As always, our good friends over at Kishonti managed to have the first GPU performance results for the new 4th generation iPad. Although the new iPad retains its 2048 x 1536 "retina" display, Apple claims a 2x improvement in GPU performance through the A6X SoC. The previous generation chip, the A5X, had two ARM Cortex A9 cores running at 1GHz paired with four PowerVR SGX 543 cores running at 250MHz. The entire SoC integrated 4 x 32-bit LPDDR2 memory controllers, giving the A5X the widest memory interface on a shipping mobile SoC in the market at the time of launch.

The A6X retains the 128-bit wide memory interface of the A5X (and it keeps the memory controller interface adjacent to the GPU cores and not the CPU cores as is the case in the A5/A6). It also integrates two of Apple's new Swift cores running at up to 1.4GHz (a slight increase from the 1.3GHz cores in the iPhone 5's A6). The big news today is what happens on the GPU side. A quick look at the GLBenchmark results for the new iPad 4 tells us all we need to know. The A6X moves to a newer GPU core: the PowerVR SGX 554.

Mobile SoC GPU Comparison
  PowerVR SGX 543 PowerVR SGX 543MP2 PowerVR SGX 543MP3 PowerVR SGX 543MP4 PowerVR SGX 554 PowerVR SGX 554MP2 PowerVR SGX 554MP4
Used In - iPad 2 iPhone 5 iPad 3 - - iPad 4
# of SIMDs 4 8 12 16 8 16 32
MADs per SIMD 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
Total MADs 16 32 48 64 32 64 128

As always, Imagination doesn't provide a ton of public information about the 554 but based on what I've seen internally it looks like the main difference between it and the 543 is a doubling of the ALU count per core (8 Vec4 ALUs per core vs. 4 Vec4). Chipworks' analysis of the GPU cores helps support this: "Each GPU core is sub-divided into 9 sub-cores (2 sets of 4 identical sub-cores plus a central core)."

I believe what we're looking at is the 8 Vec4 SIMDs (each one capable of executing 8+1 FLOPS). The 9th "core" is just the rest of the GPU including tiler front end and render backends. Based on the die shot and Apple's performance claims it looks like there are four PowerVR SGX554 cores on-die, resulting in peak theoretical performance greater than 77 GFLOPS.

There's no increase in TMU or ROP count per core, the main change between the 554 and 543 is the addition of more ALUs. There are some more low level tweaks which helps explain the different core layout from previous designs, but nothing major.

With that out of the way, let's get to the early performance results. We'll start with low level fill rate and triangle throughput numbers:

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Fill Test

Fill rate goes up by around 15% compared to the iPad, which isn't enough to indicate a huge increase in the number of texture units on the 554MP4 vs. the 543MP4. What we may be seeing here instead are benefits from higher clocked GPU cores rather than more texture units. If this is indeed the case it would indicate that the 554MP4 changes the texture to ALU ratio from what it was in the PowerVR SGX 543 (Update: this is confirmed). The data here points to a GPU clock at least 15% higher than the ~250MHz in the 3rd generation iPad.

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Fill Test (Offscreen 1080p)

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Triangle Texture Test

Triangle throughput goes up by a hefty 65%, these are huge gains over the previous generation iPad.

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Triangle Texture Test (Offscreen 1080p)

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Triangle Texture Test - Fragment Lit

The fragment lit triangle test starts showing us close to a doubling of performance at the iPad's native resolution.

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Triangle Texture Test - Fragment Lit (Offscreen 1080p)

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Triangle Texture Test - Vertex Lit

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Triangle Texture Test - Vertex Lit (Offscreen 1080p)

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt HD

Throw in a more ALU heavy workload and we really start to see the advantage of the new GPU: almost double the performance in Egypt HD at 2048 x 1536. We also get performance that's well above 30 fps here on the iPad at native resolution for the first time.

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt HD (Offscreen 1080p)

Normalize to the same resolution and we see that the new PowerVR graphics setup is 57% faster than even ARM's Mali-T604 in the Nexus 10. Once again we're seeing just about 2x the performance of the previous generation iPad.

