Mea-Culpa: It Should Have Been Caught Earlier

Section By Andrei Frumusanu

As stated on the previous page, I had initially had seen the effects of this behaviour back in January when I was reviewing the Kirin 970 in the Mate 10. The numbers I originally obtained showed worse-than-expected performance of the Mate 10, which was being beaten by the Mate 9. When we discussed the issue with Huawei, they attributed it to a firmware bug, and pushed me a newer build which resolved the performance issues. At the time, Huawei never discussed what that 'bug' was, and I didn't push the issue as performance bugs do happen.

For the Kirin 970 SoC review, I went through my testing and published the article. Later on, in the P20 reviews, I observed the same lower performance again. As Huawei had told me before it was a firmware issue, I had also attributed the bad performance to a similar issue, and expected Huawei to 'fix' the P20 in due course.

Looking back in hindsight, it is pretty obvious there’s been some less than honest communications with Huawei. The newly detected performance issues were not actually issues – they were actually the real representation of the SoC's performance. As the results were somewhat lower, and Huawei was saying that they were highly competetive, I never would have expected these numbers as genuine.

It's worth noting here that I naturally test with our custom benchmark versions, as they enable us to get other data from the tests than just a simple FPS value. It never crossed my mind to test the public versions of the benchmarks to check for any discrepancy in behaviour. Suffice to say, this will change in our testing in the future, with numbers verified on both versions.

Analyzing the New Competitive Landscape

With all that being said, our past published results for Kirin 970 devices were mostly correct - we had used a variant of the benchmark that wasn’t detected by Huawei’s firmware. There is one exception however, as we weren't using a custom version of 3DMark at the time. I’ve now re-tested 3DMark, and updated the corresponding figures in past reviews to reflect the correct peak and sustained performance figures.

As far as I could tell in my testing, the cheating behaviour has only been introduced in this year’s devices. Phones such as the Mate 9 and P10 were not affected. If I’m to be more precise, it seems that only EMUI 8.0 and newer devices are affected. Based on our discussions with Huawei, we were told that this was purely a software implementation, which also corroborates our findings.

Here is the competitive landscape across our whole mobile GPU performance suite, with updated figures where applicable. We are also including new figures for the Honor Play, and the new introduction of the GFXBench 5.0 Aztec tests across all of our recent devices:

3DMark Sling Shot 3.1 Extreme Unlimited - Graphics 

3DMark Sling Shot 3.1 Extreme Unlimited - Physics 

GFXBench Aztec Ruins - High - Vulkan/Metal - Off-screen GFXBench Aztec Ruins - Normal - Vulkan/Metal - Off-screen 

GFXBench Manhattan 3.1 Off-screen 

GFXBench T-Rex 2.7 Off-screen

Overall, the graphs are very much self-explanatory. The Kirin 960 and Kirin 970 are lacking in both performance and efficiency compared almost every device in our small test here. This is something Huawei is hoping to address with the Kirin 980, and features such as GPU Turbo.

Raw Benchmark Numbers The Reality of Silicon And Market Pressure
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  • Cicerone - Friday, September 7, 2018 - link

    But sometimes Kirin 970 is on the same level with 2016 Exynos 8890 found on Samsung S7.
  • shogun18 - Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - link

    > I think it's important for users to know that the Kirin 970 has a significantly weaker GPU than the S845

    How so? If some popular game needs 10,000 shader OPS to run at 800x600 at 30 frames/sec what difference does it make if one SoC can pump out 8000 (admittedly synthetic - are you really going to tell me you're going to notice 24FPS vs 30? pahlease), or 15,000 or another 40,000? Ok, so does OPS/Watt actually matter in anybody's evaluation metric? No. Does anyone choose a phone based on this one lets me run X game for 30 minutes before running out of batt but I can get 40 minutes with this other one because in "game mode" the manufacturer took liberties with wattage?
  • cfenton - Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - link

    What modern phone runs at 800x600? Also, faster GPUs can get closer to 60fps, which is definitely a noticeable improvement over 30fps.

