thing logical to expect from the new displays is higher-than-350-nits brightness along with color spectrum that surpasses the sRGB. Meanwhile, since the new ThinkPads will use Windows, they will be tied to the sRGB spectrum (at least before Windows gets proper support for P3).

Razer Unveils Project Linda: Turning the Razer Phone into an Android Laptop

As part of their announcements today, Razer is lifting the lid on one of its internal projects. Like other previous Razer prototype developments that get a female name, Linda follows in the footsteps of Christine, Cheryl, Valerie, and Ariana, some of which made it to retail. Linda at its heart is an accessory for the Razer Phone, turning the smartphone into an Android laptop with a bigger screen, more storage, and a bigger battery, all while using the super-loud front facing Razer Phone speakers and the phone display as a configurable touchpad.

Razer’s aim here is to provide Razer Phone owners with the ability to be more productive as well as have a mouse and keyboard gaming experience in a clamshell-like environment from the phone. Linda is still in the prototype phase, with Razer getting extensive feedback. But ultimately what the user gets is a 13.3-inch display in a 0.59-inch (14.99-mm) clamshell with a Razer Chroma enabled keyboard, USB 2.0 ports, enough battery for 3 full recharges of the Razer Phone, 200GB of additional storage, a webcam/array microphone, and perhaps some other features still to be decided.

The Razer Phone sits in the dock in the clamshell, and is fixed into place by the adjustable USB Type-C connector inside the dock that the user controls via a button. Everything is then attached via this USB interface – the display, keyboard, and storage. The idea is that the phone can be installed and removed seamlessly, and apps can take advantage of the dual screen by having the phone display custom buttons during gaming. The USB ports can be used for a mouse, enabling (in Razer’s own words) ‘PC style gaming’, although we should reiterate that this is still an Android system.

For wireless connectivity, the clamshell will use the Wi-Fi or LTE connection of the smartphone, although no additional antenna arrangement would be provided by Linda. The combined device is unlocked using the smartphone fingerprint sensor as well. To save cost, no speakers are in the clamshell, with Razer making full use of the smartphone speakers. It will be interesting to see how the users arms muffle the audio while over the keyboard – while none of the renders we were provided have a 3.5mm headphone jack as part of Linda, we were able to confirm from Razer that one will be there. Adding such a jack would likely require USB Type-C audio passthrough (which is probably electrically noisy), or an additional DAC in Linda which would add to the cost.

Most of the features are still to be ironed out. Razer is aiming to make the display match the resolution and refresh rate of the phone (which will be a big chunk of the cost of Linda), although they are not there yet.

During our briefing, we were probed for thoughts and feedback – my main concern is that most of the time I am on my PC or laptop, I also have my phone out as I use them very differently. For example, when watching a film, I might have social media on my phone, or when working doing a live blog, I’ll be writing on my laptop while taking photos on my phone. If Linda allowed for a wired cable (or wirelessly, though that would take battery) to do the same thing, it might work. However, as an Android device, it might not be terribly useful for my multi-tasking workflow as it stands.  One other thing I requested is the ability to do some level of base functionality without the phone, such as Netflix.

Razer is going after gamers though – the subset of gamers that also bought the Razer Phone. If Linda was to become a retail product, ideally it would work with multiple generations of Razer Phones, which would mean allowing for an adjustable hole in Linda, or keeping the same phone dimensions.

If this sounds a bit like Windows Continuum, where users would dock a Windows Phone and get a Windows-like experience on a large display, it is kind of like that but with Android, similar to the desktop style experiences seen with Samsung’s DeX (Desktop Experience) and Huawei’s smartphone as a desktop feature.

Price of Linda is also a consideration. Even though it’s basically a USB device under the hood and not a full laptop, a 13.3-inch, 120 Hz touch display with 200GB of storage isn’t going to come cheap, especially if the panel is IPS and not TN. I’m guessing that Razer should aim for a bundle with the Phone at $999, although speaking to other editors, anything over $200 would be too much.

We’re getting some hands-on time with the prototype at CES, more info to come.

