Huawei’s Upcoming 24-Core Kunpeng CPU Faster Than Intel Core i9-9900K


Huawei is trying to position itself as being minimally affected by the technology bans levied against it by the United States government. The company’s 24-core ARM-based Kunpeng 920 CPUs are apparently almost ready for launch in desktop systems.

The Kunpeng 920 family extends up to 64 cores and is built on 7nm technology. It uses the TaiShan v110 microarchitecture, which is a custom ARM core according to WikiChip. The CPU has a 128KB L1 cache split into 64KB blocks for instructions and data. There’s a 512KB private L2 cache for each CPU core and the CPU family supports up to 64MB of cache on a 64-core configuration. According to THG, this specific system will use the Kunpeng 920 3211K, which offers 24 cores, a maximum clock of 2.6GHz, 8GB of SO-DIMM memory, a 512GB Samsung SSD, and an AMD Radeon RX 520 GPU.

Image by WikiChip

Of course, as my colleague Ryan Whitwam recently wrote, the ongoing US embargo against Huawei is having a serious impact on the company’s ARM chip production, to the point that production of its Kirin family of CPUs is expected to cease by September 15. There would seem to be no way the firm will be able to ship its Kunpeng 920 CPUs either, given the geopolitical situation.

Image by ITHome

The performance claims for the CPU are interesting. A 24-core CPU clocked at a static 2.6GHz brings about 62.4GHz of processing power to the table. A Core i9-9900K is probably around ~42GHz of effective processing power assuming a 4.5GHz turbo clock * 8 cores, followed by an additional 1.2x boost to account for Hyper-Threading’s typical performance uplift. Call it ~37GHz on the low end (8*4.2*1.1) and 46.8GHz at the high-end (8*4.5*1.3). Hyper-Threading rarely offers Intel CPUs more than a 1.3x performance improvement and its typically good for at least 1.1x in non-gaming, multi-threaded workloads, so that should bracket its comparative frequencies reasonably well.

Of course, we have no idea which benchmarks Huawei would even be using for the Core i9-9900K, so the fact that the Kunpeng 920 in these desktops can match it in multi-threading performance while supporting 1.5x more threads and 3x more cores is scarcely surprising. There’s some disagreement on the CPU core — THG reports that it’s derived from the ARM Neoverse N1, which is a 4-way decode, 8-way issue core. WikiChip reports that the Huawei CPU cores are only 4-issue and that they are a custom architecture derived from the Cortex-A72. The Neoverse N1 is derived from the Cortex-A76. Mistranslations could also play a part here, so overall comparative performance for the CPU is a bit uncertain.

The reason there’s no single-thread performance mentioned is simple: It’s unlikely to be particularly competitive. Beyond questions of compiler and OS optimization, the low 2.6GHz clock speed is going to guarantee that a Core i9-9900K — a CPU that’s capable of hitting 5GHz — is going to beat the snot out of the Huawei CPU. The Kunpeng 920’s 48-core flavor is said to be a 150W TDP CPU at the same clock speed, but TDP is unlikely to be perfectly linear. The 920 might be more power-efficient than an Intel CPU, but this wouldn’t be surprising. A wide array of slower cores is often more power-efficient than a smaller array of fast ones. Sometimes, the difference can be large enough for the CPU that takes longer to still draw less power in absolute terms.

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