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt Classic

Vsync bound gaming performance obviously won't improve, but the offscreen classic test gives us an idea of how well the new SoC can handle lighter workloads:

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt Classic (Offscreen 1080p)

For less compute bound workloads the new iPad still boasts a 53% performance boost over the previous generation.

Ultimately it looks like the A6X is the SoC that the iPad needed to really deliver good gaming performance at its native resolution. I would not be surprised to see more game developers default to 2048 x 1536 on the new iPad rather than picking a lower resolution and enabling anti-aliasing. The bar has been set for this generation and we've seen what ARM's latest GPU can do, now the question is whether or not NVIDIA will finally be able to challenge Imagination Technologies when it releases Wayne/Tegra 4 next year.

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  • robinthakur - Wednesday, November 7, 2012 - link

    That's very interesting, but due to the fact that there is nothing in the Play store worth playing on a Nexus 10 (or any Android Tablet, I'll be buying an iPad 4 thanks just as there is nothing worth playing on my Galaxy 3. I'm sure the relative efficiency of the device based on your incomplete knowledge will not bother me unduly.
  • CeriseCogburn - Saturday, November 10, 2012 - link

    What's unique to the iPad 4 that's worth playing ?
  • andsoitgoes - Saturday, November 10, 2012 - link

    I mention a few below, especially if you're a board game fan. I have easily a few hundred dollars in board games, very few of which are available on Android, less that are designed for the tablet (Catan, a HUGELY popular game isn't)

    Ghost trick
    The Walking Dead
    Junk Jack (a 2D minecraft better, in my opinion, than Minecraft Pocket)
    Sid Meier's Pirates
    Infinity Blade
    Groove Coaster
    Tilt to Live
    Multiple Gamebook Adventures
    Dead Space (barely functional on Android)
    Ticket to Ride (worth mentioning outside of "board games")
    ****Magic 2013 the name says it all
    ****King of Dragon Pass (one of the most amazing games EVER)

    And while other games often aren't permanently exclusive to iOS, many are hugely delayed before they port to Android, if at all.

    There's more, but I feel like paying more attention to my movie :)

    Simply put, depending on your tastes, iOS is the bees knees.
  • andsoitgoes - Saturday, November 10, 2012 - link

    But yet everyone ignores this. 99.9% of my games are either available in an iPad optimized app, or... No, that's that.

    Everything just works and with the retina iPad, 2x retina iPhones games look just stellar.

    There's no weird stretched displays. No oddly placed controls or shapes or distorted anything.

    Because apple has bucked the "normal" tech standards of matching the various screen sizes, it's given developers confidence to spend the time creating an iPad optimized app/game. They know Apple is being consistent, and while some people may prefer widescreen tablets, they don't realize that by making that move, it's giving developers more and more reasons not to develop on the platform when they've got to try to work their games to fit these slew of screen sizes. With apple, the iPad 1 screen is just a scaled down version of the retina screen. Yes it still takes work to optimize it to work on the higher quality display, but it's scaling versus complete redesign of the whole package.

    The sheer lack of tablet optimized products on Android, plus the really crappy store, is what will prevent the platform from being a serious threat to Apple. With how far Android is coming, how awesome this hardware is, I'd LOVE to see them put apples butt under the fire! It's only good for the competition.

    But for me, I honestly don't think I could change regardless of what Android does. Not that I don't like the hardware or the UI, they're fine, albeit not really for me now (a few years ago when I was into building my own custom Roms and such, sure) but it comes down to how ensconced I am in the ecosystem.

    I have 4 iPads and 3 iPhones if I replace any of those devices with an Android option, I will lose an easy 3/4 of the apps and games that my family use on a regular basis. And those I don't lose, I will have to purchase again. For that reason alone, Android has so far to go in order to compell me to the point that I want to jump ship.

    Any cost savings for a current Apple owner is lost when you think about all you will pay to outfit this new ecosystem to match what you currently have.

    It makes you realize just from that perspective how daunting a task it is trying to convert existing Apple users. How can you look someone who already owns and has used a product for a lengthy time and say

    "Hey, hey you. Yeah you, look here. I've got this awesome device! The screen is better, yeah. Look, look at how pretty it is! It's cheaper and, look, you can expand storage for almost nothing! Yeah baby! You want this hotness!"

