The Claimed Benefits of GPU Turbo: Huawei’s Figures

Some of the most popular and widely quoted figures from the marketing slides during the release of GPU Turbo were the claims that the new feature would somehow achieve both up to 60% higher performance while also being able to reduce SoC power by up to 30%. Huawei (and Honor) are very very keen on these numbers, and show the results in the best possible light.

These figures were so widespread that they were again reiterated in last Thursday’s IFA global launch of the Honor Play. Over the last few days, I’ve seen plenty publications reporting these figures and attributing them to the benefits of GPU Turbo. However as of yet, no analysis has taken place.

Most slides we have seen look something like this, making it very easy to just put numbers into an article:

As AnandTech is very much a technical-oriented publication, from the get-go these numbers looked suspicious to us. We take pride and value in our own independent analysis, making sure that the numbers promoted are remotely achievable. After all, numbers like this often go against common-sense engineering advancements. And this is exactly where the marketing numbers fall apart. More on that later.

So What is GPU Turbo? We Finally Have Some Clarity

When we initially went looking for a detailed explanation of GPU Turbo, I (Andrei) first attempted to figure out by myself what GPU Turbo does. The lack of details, aside from projected performance improvements, is a very weak place to start. It also ended up being quite a nightmare of a task for one specific reason: despite years of allowing devices to be rooted, at around the same time as GPU Turbo was launched, Huawei and Honor stopped allowing bootloader unlocking. This prevented users from modifying the system’s firmware, and us included as we were unable to root the devices to help with benchmark profiling. Furthermore, all new firmware that ships with GPU Turbo is said to be vastly more locked down. It has not been made clear if the two items are directly related, though anyone who likes a good conspiracy might be inclined to think so.

As a result, in the context of GPU Turbo, what I had in mind was to actually profile the GPU via Arm’s Streamline tool, as this would give us exact information on the workloads that the GPU is processing. With these tools, we can deeply analyze what is going on under the hood. Either intentionally or unintentionally, the lockdown of the bootloader prevents us from doing this. Unfortunately because of the limitations, this was a dead-end in my testing.

I had started writing this article with no further detailed explanation, however we met with the EMUI software team at IFA, and we were able to finally get a more comprehensive explanation as to what GPU Turbo is. We discussed this technology with both the hardware and software teams, and had very different discussions with both.

With the hardware team – specifically with HiSilicon – they made it clear that this is purely a software technology. The mechanisms in GPU Turbo are aided by the controls they put in place, but the actual way that GPU Turbo works is all down to software. This is good to know, and also explains why Huawei is able to roll it out across all of its smartphone range. It also is not tied to the NPU, although having an NPU in the mix does help, apparently.

However, the public first hint of what it actually does was included in Friday’s Kirin 980 keynote presentation, referred to as “AI Loading Prediction Technology”.

What the slide tries to convey is that GPU Turbo allows the SoC to better follow the compute workload, adjusting the hardware performance states in order to better adapt to the workload. For example, when the CPU needs more power than the GPU, the power ratio availability can be adjusted to match these new requirements, improving both performance and efficiency.

We go into a bit more depth on the next page, where we finally have a good explanation of the mechanism. We have to thank Dr. Wang Chenglu, Huawei’s President of CBG (Smartphone) Software, for this information.

Huawei’s GPU Turbo: A Timeline The Detailed Explanation of GPU Turbo
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  • Ian Cutress - Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - link

    In the past, those 'cheats' were often from not rendering parts of the scene. This is still doing the full render that any Mali GPU does, but in a more power efficient way. The key to benchmarking is to test across several titles regardless, which is going to be important moving forward.
  • Manch - Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - link

    Does Mali or any mobile GPUs do culling of unseen objects? If not, can that be implemented to further reduce load?
  • The Hardcard - Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - link

    That isn’t a quandry, it solves the problem. The problem before is that the makers showed benchmark performance that they didn’t feel the device could handle in normal user apps. If this pans out and users can have it everyday apps means no harm, no foul.

    Having it be a special mode for apps that can use it, while turning it off when it is not necessary is exactly what is needed and what everyone is trying to do and should do.

    If they do it properly, then it is on the developers to use it. Sure, older, unupdated apps will be left behind. That is the nature of advancing technology.
  • melgross - Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - link

    A benchmark cheat is just for benchmarks. There’s a reason for that, and it has to do with the fact that the SoC, and the device, as a whole, can’t perform at that level commercially, otherwise something negative will happen, such as overheating, and battery failure.

    So, no, they can’t extend cheating to regular apps, and that’s the entire point to the cheat. If they could, then they would, and it wouldn’t be a cheat. This cheating is different from the turbo mode the article is about.
  • s.yu - Monday, September 10, 2018 - link

    The only way this is working is the apparent popularity of MMO games. They only plan on catering to low end customer who only play whatever "everybody else" plays. I for one avoid them like the plague, IAP rigged games are cheap stimulation, too cheap.
  • tipoo - Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - link

    Reminds me of the good old ATI vs Nvidia days when there were notable differences in render quality, usually with the edge to ATI. That all but went away at least as far back as the 8800, maybe before. Now for mobile to repeat that process.
  • Ian Cutress - Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - link

    Just to make sure you're aware, that's kind of orthogonal to GPU Turbo. It's Mali behaviour right now, which explains some of the perf differences, but GPU Turbo is something separate.
  • Lord of the Bored - Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - link

    Not ALWAYS to ATI, though. Sometimes they got a little aggressive in their "optimizations" too.
    QUAFF3 NEVER FORGET! ffor the kiddos that never saw this one. Back when men were men, and PC gaming was the exclusive domain of nerds that knew what IRQ and DMA meant(but probably not PCMCIA. No one could remember PCMCIA).
  • Holliday75 - Friday, September 7, 2018 - link

    I recently found a PCMCIA 10mb NIC in one of my file cabinets and a 28.8k modem. I looked at them a second like wtf then remembered what they were.
  • nils_ - Friday, September 7, 2018 - link

    People Can't Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms

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