Here’s a quick refresher on the history of Razer projects:

Razer Internal Projects
AnandTech Year Concept Status
Female Names:
Linda 2018  Smartphone Clamshell Dock Prototype
Cheryl 2017 Razer Phone On Sale
Valerie 2017 Tri-Screen Laptop Stolen
Ariana 2017 Display Projector with Chroma Prototype
Sheena 2015 Capture Card Prototype
Winona 2015 Streaming Camera Razer Kiyo ?
Christine 2014 Modular Gaming PC Concept
Fiona 2012 Dual Controller Gaming Tablet See Nintendo Switch
 Male Names : None.
Other Names:
Breadwinner 2016 Toaster April Fool
McFly 2015 Hover Mouse April Fool
Switchblade 2011 7-inch Gaming Netbook Prototype

HP Announces Updated Elitebook 800 G5 series and ZBook 14U/15U Laptops b

HP has announced today updates to its Elitebook and Zbook lines, with an aim to ‘bring premium experiences and features to the mainstream’. Ultimately, it comes down to a mobile workforce, which is a key aspect to HP’s latest marketing push and updates.

Elitebook 800 G5 Series

The 800 G5 series is a mid-level commercial laptop resting below the flagship premium design of the Elitebook 100 series. HPs goals with this generational update are to bring down features of that premium design to the mainstream and the majority of users. To that end, the Elitebook 800 G5 series was redesigned using an all-aluminum chassis with a lighter color, a narrow border ultrabright IPS display (adapt to changing light conditions through ambient temperature sensors), as well as performance bumps through using the latest 8th generation Intel Core processors.

HP claims that the new Elitebook 800 G5 series is said to the worlds thinnest 14” notebook with discrete graphics (AMD Radeon RX540). Even with the discrete GPU and 8th Generation Intel Core processor, the battery life is listed as running for up to 14 hours, and supports HP Fast Charge, which claims to provide 50% charge in around 30 minutes. The Elitebook 800 G5 series is also focused on I/O – according to HP, ITDMs were requesting a lot of IO capabilities, so these models use a diverse set including USB Type-C connections with TB3 support, an ultraslim dock connector (dual docking capability), RJ-45, HDMI, cards readers, etc.

The Elitebook 800 G5 series adds a third microphone, a ‘world-facing’ implementation, located on the back of the monitor panel. This microphone can function in two ways: first in individual mode will be used as a noise canceling device; second, in conference mode, means it can be used as a standard microphone to pick up voices, etc. The device can also be used as a full function speakerphone, to text and answer calls (HP Phonewise), and is Skype Business certified including shortcut keys for present, answer, and hang-up functions.

On the security and manageability side, HP trickled down its suite of security functions to the 800 series. Features such as HP Sure Start (BIOS recovery/healing – powered by endpoint security controller), HP Sure Run (maintains and protects company firewall and AC), HP Sure Recover (quick and easy reimage of device), and HP Sure Click (protects against malware/ransomware through browser), and HP Sure View Gen 2 (for screen privacy, reduces viewing angle to ~35°) all make their way to this series. In addition, the 800 G5 series also includes biometric multi-factor authentication through Windows Hello and a fingerprint sensor. And for those who cover their cameras up with post-it notes, the new Elitebook includes an integrated shutter users can slide over covering the camera ensuring privacy.

All Elitebook models will be available in February 2018. With the 830 G5 (13″) starting at 1049, the 840 G5 (14″) at $1029, and the 850 G5 at $1039.