    But then when your push has to turn into some twisted commercial for GERD medication, and now you have to list the side effects, and one happens to be seizures that cause your brain to melt and convert into a pile of jello.

    "So while this device is pretty, all those apps you've bought... You own what, 300? Well, here's the thing. We don't have about 150 (Ed. I'm being generous here) of those that you use, and of the 150 you do use, well only 90 of them are designed to run properly on the screen. Those that aren't will sort of look like you squished up a phone app and stuffed it onto the device. Oh, and uh... The last thing is that for those 80 apps you own that you had to pay for, well... You'll have to buy those again here. Sorry"

    For a user that watches movies, listens to music, browses the web and only plays super popular cross platform games/uses only super popular cross platform apps and mostly uses free or incredibly cheap games/apps, for them it's worth the jump.

    For those like me?

    * Almost every single learning/educational app my kids use is iOS only
    * games like Sword and Sworcery (reasons enough for owning a mobile device) take forever to port to Android
    * games like welder, junk jack, punch quest (hell, anything from rocket cat), the multitude of board games that just squeaked through the "we made enough money to justify making the game!" Barrier that will never come to any other platform...
    * apps unique to iOS, too many to name. Unique and specializes apps like Awareness, my various photo editing and processing apps, my various (again) family oriented chore apps, cookbooks and such.
    * high priced apps, like my ssh terminal, file browser. RDP/VNC viewer, my central password system, pocket informant. These apps all combined would set me back $50 - $60, if not more, and I rely on them.

    Simply put, Android would have to be able to take care of "all my needs and desires" (if you know what I mean, WINK) for me to even consider it. Basically it would need to come with Kate Upton for me to be able to justify it. A very needy, willing Kate Upton ;)

    But seriously, I do think those are issues that can't be easily addressed by Android. And while I'm an exception, most people will have at least quite a few things that either aren't available on android or will cost them a significant amount when having to switch to repurchase various productivity or other types of software/games.

    God. This was TL;DR to a LOTR level. I need an editor.
  • dagamer34 - Friday, November 2, 2012 - link

    Intel's Clover Trail chips use a PowerVR SGX543MP2 @ 533Mhz. Also, you are asking the wrong question. It's not "why can't they use these chips?" but "who is going to pay for these chips?" because you have to remember that the VAST majority of the market is made up of phones that don't even have GPUs as good as the iPhone 4. Larger dies = more cost, and when you're trying to build a $100 phone, you can't stick a fancy GPU in there built on the latest fab process.

    Apple's economies of scale work greatly in it's favor because they sell tens of millions of devices with the same chip for several years, meaning it will pay back for itself more and more and more over time. nVidia can't honestly sell a Tegra 2 device today without being laughed at, and yet the iPad Mini came out with the very similar A5.
  • ssj4Gogeta - Friday, November 2, 2012 - link

    What $100 phones? Maybe you get them for $100 after carrier subsidy in the US (but it isn't really subsidy as you more than pay it back as much higher per-month charges during your contract).
    The high-end phones are easily $600-800 unlocked and the mid-end ones are $400.
  • 1droidfan - Friday, November 2, 2012 - link

    Its well known Apple signs exclusivity arrangements with PowerVR for their GPUs. So Android and WinRT could get a lower spec PowerVR GPU, or wait for a better one to reach production, but what good would that do? Apple has the biggest muscle by far in mobile, nobody can compete with them on hardware. Too bad their OS sucks.
  • darkcrayon - Friday, November 2, 2012 - link

    Good thing their OS gets out of the way and lets you run some of the best mobile *applications* around... The same ones using that good ol' GPU.
  • CeriseCogburn - Monday, November 5, 2012 - link

    Not in APPL hyper fanville it isn't, and once it is, the APPL freak forgets that instantly, while they worship their dead Master.

    Then they squeal why can no one else do this ?!
    That is not an exaggeration.

    It's the sad state of the "finest techy minds".
  • winterspan - Wednesday, November 7, 2012 - link

    Source?? TI uses the PowerVR SGX 5 series, as does Intel, Sony, Marvell, and others...

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