One of the biggest announcements from Huawei this year is that of its new GPU Turbo technology. The claims that it could provide more performance at less power, without a hardware change gave us quite a bit of pause. Internally, more than a few raised eyebrows appeared. As part of our discussions with Huawei this year at IFA, as well as some pretesting, we actually now have a base understanding of the technology, as well as additional insight into some of the marketing tactics – not all of which are the most honest representations of the new feature.

GPU Turbo: A Timeline

GPU Turbo is said to be a new mechanism that promised great performance and power improvements to new and existing devices. The new ‘technology’ was something that was first introduced in early June with the Chinese release of the Honor Play, and will be updated to a version ‘2.0’ with the launch of EMUI 9.0 later in the year.

Over the next few months Huawei plans to release the technology on all of its mainstream devices, as well as going back through its catalogue. Huawei promises that all devices, irrespective of hardware, will be able to benefit.

GPU Turbo Rollout
Huawei   Honor
Mate 10
Mate 10 Pro
Mate 10 Porsche Design
Mate RS Porsche Design
P20 Pro
Honor 10
Honor Play
Honor 9 lite
P20 lite
P smart
Nova 2i
Mate 10 lite
September Honor View 10
Honor 9
- October -
Mate 9
Mate 9 Pro
P10 Plus
November Honor 8 Pro
  December Honor 7x

From the weeks following the release of GPU Turbo on the first few devices, we saw quite a lot of hype and marketing efforts on Honor and Huawei’s side with the goal of promoting GPU Turbo. Over all the presentations, press releases promoted articles, and fuzzy press analysis, one important thing was consistently missing: we saw no technical explanation as to what GPU Turbo actually is and how it works. Everything was about results, but nothing was about details. At AnandTech, it’s the details that really resonate in our understanding, as to whether a new feature is genuine or not.

Huawei, to its credit, did try to reach out to us, but neither the company nor PR ever really responded when we asked for a more technical briefing on the new mechanism. We’re not sure what the reason was for this, as historically the company has often been open to technical discussions. On the plus side, at this year’s IFA, we finally had the chance to meet with a team of Huawei’s hardware and software engineers/managers.

Through these discussions, we developed some detailed explanations that finally made more sense of the past month’s marketing claims. The plus side of this is that we now have a better understanding of what GPU Turbo actually does (and it makes sense), although it also puts a chunk of the marketing slides on the ignore pile.

In this first piece on GPU Turbo, we’re going to go through the story of the feature in stages. First, we’ll look at Huawei’s initial claims about the technology: specifically the numbers. Second, we’ll go deeper into what GPU Turbo actually does. Third, we examine the devices we do have with the technology, to see what differences we can observe, and finally we address the marketing, which really needs to be scrutinized.

It should be noted that time permitting, and resources permitting, we want to go deeper into GPU Turbo. With the upcoming launch of the Mate 20 and the new Kirin 980 SoC inside, we will want to do a more detailed analysis with more data. This is only the beginning of the story into GPU Turbo.

The Claimed Benefits of GPU Turbo: Huawei’s Figures
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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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