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MediaTek Helio P90 Quick Impressions: A chip with a big bet on AI

Huawei Nova 5T
In Shenzhen China, MediaTek announced its latest top-of-the-line chipset, the Helio P90. The Taiwanese semiconductor company dubbed it as the "chip that changes everything" and an AI powerhouse.
Kirin 980 side by side with P90

It is a chip that is poised to provide premium performance for less on upper mid-range smartphones priced in the USD 400 (PHP 21K) range in late Q1 or early Q2 of 2019.

CPU/GPU

The chip
The chip

The MediaTek Helio P90 is based on the TSMC's 12nm FinFET process. 12nm doesn't sound as impressive as the flagship 10nm or 7nm on paper, but they claimed that a 12nm chip with better architecture can compete with flagships.

It boasts 2 Cortex-A75 large cores with 2.2GHz clock speed and 6 low power Cortex-A55 cores at 2.0GHz. On the GPU part, it goes with the new IMG PowerVR GM 9446 clocked at 970MHz.

It promises 50 percent better gaming and graphics performance versus the previous generation Mali-G72 MP3 GPU.

To those who missed it, the Mali-G72 MP3 GPU is a chip that can work on heavy games. We can expect the new IMG PowerVR GM 9946 GPU to do better.

On paper, it is a significant upgrade over the Helio P60 and P70. If that's the case, it should be on the 11nm Snapdragon 675 and the 10nm Snapdragon 710 category in terms of RAW CPU/GPU computing power.

AI

An AI-first chip
An AI-first chip

The CPU and GPU of the P90 looks great, but it is clearly not on the level of the 7nm CPU and GPU of the pricier flagships.

But, MediaTek has a solution so that can still provide premium performance for less. 

It is their heterogeneous architecture which will utilize the CPU, GPU, and APU altogether for better performance with flexibility and low power consumption.
An AI powerhouse
An AI powerhouse

The APU 2.0 is MediaTek's new AI chip to handle AI tasks and applications. It has an industry-leading 1127 GMACs (2.25TOPs) performance which is 4x better than the Helio P60 and P70. It is 4.6x better than those two chips to be exact.

MediaTek also boasts that it can help users run intensive AI tasks with ease while delivering improved battery life. It is for AI applications with high computing efficiency, optimal bandwidth usage, and high hardware utilization.

The Helio P90 SoC solution relies heavily on AI to boost the overall "real-life" performance of the chip.
ETH Zurich benchmark
ETH Zurich benchmark

On the AI benchmark test by by ETH Zurich, a science, technology, engineering and mathematics university in Switzerland, the Helio P90 crushed the competition like the 7nm Kirin 980 and Snapdragon 855.
Fast image identification
Fast image identification

On AI-Benchmark, it got a score of 25,645. It higher than the 22,082 and 21,526 scores of the Kirin 980 and Snapdragon 855, respectively. On a different AI-Benchmark test, the Mate 20 scored 15,151 while the reference phone with Helio P90 got 25,925.

We confirmed that their test is accurate when we visited the AI-Benchmark website. The average score of the Mate 20 Pro is 14,295.

The AI would also help in speech recognition, translation, and more.

Battery

To ensure strong performance while ensuring the efficiency of its cores, MediaTek introduced its latest CorePilot technology for the Helio P90. They said that it will be more power efficient that the impressive P60 and P70.

MediaTek also introduced the 40W fast charging and 15W wireless charging supports. It reminds me of the Kirin 980 in this regard.

Camera

The P90 also has an improved triple-ISP to let the phones who will use this chip take better images. It supports a single 48MP camera for high resolution images or a 24MP + 16MP combination.
Scene detection
Scene detection

They also said that they have support for a 48MP 80-degree sensor, 16MP 120-degree sensor, and an 8MP 40-degree telephoto sensor.
Focus accuracy
Focus accuracy

It also now comes with improved object/scene detection, deep learning facial recognition, real-time beautification, better depth of field effect, shoot nicer HDR photos, take nicer low light images, improved AR for photos, AI color for videos, 480p super slow-motion videos in HD, mixed reality acceleration, and other real-time enhancements. It even has support for 3D pose of AR including full-body avatar.
Low light performance
Low light performance

You can also enjoy 14-bit RAW and 10-bit YUB processing for more flexibility to capture and process photos with the Helio P90.
AI color
AI color

In their own live comparisons in the demo area, MediaTek showed that they have superior AI scene detection, recognition, Google Lens, night shots, 3D AR effect, and more compared with the competition.
Live beautification
Live beautification

They used a Helio P90 reference phone with a single camera to beat late 2018 flagship smartphones like the Mate 20 Pro, Samsung Galaxy Note9, and the iPhone XS.

But of course, that is their own test and comparison. It could come with a different result in real life.

It just showed that they have the guts to pit themselves against the big boys of the smartphone world.

Connectivity

MediaTek also improved the connectivity options and features of the P90 coming from the P60 and P70.

It has a support for dual SIM dual VoLTE 4G LTE WorldMode with fast Cat 12 (DL)/Cat 13 (UL) modem, 4x4 MIMO and 256QAM, support for 2x2 802.11ac, and Bluetooth 5.0.

The 4G LTE connectivity is a big leap from the P60 and P70, but it will fall short with the Cat 21 of the Kirin 980. MediaTek said that it is just okay because their chip if for more affordable devices. Plus, the 4G LTE Cat 12/13 download/upload speed is still more than decent in general.

There's no word regarding on 5G for this chip. MediaTek said that they will have a different SoC in 2019 that will come with the Helio M70 5G modem in 2019.

Updates

MediaTek is working closely with Google to ensure that Helio P90 smartphones will get monthly security updates.

MediaTek said that they are not the one responsible for smartphones with no update. Major OS updates depends on the smartphone makers.

As of the moment

The Helio P90 is very different from all the other chips we saw in the past.

It's an SoC solution that's banking heavily on the AI chip rather than the usual CPU/GPU with a bit of AI architecture of the other brands.

They claimed and the benchmarks showed that they have the superior AI technology on a chip right now.

They relied heavily on APU to compensate its use of lesser CPU and GPU compared with the 7nm solutions from other brands.

AI is MediaTek's way to compete with the overall performance other higher-end chips from the other brands.

The MediaTek Helio P90 SoC is expected to power smartphones in the around USD 400 (PHP 21K) price range in the end of Q1 or beginning of Q2 2019.

If everything that MediaTek claimed is accurate, then we have a possible game-changer.

How true is this? Only time will tell. It remains to be seen.
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