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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  • solipsism - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    The reason you typically not state something is because it's not favourable but it's hard to imagine it's lower. After all we are talking about a 70% larger battery with no display or active system resources being used in standby mode.

    I hope AT or someone tests this but obviously this will take a very long time.
    Reply
  • joelypolly - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    Might take a few weeks to get the results. Idle standby (radio & wifi off) on the iPhone 4 I had was around 14 days. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    I'm not Apple fan (own no product and would advise my family and friends to go with other brands 90% of the time). But if I had the spare change for a toy like this, I'd totally buy an iPad 3 over the Android competitors. As it stands now, I don't have the money (need better graphics cards when the 28nm generation is fully launched to support my new 27" display) and so I will wait a few years until such a device can replace my subnotbook. I'll be interested to see if it will be running Android, iOS or Windows. :-) Reply
  • berma001 - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    any chance flash will be viewable on new ipad? Reply
  • vision33r - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Flash is dead, Adobe already stopped development. You can still use it on Android but they won't do any new releases with new features. Reply
  • WaltFrench - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    hahahahaha.

    Yeah, for apps that a developer converts to Air.

    Adobe announced that they were NOT porting Flash to any new mobile platforms. And it's still Copyright © Adobe, Inc., so even if Apple had an ahem, “change of heart,” they still couldn't.

    There are now something like a billion mobile devices that can't view Flash. Smartphone sales outpaced PC sales last year, and with tablets (uhh, iPads) growing explosively into the notebook space, they are likely to outpace PCs in a year or two, also. Windows on ARM ain't gonna support it either.

    In other words, websites that rely exclusively on Flash are soon to be unwatchable on the majority of web-accessing devices. The smart ones see that coming. Those that cater to people running Flash games or even (gasp!) work-related videos on their desktop office computers have a bit more time become they, too, watch page views go to zero.
    Reply
  • Michiel - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    People who wait for Flash on a tablet, iPad, make me sad somehow.

    It started as Macromedia Flash about 150 years ago. Back than it was just as bad as it is now.

    Hurray for the death of Flash ! Long live HTML-5 and thank you so much Apple for helping Flash out of its misery !
    Reply
  • doobydoo - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    If you're desperate for flash, try Skyfire, iSwifter, or Onlive, all of which offer flash on iPad. Reply
  • flyguy29 - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    more power new form factor Reply
  • xype - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    "It's clear to me that Apple is trying to move the iPad closer to the MacBook Air in its product line, but it's unclear to me whether (or when) we'll see convergence there."

    Uhm, can you elaborate on that? How is that "clear" in any way? Because both use aluminium and are thin while also sporting a display?

    If anything, Apple has been very vocal about their thinking that these are two very different kinds of devices—they even call it PC vs Post-PC. Do you think that’s just marketing? That it’s not actually how they feel about it?

    This feels a bit like an argument from someone who would _want_ the devices to all be the same, ultimately converging into a PC-like experience again. I don’t think that’s really going to happen with Apple, at least not in a big way like Microsoft is attempting. Sure, they’ll port some of iOS to OS X and vice versa, but I don’t think they consider merging the two at least for a couple of years, still.

    Microsoft is the first doing it (and hats off to them, the Metro UI is a very bold step), but they were the first doing tablets, too, remember?
    Reply

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