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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  • GreenReaper - Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - link

    > all members of the invited press to the show, typically around 500-2000, are sampled

    Curious.... so, what you're saying is that a Chinese company is going all-out to provide devices designed to monitor personal data to every possible tech journalist - and they can now coincidentally no longer become root to investigate them...?
  • Smell This - Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - link

    Creative Engineering

    (i.e., imaginative and innovative marketing ___ to cheat)

  • yhselp - Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - link

    If GPU Turbo is actually capable of smoothing out frame-time, it might be a huge win for consumers. It doesn't matter how pretty a game looks, or how fast it renders, if it has an inconsistent frame-time, making the controls sluggish. Any person who cares about gaming on a smartphone, especially something like PUBG and MOBAs, should find responsive controls preferable over higher image quality and sheer framerate. If Huawei manages to deliver smoother gameplay on its devices, it would be a huge win, despite the lower image quality.

    Hopefully they make tools to test frame-time easily available. We can't expect Digital Foundry to manually test every supported Kirin device and game.
  • s.yu - Friday, September 7, 2018 - link

    It's a huge loss for consumers in the long term if they get away time and again with their deception.
  • Achtung_BG - Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - link

    I love anandtech, good job!
  • Flunk - Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - link

    "Up To" always makes me suspicious, always. I could claim that adding my sticker to your phone could offer up to a 200% frame rate increase and still not technically be incorrect.
  • s.yu - Friday, September 7, 2018 - link

    I agree, how about citing the 1st percentage of performance numbers, read a spike for a second and stick it on the ad.
  • mazz7 - Thursday, September 6, 2018 - link

    Huawei is surely moving fast in this mobile arena :) look forward into the new device that use Kirin 980
  • abufrejoval - Thursday, September 6, 2018 - link

    Can't say that I care that much about mobile gaming any more, did some on the tablets but since those only receive left-over hardware these days, I'll just stick to the desktop for gaming.

    I could be attracted to buy a Kirin 980 device, simply to play with the NN accellerator, but with a locked down bootloader, they locked themselves out of my MVP.

    Hopefully a HiKey980 model will be available shortly, that doesn't have this crazy limitation, I was getting very close to buying the HiKey970, when the Kirin 980 appeared.

    I still fail to see the rationale behind the lock-down decision and I wish you could have drilled a bit into the engineers in Berlin to find out why they changed their policy. If it's all about hiding the architectural weaknesses you so regularly expose, it doesn't really seem to be working.

    It's a little irritating that HMD/Nokia is following the same path and it's easy to see why phone for the Chinese domestic market would be locked down by order of the government to ensure any government trojan is properly protected from removal.

    But EU/free world imports without unlockable bootloader should really be banned.

    If it's all about compensating for the lack of a secure element or HSM on the phone e.g. for payment, it's just a very bad design choice. I understand why Google didn't want the Telcos charge rent on SIM cards, but an approach like the L4 kernel on a dedicated CPU chosen by Apple seems a better alternative.
  • s.yu - Friday, September 7, 2018 - link

    So it's settled then, by Anandtech as always. Great work!

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