HP Elitebook 830, 840, 850 Series G5 
Price ($US) Starting at ~$1029
Type Notebook PC
Processor Family 7th and 8th Generation Intel Core i7 and i5
Processors i7-8650U (4-core – 1.9 GHz base, 3.9 GHz Turbo)
i7-8550U (4-core – 1.8 GHz base, 4.0 GHz Turbo)
i5-8350U (4-core – 1.7 GHz base, 3.6 GHz Turbo)
i5-8250U (4-core – 1.6 GHz base, 3.4 GHz Turbo)
i5-7300U (2-core – 2.6 GHz base, 3.5 GHz Turbo)
i5-7200U (2-core – 2.5 GHz base, 3.1 GHz Turbo)
Maximum Memory 32GB DDR4-2400 (2 SO-DIMMs)
Network Connectivity Intel Dual-Band Wireless AC 8265 802.11ac Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 4.2
Intel I219-LM GbE
Intel I219-V GbE (non vPro)
Internal Storage 256GB up to 1TB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD
512GB M.2 SATA FIPS
128GB up to 256GB M.2 SATA SSD
Graphics Intel HD / UHD Graphics 620
AMD Radeon RX540 (4GB GDDR5)
Expansion Slots 1 x Smart card reader
Display 13.3″ / 14″ /  15.6″ – FHD IPS LED-backlit touchscreen (220 cd/m 45% sRGB)
13.3″ / 14″ /  15.6″ – HP Sure View Integrated Privacy Screen – FHD IPS
13.3″ / 14″ /  15.6″ – FHD IPS anti-glare LED-backlit (400 cd/m – 72% sRGB)
13.3″ FHD IPS anti-glare LED-backlit (220 cd/m – 45% sRGB)
14″ / 15.6″ 4K IPS anti-glare LED-backlit (400 cd/m – 72% sRGB)
14″ HP Sure View IPS anti-glare LED-backlit (700 cd/m – 72% sRGB)
Ports and Connectors 1 x Thunderbolt 3 (USB Type-C)
2 x USB 3.0 (charging)
1 x HDMI 1.4b
1 x RJ-45
1 x docking connector
1 x headphone/microphone combo
1 x AC Power
Input Device HP Premium Collaboration Keyboard (spill resistant with drain, optional backlit)
Camera HD Camera, HD IR webcam
Power 45W/60W USB Type-C adapter
45W/60W External AC power adapter
HP Long Life 3-cell, 50 wh Li-ion
Dimensions  830 – 12.22″ x 9.03″ x 0.7″
840 – 12.84″ x 9.22″ x 0.7″
850 – 14.6″ x 9.91″ x 0.72″
Weight 2.94lbs / 3.27lbs / 3.94lbs

HP ZBook 14u/15u G5

The HP ZBook 14u/15u G5 is the next product line in the Zbook family to get an upgrade. The ZBook 14u reduces its thickiness by 28% compared to the last generation, while both the 14u and 15u lines get an upgrade to 8th Generation Intel Core processors (up to quad core). Updates also include Radeon Pro discrete graphics, and high speed PCIe SSD options for fast storage. HP has also put the 14u/15u through MIL-STD 810G testing including additional testing for bench handling and crash hazard shock.

Outside of the performance and durability, HPs aimed to deliver premium features to the mainstream in the Zbook as well. The chassis of the HP Zbook 14u/15u uses a CNC machined LCD cover along with an aluminum keyboard deck, which HP claims gives a solid fit and finish that was selected for both aesthetics, and durability. It comes in a silver color with different shades on the chassis, keyboard deck, and touchpad.

For specifications, these new models will also Intel 8th Generation processors along with Radeon Pro Graphics. For storage, the Zbook 14u/15u G5 will use the HP Z Turbo drive PCIe SSD with capacities ranging from 256GB to 2TB. It is also the first workstation which uses the integrated privacy screen using HPs Sure View Gen 2 technology. These, like the Elitebook above, are also mindful of security and use the Sure Start, Sure Recover, and Sure Click features from HP.

HiSilicon Kirin 970 – Android SoC Power & Performance Overview b

Today I would say that there’s only two truly vertically integrated mobile OEMs who have full control over their silicon: Apple and Huawei – and of the two one could say Huawei is currently even more integrated due to in-house modem development. Huawei’s semiconductor division, HiSilicon, has over the last several years been the one company which seems to have managed what the others haven’t: break in into the high-end market with solutions that are competitive with the current leader in the business, Qualcomm.

I remember the Honor 6 with the newly branded (Previously not having any “halo” line-up name) Kirin 920 SoC as the first device with the company’s in-house SoC that we reviewed. These and the following generation the Kirin 930 suffered from immaturity with problems such as a very power hungry memory controller and very disappointing camera processing pipeline (ISP/DSP). The Kirin 950 was in my opinion a turning point for HiSilicon as the product truly impressed and improved the quality of the product, catching many eyes in the semiconductor industry, including myself in the resulting review of the Huawei Mate 8.

