Yesterday Apple unveiled its third generation iPad, simply called the new iPad, at an event in San Francisco. The form factor remains mostly unchanged with a 9.7-inch display, however the new device is thicker at 9.4mm vs. 8.8mm for its predecessor. The added thickness was necessary to support the iPad's new 2048 x 1536 Retina Display.

Tablet Specification Comparison
  ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity Apple's new iPad (2012) Apple iPad 2
Dimensions 263 x 180.8 x 8.5mm 241.2 x 185.7 x 9.4mm 241.2 x 185.7 x 8.8mm
Display 10.1-inch 1920 x 1200 Super IPS+ 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 IPS 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 IPS
Weight (WiFi) 586g 652g 601g
Weight (4G LTE) 586g 662g 601g
Processor (WiFi)

1.6GHz NVIDIA Tegra 3 T33 (4 x Cortex A9)

Apple A5X (2 x Cortex A9, PowerVR SGX 543MP4)

1GHz Apple A5 (2 x Cortex A9, PowerVR SGX543MP2)
Processor (4G LTE) 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 (2 x Krait)

Apple A5X (2 x Cortex A9, PowerVR SGX 543MP4)

1GHz Apple A5 (2 x Cortex A9, PowerVR SGX543MP2)
Connectivity WiFi , Optional 4G LTE WiFi , Optional 4G LTE WiFi , Optional 3G
Memory 1GB 1GB 512MB
Storage 16GB - 64GB 16GB - 64GB 16GB
Battery 25Whr 42.5Whr 25Whr
Pricing $599 - $799 est $499 - $829 $399, $529

Driving the new display is Apple's A5X SoC. Apple hasn't been too specific about what's inside the A5X other than to say it features "quad-core graphics". Upon further prodding Apple did confirm that there are two CPU cores inside the SoC. It's safe to assume that there are still a pair of Cortex A9s in the A5X but now paired with a PowerVR SGX543MP4 instead of the 543MP2 used in the iPad 2. The chart below gives us an indication of the performance Apple expects to see from the A5X's GPU vs what's in the A5:

Apple ran the PowerVR SGX 543MP2 in its A5 SoC at around 250MHz, which puts it at 16 GFLOPS of peak theoretical compute horsepower. NVIDIA claims the GPU in Tegra 3 is clocked higher than Tegra 2, which was around 300MHz. In practice, Tegra 3 GPU clocks range from 333MHz on the low end for smartphones and reach as high as 500MHz on the high end for tablets. If we assume a 333MHz GPU clock in Tegra 3, that puts NVIDIA at roughly 8 GFLOPS, which rationalizes the 2x advantage Apple claims in the chart above. The real world performance gap isn't anywhere near that large of course - particularly if you run on a device with a ~500MHz GPU clock (12 GFLOPS):

GLBenchmark 2.1.1 - Egypt - Offscreen (720p)

GLBenchmark 2.1.1's Egypt offscreen test pegs the PowerVR SGX 543MP2 advantage at just over 30%, at least at 1280 x 720. Based on the raw FP numbers for a 500MHz Tegra 3 GPU vs. a 250MHz PowerVR SGX 543MP2, around a 30% performance advantage is what you'd expect from a mostly compute limited workload. It's possible that the gap could grow at higher resolutions or with a different workload. For example, look at the older GLBenchmark PRO results and you will see a 2x gap in graphics performance:

GLBenchmark 2.1.1 - PRO - Offscreen (720p)

For most real world gaming workloads I do believe that the A5 is faster than Tegra 3, but the advantage is unlikely to be 2x at non-retinadisplay resolutions. The same applies to the A5X vs. Tegra 3 comparison. I fully expect there to be a significant performance gap at the same resolution, but I doubt it is 4x in a game.

Mobile SoC GPU Comparison
  Apple A4 Apple A5 Apple A5X Tegra 3 (max) Tegra 3 (min) Intel Z2580
GPU PowerVR SGX 535 PowerVR SGX 543MP2 PowerVR SGX 543MP4 GeForce GeForce PowerVR SGX 544MP2
MADs per Clock 4 32 64 12 12 32
Clock Speed 250MHz 250MHz 250MHz 500MHz 333MHz 533MHz
Peak Compute 2.0 GFLOPS 16.0 GFLOPS 32.0 GFLOPS 12.0 GFLOPS 8.0 GFLOPS 34.1 GFLOPS

The A5X doubles GPU execution resources compared to the A5. Imagination Technologies' PowerVR SGX 543 is modular - you can expand by simply increasing "core" count. Apple tells us all we need to know about clock speed in the chart above: with 2x the execution resources and 2x the performance of the A5, Apple hasn't changed the GPU clock of the A5X.