    If all you're playing is Candy Crush, then it doesn't matter what GPU you have, but if you're playing Fortnite or the upcoming Elder Scrolls game, then GPU performance is important. If two phones are roughly the same price, but one of them has 3x the GPU power with no downsides, I'm going to go with the faster one every time.
  • shogun18 - Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - link

    The human eye in games like Fortnite etc can only process a very limited frame rate. So anything over 30 is basically pointless. Plus factor in using a 27+ monitor(s) vs a piddly-ass phone screen with lousy (by comparison to "gaming" monitors) refresh characteristics the benchmark is even less useful.

  • cfenton - Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - link

    That article make it very clear that people can tell the difference between 60fps and 30fps. Its claim is that it's only an improvement in smoothness, not an improvement in our ability to track changes. A higher frame rate won't improve my ability to pick out movement.

    60fps looks better than 30fps. If I can choose between the two, at the same resolution, I'm always going to pick 60fps. Will it make me better at the game? No. Does it make the game look at feel better? Yes.
  • techconc - Monday, September 10, 2018 - link

    @shogun18 - I always find it amusing when people present "evidence" to support their position only to find out the evidence they are producing very clearly refutes their position. The article very clearly states:
    "Certainly 60 Hz is better than 30 Hz, demonstrably better." - Professor Thomas Busey

    From my own perspective, I would suggest to you that games need to have a 30 fps at minimum to be playable and to appear to be somewhat fluid. 60 fps is clearly better, but not "twice as good". You can see the difference though. On my iPad, I can do 120 fps on games like World of Tanks Blitz and can even notice that difference. For some games, reaction time is critical and network performance also plays a role in this. However, higher frame rates can indeed provide a competitive advantage.
  • shogun18 - Tuesday, September 11, 2018 - link

    did you BOTHER to read to the end let alone comprehend what was being put forth? The human brain is SLOW! It's massively parallel but it's SLOW. Just like our ears are crap compared to other creatures who actually have good hearing. If you're playing FPS on a phone you're an idiot to begin with. Fluidity or more properly the perception of same doesn't make your performance better. Your reaction time is also completely shit compared to the theoretical frame rate you think you are perceiving. Anyone who cares about game play on a phone is a moron.
  • Reflex - Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - link

    Buyers should be able to value whatever they wish when making their purchasing decisions. Lying to them denies them the right to make decisions based on the criteria that matter most to them, whether it be nice cameras, great screens, excellent call quality, or yes, 'geekmarks' or whatever.

    It's not for you to determine what is most important to a customer, nor is it ethical to lie about one of those or other items in order to trick people who value them into buying your product.
  • boozed - Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - link

    Funny you should say that, considering the reason for the existence of this website.
  • Samus - Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - link

    You need to put a performance metric on things somehow. Cars have horsepower and torque, batteries have volts and milliamps, and food has protein and carbs.

    Unfortunately these metrics do not come from the SoC manufacturer, but the phone vendor. That therein lies the problem. "Overclocking" or boosting a SoC beyond reasonable thermal design limitations is blatant cheating if it can't be sustained throughout, say, a game, that the benchmark is momentarily mimicking.

    At the end of the day, this is really an Android problem too, because the freedom the OS gives phone vendors to manipulate the kernel, scheduler, and frequency curve of the CPU/GPU. This kind of flexibility didn't exist (and still doesn't exist) in other mobile operating systems.

    So imagine if this were happening in the PC space. Where vendors were selling overclocked systems WITHOUT SAYING they were overclocked. Where vendors were manipulating the real-world benefits of a GPU with software that faked benchmark results.

    I would liken it to what happened with the game console clones of the 80's, when there were third-party Atari's, Intellivisions, etc, that had custom CPU's running at higher frequencies. In that case, it actually hurt developers more than consumers (but still hurt consumers) because developers couldn't even depend on a performance metric for the platform they were developing for. This is partially why there were virtually no third party developers (Activision and Hudsonsoft - who later developed their own console simply to have some control over the hardware environment! - were effectively the first cross-platform developers.)

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