Over the last several years we’ve seen great amounts of consolidation in the mobile semiconductor industry. Companies such as Texas Instruments which were once key players no longer offer mobile SoC products in their catalogue. We’ve seen companies such as Nvidia try and repeatedly fail at carving out meaningful market-share. MediaTek has tried providing higher end SoCs with the Helio X line-up with rather little success to the point that the company has put on hold development in that segment to rather focus on higher margin parts in the P-series.

Meanwhile even Samsung LSI, while having a relatively good product with its flagship Exynos series, still has not managed to win over the trust of the conglomorate’s own mobile division. Rather than using Exynos as an exclusive keystone component of the Galaxy series, Samsing has instead been dual-sourcing it along with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon SoCs. It’s therefore not hard to make the claim that producing competitive high-end SoCs and semiconductor components is a really hard business.

Last year’s Kirin 960 was a bit of a mixed bag: the SoC still delivered good improvements over the Kirin 950 however it was limited in terms of what it could achieve against competing flagship SoCs from Samsung and Qualcomm as they both had a process node advantage. Huawei’s introduction of flagships with new generation of SoCs in the fourth quarter is more close to the release time-frame of Apple than the usual first quarter that we’ve come accustomed of Qualcomm and Samsung.

As such when pitting the Kirin versus Snapdragon and Exynos’s we’re looking at a product that’s more often than not late to the party in terms of introduction of new technologies such as process node and IP. The Kirin 970 fits this profile: as a 10nm Cortex-A73 generation-based SoC, it lagged behind Qualcomm and Samsung in terms of process node, yet being too early in its release to match up with ARM’s release schedule to be able to adopt DynamiQ and A75 and A55 based CPU cores for this cycle. That being said the Kirin 970 enjoys a few months with technical feature parity with the Snapdragon 835 and Exynos 8895 before we see new Snapdragon 845 and Exynos 9810 products later in the usual spring refresh cycle.

Nevertheless, the article today is a focus on the Kirin 970 and its improvements and also an opportunity to review the current state of SoCs powering Android devices.

HiSilicon High-End Kirin SoC Lineup
SoC Kirin 970 Kirin 960 Kirin 950/955
CPU 4x A73 @ 2.36 GHz
4x A53 @ 1.84 GHz
4x A73 @ 2.36GHz
4x A53 @ 1.84GHz
4x A72 @ 2.30/2.52GHz
4x A53 @ 1.81GHz
GPU ARM Mali-G72MP12
746 MHz
ARM Mali-G71MP8
1037MHz
ARM Mali-T880MP4
900MHz
LPDDR4
Memory
4x 16-bit CH
LPDDR4 @ 1833 MHz
29.9GB/s
4x 16-bit CH
LPDDR4 @ 1866MHz
29.9GB/s
2x 32-bit
LPDDR4 @ 1333MHz 21.3GB/s
Interconnect ARM CCI ARM CCI-550 ARM CCI-400
Storage I/F UFS 2.1 UFS 2.1 eMMC 5.0
ISP/Camera Dual 14-bit ISP Dual 14-bit ISP
(Improved)
Dual 14-bit ISP
940MP/s
Encode/Decode 2160p60 Decode
2160p30 Encode
2160p30 HEVC & H.264
Decode & Encode

2160p60 HEVC
Decode

1080p H.264
Decode & Encode

2160p30 HEVC
Decode

Integrated Modem Kirin 970 Integrated LTE
(Category 18/13)

DL = 1200 Mbps
5x20MHz CA, 256-QAM

UL = 150 Mbps
2x20MHz CA, 64-QAM

Kirin 960 Integrated LTE
(Category 12/13)

DL = 600Mbps
4x20MHz CA, 64-QAM

UL = 150Mbps
2x20MHz CA, 64-QAM

Balong Integrated LTE
(Category 6)

