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


View All Comments

  • 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. Reply
  • Achtung_BG - Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - link

    I love anandtech, good job! Reply
  • 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. Reply
  • 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. Reply
  • 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 Reply
  • 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! Reply

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