Assuming perfect scaling, I'd expect around a 2x performance gain over Tegra 3 in GLBenchmark (Egypt) at 720p. Again, not 4x but at the same time, hardly insignificant. It can take multiple generations of GPUs to deliver that sort of a performance advantage at a similar price point. Granted Apple has no problems eating the cost of a larger, more expensive die, but that doesn't change the fact that the GPU advantage Apple will hold thanks to the A5X is generational.

I'd also point out that the theoretical GPU performance of the A5X is identical to what Intel is promising with its Atom Z2580 SoC. Apple arrives there with four SGX 543 cores, while Intel gets there with two SGX 544 cores running at ~2x the frequency (533MHz vs. 250MHz).

With the new iPad's Retina Display delivering 4x the pixels of the iPad 2, a 2x increase in GPU horsepower isn't enough to maintain performance. If you remember back to our iPad 2 review however, the PowerVR SGX 543MP2 used in it was largely overkill for the 1024 x 768 display. It's likely that a 4x increase in GPU horsepower wasn't necessary to deliver a similar experience on games. Also keep in mind that memory bandwidth limitations will keep many titles from running at the new iPad's native resolution. Remember that we need huge GPUs with 100s of GB/s of memory bandwidth to deliver a high frame rate on 3 - 4MP PC displays. I'd expect many games to render at lower resolutions and possibly scale up to fit the panel.

What About the Display?

Performance specs aside, the iPad's Retina Display does look amazing. The 1024 x 768 panel in the older models was simply getting long in the tooth and the Retina Display ensures Apple won't need to increase screen resolution for a very long time. Apple also increased color gamut by 44% with the panel, but the increase in resolution alone is worth the upgrade for anyone who spends a lot of time reading on their iPad. The photos below give you an idea of just how sharp text and graphics are on the new display compared to its predecessor (iPad 2, left vs. new iPad, right):

The improvement is dramatic in these macro shots but I do believe that it's just as significant in normal use. 

Apple continues to invest heavily in the aspects of its devices that users interact with the most frequently. Spending a significant amount of money on the display makes a lot of sense. Kudos to Apple for pushing the industry forward here. The only downside is supply of these greater-than-HD panels is apparently very limited as a result of Apple buying up most of the production from as many as three different panel vendors. It will be a while before we see Android tablets with comparable resolutions, although we will see 1920 x 1200 Android tablets shipping in this half.

The CPU & More
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  • name99 - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Buy yourself a copy of GoodReader NOW!

    Most of what I read on my iPad is technical PDFs, and GoodReader does a good job of allowing you to define crop margins so that the relevant text covers the entire page. For PDFs targeting A4 or US Letter it works really well.

    I assume you are currently reading PDFs in iBooks? That's garbage --- iBooks is pure crap when it comes to handling PDFs. Not to mention, GoodReader also does a much better job of allowing you to file a large number of PDFs in a hierarchical system.
  • Michiel - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Why do you think serious readers exclude serous gamers, mailers, twitters, facebookers, bloggers, movie-fans, TV watchers, musicians, photographers, students, etc, etc...

    Oh, by the way; The Kindle excludes all of them.

    If you want to mock the iPad, think first !
  • Michiel - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Are so clever or am i a retard ?

    Why in the name of whatever is it so damn hard to figure out what the purpose is of an iPad ?

    I'll go to the store on my bike.
    Wait ! A motorbike is better.
    Wait ! A car is better.
    Wait ! A Ferrari is better.
    Wait ! Give me an airplane.
    Wait ! Give me a 747.

    Is it so hard to see things in perspective ?
  • Lucian Armasu - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    If the CPU hasn't changed and the GPU doesn't even compensate for the increase in resolution, can you really say that iPad 3 is faster than iPad 2, then? Somehow I think it isn't, and even if it was, as you said, some apps and games that worked on iPad 2, will not work on iPad 3 with the new resolution (only if they keep the old one).

    As for Windows 8 tablets, to do that you'd need the x86 version of Windows 8. As far as I know Atom doesn't support such high resolutions, so it will not be competitive with high-end ARM chips - unless you're really thinking of using Ivy Bridge Core i3-i7 chips in your $1000+ tablet. Not to mention that the graphics performance will be terrible even then, and you'd need an even bigger battery than the one in iPad 3, just to have half the battery life.

    So far I still still Android as the only one that can seamlessly work between a tablet and a laptop form factor, although it does need a few more improvements to allow for a more "desktop-like" feel when in laptop mode (even though Windows 8 is wrongly going in the opposite direction).
  • vision33r - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    This is why Apple sold over 100mil iPads because it's target towards people who don't want to be stuck behind a PC or a notebook.

    Avg folks just need a web pad for viewing sports scores, lottery numbers, news, read a few books, and play a nifty game.