DL = 300Mbps
2x20MHz CA, 64-QAM

UL = 50Mbps
1x20MHz CA, 16-QAM

Sensor Hub i7 i6 i5
NPU Yes No No
Mfc. Process TSMC 10nm TSMC 16nm FFC TSMC 16nm FF+

The Kirin 970, isn’t a major IP overhaul as it continues to use the same central processing unit IP from ARM that was used in the Kirin 960. The new SoC even doesn’t improve the frequency of the CPU clusters as we still see the same 2.36GHz for the A73 cores and 1.84GHz for the A53 cores. When ARM originally launched the A73 we had seen optimistic targets of up to 2.8GHz on TSMC 10nm, but we seem to have largely missed that target, a sign of ever increasing difficulty to scale frequency in mobile SoCs as the diminishing returns from process node updates become worse and worse.

The Kirin 970 does bring a major overhaul and change in the GPU configuration as we see the first implementation of ARM’s Mali G72 in a 12-cluster configuration, a 50% increase in core count over the Kirin 960’s G71-MP8 setup. The new GPU is running at a much reduced frequency of 746MHz versus the 1033MHz of the Kirin 960. In Matt Humrick’s review of the Kirin 960 we saw some disastrous peak average power figures of the Mali G71 outright exploding the thermal envelope of the Mate 9, so hopefully the architectural improvements of the new G72 alongside a wider and lower clocked configuration in conjunction with the new process node will bring significant improvements over its predecessor.

The new modem in the Kirin 970 now implements 3GPP LTE Release 13 and supports downlink speeds of up to 1200Mbps thanks to up to 5x20MHz carrier aggregation with 256-QAM, making the new Kirin modem feature equivalent to Qualcomm’s X20 modem that’ll be integrated in the Snapdragon 845.

The big story surrounding the Kirin 970 was the inclusion of a dedicated neural processing unit. The NPU, as HiSilicon decided to name it, is part of a new type and generation of specialised dedicated acceleration blocks with the aim of offloading “inferencing” of convolutional neural net (CNNs). Many will have heard buzzwords such as artificial intelligence surrounding the topic, but the correct term is machine learning or deep learning. The hardware acceleration blocks with various names from various companies do not actually do any deep learning, but rather are there to improve execution (inferencing) of neural network models while the training of the models will still remain something that will be done either in the cloud or by other blocks in the SoC such as the GPU. It’s still the early days but we’ll have a proper look at the NPU in its dedicated section of the article.


SoC die shot image & labels courtesy of TechInsights Mate 10 teardown

As aforementioned one of the bigger improvements of the Kirin 970 is the switch to a TSMC 10FF manufacturing node. While 10nm is supposed to be a long-lived node for Samsung’s foundry – where indeed we’ll see two full generations of SoCs produced on 10LPE and 10LPP – TSMC is taking a different approach and sees its own 10FF process node a short-lived node and stepping-stone to the much anticipated 7FF node, which is to be introduced later in 2018. As such the only TSMC 10FF mobile products to date have been the low-volume MediaTek X30 and Apple 10X in summer and the high-volume Apple A11 and HiSilicon Kirin 970 in Q3-Q4, a 2-3 quarter after Samsung had entered high-volume production of the Snapdragon 835 and Exynos 8895.

HiSilicon’s expectations of the new process node are rather conservative improvement of only 20% in efficiency at the same performance point for the apples-to-apples CPU clusters, below ARM’s earlier predictions of 30%. This rather meagre improvement in power will be likely one of the reasons why HiSilicon decided not to increase the CPU clocks on the Kirin 970, instead focusing on bringing down power usage and lowering the TDP when compared to the Kirin 960.

The SoC does enjoy a healthy die size shrink from 117.72mm² down to 96.72mm² even though the new SoC has 50% more GPU cores as well as new IP blocks such as the NPU. Our colleagues at TechInsights have published a detailed per-block size comparison between the Kirin 960 and Kirin 970 and we see a 30-38% decrease in block size for apples-to-apples IP. The Cortex-A73 quad-core cluster now comes in at only 5.66mm², a metric to keep in mind and in stark contrast to Apple which is investing twice as much silicon area in its dual-core big CPU cluster.