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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  • cootang2 - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    display technology and apple?? this display designed, developed, manufactured from other company. What apple did for this display is buying.
  • stsk - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    And what "company" would that be? Please educate yourself about how contracted manufacturing works before proclaiming your ignorance. If Foxconn assembles for a variety of different manufacturers, none of which have similar design, does that make them all Foxconn devices? No, it doesn't. Most observers believe at least 3 separate manufacturers make displays for the new iPad. (and one of which apparently couldn't successfully get sufficient yield from emerging technology to stay in the game.) Apple designed the device, spec'd the parts, contracted the assembly. If you can find another product with a similar display, buy it. Otherwise, STFU.
  • ZeDestructor - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Page 2 (CPU) "768MB would imply 512MB on one channel and 128MB on the other, delivering peak performance for apps and data in the first 512MB but lower performance for the upper 128MB"

    512MB + 128MB = 640MB. I think you meant to put in 256MB.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Fixed, thanks -- saw that as well when I was reading. :)
  • quiksilvr - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Anothing thing worth mentioning is that those Tegra 3 numbers come from a lower end Tegra 3 on HONEYCOMB and not ICE CREAM SANDWICH. So please make sure when the eventual battle occurs between the Asus Transformer Infinity 700 and iPad 3 that this is addressed.
  • jjj - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    I would rather see a tablet with a sane screen and such a large battery ,would be way more useful.
    There is no reason to use this SoC in the next iPhone,would be pointless to add such a GPU and the vanilla A5 would be a better fit, so chances are we'll see a new one .
    The biggest drain on the battery should be the display's LEDs since it likely requires 2x also the extra bulk could be due to the screen being thicker,there was a lot of space to fit a bigger battery so i doubt the battery is thicker.

    In the first table for the new ipad baseband you added the CPU/GPU instead of the Qualcomm chip used.
  • ZeDestructor - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Not any more than the iPad or iPad 2. Anand is correct here to talk about LTE. Radios do consume a fair bit of power when stressed. Especially with regards to data.
  • jjj - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    nm about the first table supposed error,i guess for some reason that row is for the LTE model SoC not the baseband.
  • Snowshredder102 - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    I tend to disagree, if you're going to be spending hours looking at something it better look good. The resolution is incredible just being a tad bit under the iPhones PPI. Insane battery life on these tablets aren't an issue with Apple, the battery life is already pretty good. Most people spend time around areas where they have access to a charger being at work, in their car, at home. I think the performance increase far outweighs a larger battery.
  • zanon - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Thanks for the summary, it was thorough and covers everything that can be done until physical units are available for tear-down and benchmarking. It sounds like the iPad 3 is a good example of practicality in engineering. As you say, Apple has put a great deal of emphasis on a few key user-facing elements, but was willing to make a few sacrifices against the optimal in places in order to hit reasonable volume, price, and timelines. Or in other words, "Real artists ship". It would be nice if full 28nm for all chips, A15/A7 big.LITTLE and so on were ready now, but that's the tech world I guess, always something new just on the horizon. Have to draw the line somewhere.

    Apple does seem to be falling behind a bit in iOS UI paradigms. Beyond side-loading, I continue to think that the single biggest core flaw/missing feature in iOS is a replacement for the file system, a new and updated data interaction and interchange UI. So far rather then address that Apple has just gone with "nothing", and other attempts seem to just be giving up and using the traditional filesystem in one form or another, but there's a big opportunity there to push things forward and it's key to actually making these devices real computer replacements IMO.

    Thanks again for this. I only had one minor quibble:
    >"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."
    I think that's only a downside if the panels would have been available at the same time anyway. Often though Apple has gotten these deals by effectively fronting part or all of the immense amount of capital needed to get new factories and manufacturing lines online, which effectively brings forward when the stuff can get produced in volume anyway. Relatively quickly (6-12 months seems to be common) production will ramp up and exclusivity will expire, and everyone will have it all. Doesn't seem any different then if no one had accelerated things in the first place, except that a few get it earlier.

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