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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  • steven75 - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    Yes when you see actual usage stats (website hits, etc), it's quite clear that the majority of iPhone owners use their phone as a smartphone and the majority of Android owner use their phone as a replacement for their dumbphone. In other words, Android is the new dumbphone for whatever reason.

    Also it's been TWO YEARS since the original iPad cam out, and still Android fans say Android tablets are "eventually" going to overtake iPads in sales.

    Didn't happen so far and there are no signs of that changing anytime soon. There still are barely any Antroid tablet apps!
  • iSayuSay - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    I don't have problems with competition. In fact, competition is what makes iOS and Android being progressive as fast as they are today.

    Like I said earlier, I'm aware that Apple needs suppliers, and Samsung is one of them.

    But I really hate the way company like Samsung compete with Apple. No, I'm not talking about copying, it's an old story. But let's just see

    After the new iPad announced last week and turns out it has 2048x1536 resolution (and ready to sell it of course), oh yes Samsung come with another bluff that they will release (it's still prototype of course) another tablet with 2560x1600.. REALLY?

    I thought Android has made 16:9 aspect ratio as standard for their tablet? Why go with 16:10? I know why! Because Samsung want to make things just bigger than iPad, 2560x1440 (16:9) ratio will be perceived that horizontal lines still worse than iPad (1536 vs. 1440). Samsung want everything LOOKS bigger than Apple, albeit it does not always better.

    Company like Samsung is so ambitious about taking down Apple, they don't think that much anymore in terms of ergonomic, a careful design choice and comfortability, NO. As long as it looks bigger/more powerful than iToys, they'll sell it and boast it around. LOOK, our Galaxy Note or S2 have bigger screen, and it has 720p! nothing like a small/inferior iPhone. REALLY? Their design will make it to the market as long as it makes iToys looks puny (while the fact is it still sell extremely well no matter what Samsung do), other design considerations are not really that important.
  • doobydoo - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    'But how on Earth is that better for customers? '

    He didn't say it was. 'Straw man'!!! lol

    I do agree with you that it's better for customers to keep Samsung and others trying to compete with Apple - but the original post never said anything which contradicts this.

    iOS to Android is not 1 to 3, either. It's about 3:5 (iOS has 30% ish, Android has 48.6%). Google even admits it gets more search revenue from iOS users, and the iOS app store is many times more profitable than Android.
  • doobydoo - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    Nice Apple-hating, dude?

    And good addressing of the points made.

    The obvious fact is that Apple is way ahead of both Samsung and Asus. The response is always 'but a new device out in x months will compete' - the point is that's too late. Everyone else is playing catchup right now.
  • Penti - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    Won't happen, Apple uses off the shelf parts. The same parts as any one else, the tech does allow you to create a 9.7" 2048x1536 display, just like they did that resolution on the same tech in lower end/last gen older fabs ten years ago at 15" laptops. It's a standard resolution, one normally supported by CRT monitors and VGA-cards via the analog connections. At least since we had 300MHz RAMDAC. Which ends you up back in the 90's. Much higher then our current resolutions won't be supported on laptops though, so you can forget about 2880x1800 resolution on Macbooks (the is no reason to go 4 times the resolution here, laptops hasn't been stuck at a specific resolution and held back for that matter) as the integrated Intel graphics won't have the bandwidth to drive that resolution at 60Hz (or above) and GCN is the first architecture that has the bandwidth to drive 4k displays over DP/HDMI or anything over 2560x1600 @ 60Hz for that matter. You will need enough LVDS, TMDS or Displayport bandwidth to transmit a resolution like that as well as video card support. Others have showed up a range of other resolutions up to 1920x1200 because that's what is out in the supplychain or what they custom order, they of course has other considerations then to market it as as much pixels the eye can see. While Apple was intentionally not upgrading it's 1024x768 display others where doing 1280x800 way down to 7.7" on the same display tech, planning on going 1920x1200 on displays that is far less prototypes then the devices showing them, but major product updates and releases won't come at any time, so you would have to wait until they replace their top products. Just as you would have to wait for Apples release cycle to put out new stuff. Of course Apple uses parts from these companies that is "babbling", like displays, memories, NAND-storage, batteries, SSDs, harddrives, gpus, wireless hardware, mobile graphics vendors and so on. The PowerVR SGX 543MP4(+) is already out in consumer products like PS Vita for example.

    Samsung is one of the major manufacturers of these new iPad LCD-panels. It's Samsung's, LG Display's or Sharp's own tech.
  • vFunct - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    It's entirely possible for Apple to add an ARM cpu to a Macbook Air and allow for iOS operations to happen in a separate window.

    Actually, this could be a function of the monitor itself.
  • tipoo - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Intels own SoCs can use binary compatibility for any ARM apps, so two chips would be unnecessary. They could do it for power savings though with an instant on iOS mode or something, but I doubt they would since they already worked on instant on with SSDs.
  • macs - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    The sad part is that probably we won't see an A15 iPhone for the next 18 months...
  • tipoo - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    Cortex A15 wasn't due for another year anyways.
  • Subzero0000 - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Does it really look that bad ?

    'cus I tried really hard looking at my iPad 2 screen and the Safari icon looks nothing like the image on this article.
    Maybe it's a good thing that I can't tell the difference...

    Texts are a bit blurry, that's true though.

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