    They don't need a quad core i7 CPU overclocked and 1TB of disk space.

    iPad sells because the buyer does not want to understand specs.

    Specs is the reason Android tablets won't succeed. It is killing the Android tablet market as more vendors will bail as profits are so razor thin and depreciation is fast and high.

    When you Android folks only look at paper specs, 90% of Android tabs are already out dated in 3-4 months as you guys would only buy the highest paper specs.

    Zero incentive for a vendor to push out a high quality tablet if the margins are so thin.
  • Icehawk - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    I totally agree as both a tech guy and an iPad owner - I use my PC for most "computing" tasks but I use the iPad for reading, looking something up quickly in front of my TV, and casual gaming - and for that specs don't matter just how it works. I passed on the iPad2 waiting for the resolution bump the iPad has desperately needed along with increased memory - IME RAM and poor coding are why the majority of apps that crash do so.

    I'm curious whether app size will increase significantly due to higher rez resources?
  • gorash - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Android tablets don't sell because Honeycomb is a temporary OS. With Honeycomb and Jelly Bean they should do well.
  • WaltFrench - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    When I look at the apps that *I* see people using on the iPad (in coffee shops, airplanes, bart, friends' homes…), essentially NONE are maxing the GPU, and CPUs are maxed only on occasion.

    That's cuz I don't bump into gamers. But the sales figures say iPad users are buying lots of games, so that's the only likely reason for the GPU upgrade: to support hi-res gaming, which was already no slouch on the iPad versus other tablets. Game devs can chip in, but with relatively little fragmentation of the iPad line (accentuated by the fair assumption that the really hardcore types will immediately upgrade to the iPad3), developers have a pretty easy target to optimize for. Should result in extremely playable, very good-looking games.

    Operations such as surfing, which spend relatively little time rendering text or elementary graphics, won't be bottlenecked by speed, either.

    The new GPU power seems to be exploited very nicely in the iMovie and iPhoto apps. Here, the transformations are applied to the whole photo image, while only a relatively low-res screen view needs updating. Since the number of pixels on the screen is not the limiting factor, the net transformation should be quite a bit faster (assuming it's actually done in real time, as opposed to a series of filter codes stored with the base image).

    Already, iMovie was a killer app on the iPad2; the only Android app I saw was hopelessly buggy and with the level of Android tablet sales that have happened in 2 years, there's exactly zero developer incentive to tweak for all the CPU/GPU variations. Again, Apple is extending its lead in quality of user experience.
  • doobydoo - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    'If the CPU hasn't changed and the GPU doesn't even compensate for the increase in resolution, can you really say that iPad 3 is faster than iPad 2, then?'

    Arguably, yes. Is 100 fps at 10 x 10 better than 60 fps at 2000 x 1000? No.

    You have to take resolution into account when assessing speed. Also, bear in mind that the iPad 2 was not 'too slow' - it ran games at a perfect 60 FPS since games were designed to run on it. The iPad 3 therefore doesn't have to be 'faster' in raw FPS terms, its aim, clearly, was to increase the gaming quality without sacrificing performance.

    I also disagree that the GPU necessarily doesn't compensate for the increase in resolution. Despite what Anand says in this article, FPS does not reduce proportionally with resolution, so it may well be that the MP4 compensates for the increase in resolution perfectly well.

    'some apps and games that worked on iPad 2, will not work on iPad 3 with the new resolution'

    I suspect this is simply wrong. Either the iPad 3 will have been tested with some mainstream old apps to test, or it may retain the ability to process games at the old resolution and upscale. Giving the best of both worlds to developers, better quality, or better performance. Or both.

    'So far I still still Android as the only one that can seamlessly work between a tablet and a laptop form factor'

    The problem is that the Android tablets are nowhere near as polished or as high performance, with lower resolution screens and slower hardware. Using onlive for the iPad you can get a complete desktop experience - not that that's what most people who buy tablets are looking for.
  • JK6959 - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    The upgrade in GPU was to push the 4x increase in pixels at a useable speed, but the cost of more GPU and Resolution seems to be a large fall in effective battery life per WHr. Given they can't chunk up the phone for a fat battery and the doubling of GPU power would be wasted I cant see the benefit of putting this into the phone.

    If they increases screen to 3.7-4.0 inches and use the old iPad resolution to maintain retina DPI and some overlap of ipad/iphone resolution, the old A5 would still have more power than needed. For example a Full HD gaming laptop may get a GTX 560 in it, but you're not going to put that in a 1024x600 netbook as it is simply too much

    Apple have shown they're willing to delay until a product is ready, I think they'll get something more efficient in the next iPhone and that being more than just a die shrink or increasing GPU cores. I hope for A15 28nm, like TI have shown only 800mhz is needed for a fast performance

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