The Difficulty in Analyzing GPU Turbo

I still haven’t managed to get two identical devices with and without GPU Turbo. The closest practical comparison I was able to make is between the Huawei P20 and the Honor Play. These are two devices that use the same SoC and memory, albeit in different chassis.

The differences between the two phones are not just the GPU Turbo introduction, but the Honor Play also includes a newer Arm Bifrost driver, r12p0, while the P20 had the r9p0 release. Unfortunately no mobile vendor publishes driver release notes, so we can’t differentiate between possible improvements on the GPU driver side, and actual improvements that GPU Turbo makes.

Huawei P20 (no GPU Turbo)

Honor Play (GPU Turbo)

For raw frame rate numbers, it was extremely hard to tell the two phones apart. PUBG tops out at 40 FPS as well, although it should be noted that we could have invested a lot more time inspecting jitter and just how noticeable that would be in practice, but one thing that can be very empirically be measured is power consumption.

Here the Honor Play seemingly did have an advantage, coming in at ~3.9W while rendering the above scene. This was a tad less than the P20’s ~4.7W. These figures are total device power, and obviously the screen and rest of device components will be different between the two models. It does however represent a 15% difference in power, although to be clear we can't rule out the possibility that they could be different bins; i.e. they have different power/voltage characteristics as per random manufacturing variance, which is common in the space.

Huawei has quoted data for the Kirin 980:

Still, it does very much look like GPU Turbo has an efficiency advantage, however again a 10% figure as presented during the Kirin 980 keynote seems to be a lot closer to reality than the promised 30% marketing materials.

GPU Turbo Is Real, Just Be Wary of Marketing Numbers

One thing that should not be misunderstood in this article is that GPU Turbo itself is not just a marketing ploy, but rather a very real and innovative solution that tries to address the weaknesses of the current generation Kirin chipsets. Kirin still sits well behind both the performance and efficiency of Snapdragon-based Adreno graphics, and because Huawei cannot license Adreno, it has to try and make the best of what it has, aside from dedicating more die space to their GPUs.

However much of the technical merit of GPU Turbo has been largely overshadowed by quite overzealous marketing claims that are nothing short of misleading. More on this on the next page.

By nature of it being a software solution, it is something that augments the hardware, and if the hardware can’t deliver, then so won’t the software. Here a lot of the confusion and misleading material can be directly attributed to the way the Honor Play was presented to the public. Reality is, even with GPU Turbo, the Honor Play is still not competitive with Snapdragon 845 devices, even when it wants to portray itself as such. Here, the differences in the silicon are just too great to be overcome by a software optimization, not matter how innovative the new mechanism is.

The Detailed Explanation of GPU Turbo Problems with PUBG: Not All GPUs Render Equally
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  • LiverpoolFC5903 - Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - link

    Very interesting to say the least. The improvements from this, although not as much as promised, are still tangible and will make a difference in supported games.

    Also, alarming to see the quality difference between an Adreno unit and a Mali unit, especially considering they are supposed to be close competitors. I have an S9 with the Mali g72mp18 unit and going by the results on PUBG, it performs much worse than its Adreno counterpart, both in render quality and framerate.

    Hisilicon and Samsung should consider using Powervr gpus again, given the clear inability of the Mali to keep up. I have noticed this in the real world as well, with my LG V20 with a Snapdragon 820 lasting MUCH longer than my S9 while running emulators (PSP and Neo Geo), despite being years old.
  • Manch - Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - link

    Maybe its my screen but the Honor Play and the S9 pics make it look like the dude got no undies. LOL
  • umano - Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - link

    Amazing article, thank you. Having a P20 pro ( I don't play games on phone ) that was particularly interesting and I really liked the "ethic" behind words, supporting both customers and the company, asking the latter to do the right thing. I think this is the way professional journalism has to be done.
  • AshokGupta - Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - link

    Hundreds of Huawei's competaters have tried round and round to prove GPU Turbo is a fake junk, and all of them failed. Now you take over their job. Good Luck, Man!
  • GreenReaper - Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - link

    Fake? No. But the reality doesn't exactly match up to the marketing.
  • s.yu - Friday, September 7, 2018 - link

    The reality doesn't match up to the marketing, AT ALL. Good as fake.
    Huawei in all practicality was trying to sell this off as a *universal* performance and efficiency gain of 60%, 30% respectively while in fact it only works on *a handful* of games for about *10%* each. When you're exaggerating your claims by 3x, 6x, it's lying, it's fake.
  • AshokGupta - Saturday, September 8, 2018 - link

    If you read the Chinese media, what happens here is just repetition of what happened exactly right after the technology was launched in CHINA. Including this stupid guess of saying it only covers few games. Then approved by many independent tech media it's applicable for all. Your name indicates you are most probably from China. I suppose you should know it. Don't understand why you come here again giving the approved fake comments.
  • s.yu - Monday, September 10, 2018 - link

    Because of the opaque operation of Chinese media. Obviously you're also from China, don't tell me you don't know about the fuss Huawei created buying ads on international sites and then buying fake journalism back in China.
    This article was widely spread as legit news but the international content cited was intentionally twisted, it's highly misleading.
    When Huawei buys western ads at least the hosts declare bought articles, in China there's no way of telling real journalism from Huawei's smokescreen, so I put off reaching a conclusion until global availability of the technology.
    Now from Anandtech's analysis and *interview* it's obviously certain that the tech only works on a handful of games, Huawei even admitted that each profile is trained separately then pushed to devices.
    I know a Huawei troll when I see one, I'll be keeping an eye on you in the future.
  • ET - Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - link

    What's with the annoying 'Buy the Right CPU' autoplaying video?
  • psychobriggsy - Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - link

    It's really annoying, and on every article, on every page, and it doesn't remember if you pause it on one page then go to the next.

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