General Purpose Performance

Section by Anand Shimpi

Apple's philosophy on increasing iPhone performance is sort of a mix between what Microsoft is doing with Windows Phone 7/8 and what the high-end Android smartphone makers have been doing. On the software side Apple does as much as possible to ensure its devices feel fast, although I notice a clear tendency for newer iOS releases to pretty much require the latest iPhone hardware in order to maintain that speedy feel over the long haul. When it comes to hardware, Apple behaves very much like a high-end Android smartphone vendor by putting the absolute fastest silicon on the market in each generation of iPhone. The main difference here is that Apple controls both the software stack and silicon, so it's able to deliver a fairly well bundled package each year. It's a costly operation to run, one that is enabled by Apple's very high profit margins. Ironically enough, if Apple's competitors would significantly undercut Apple (it doesn't cost $599 - $799 to build a modern smartphone) I don't know that the formula would be able to work for Apple in the long run (Apple needs high margins to pay for OS, software and silicon development, all of which are internalized by Apple and none of which burden most of its competitors).

Good cross platform benchmarks still don't really exist on smartphones these days. We're left describing experience with words and trying to quantify performance differences using web based benchmarks, neither of which is ideal but both of which will have to do for now. The iPhone 5 experience compared to the 4S is best explained as just being snappier. Apps launch faster, scrolling around iOS Maps is smoother, web pages take less time to load and the occasional CPU/ISP bound task (e.g. HDR image processing) is significantly quicker. If you're the type of person who appreciates improvements in response time, the iPhone 5 delivers.

How does it compare to the current crop of high-end Android smartphones? I would say that the 5 generally brings CPU performance up to par with the latest and greatest in the Android camp, and in some cases surprasses them slightly. It's difficult making cross platform comparisons because of huge differences in the OSes as well as separating out tasks that are CPU bound from those that simply benefit from a higher rendered frame rate.

I took a cross section of various web based benchmarks and looked at their performance to help quantify where the iPhone 5 stands in the world. First up are the RIABench focus tests, these are javascript benchmarks that focus on various compute bound tasks. I used Chrome for all Android devices to put their best foot forward.

RIABench Focus-tests

This first test shows just how slow the 800MHz Cortex A9s in the iPhone 4S were compared to the latest and greatest from Qualcomm and NVIDIA. At roughly half the clock speed of those competitors, the 4S was just much slower at compute bound tasks. Apple was able to mask as much of that as possible with smooth UI rendering performance, but there was obviously room for improvement. The iPhone 5 delivers just that. It modernizes the iPhone's performance and inches ahead of the Tegra 3/Snapdragon S4 platforms. Only Intel's Atom Z2460 in the Motorola RAZR i is able to outperform it.

Next up is Kraken, a seriously heavy javascript benchmark built by Mozilla. Kraken focuses on forward looking applications that are potentially too slow to run in modern browsers today. The result is much longer run times than anything we've seen thus far, and a very CPU heavy benchmark:

Mozilla Kraken Benchmark

The standings don't change much here. The iPhone 4S is left in the dust by the iPhone 5, which steps ahead of the latest NVIDIA/Qualcomm based Android devices. The Apple advantage here is just over 10%. Once again, Intel's Atom Z2460 pulls ahead with the clear lead.

In our iPhone 5 Performance Preview we looked at Google's V8 javascript test as an alternative to SunSpider. The more data points the merrier:

Google V8 Benchmark - Version 7

Here the iPhone 5 manages to hold onto its second place position, but just barely. Once more, the Atom based RAZR i maintains the performance lead.

Google's Octane benchmark includes all 8 of the V8 tests but adds 5 new ones including a PDF reader, 3D bullet physics engine and portable 3D game console emulator all built in javascript.

Google Octane Benchmark v1

The 5 pulls ahead of the HTC One X here and maintains a healthy 31% lead, but once again falls short of the RAZR i.

We of course included our SunSpider and BrowserMark tests, both of which show the iPhone 5 very favorably:

SunSpider Javascript Benchmark 0.9.1 - Stock Browser

BrowserMark

Performance obviously depends on workload, but it's clear the iPhone 5 is a big step forward from the 4S and tends to outperform the latest ARM based Android smartphones. As the rest of the ARM based SoC players move to Cortex A15 designs they should be able to deliver faster devices in the first half of 2013.

Intel's current position when it comes to CPU performance is interesting. A move to a dual-core design could be enough to remain performance competitive with 2013 ARM based SoCs. Remembering that Atom is a 5 year old CPU core that performs at the level of a 10 year old mainstream notebook CPU puts all of this progress in perspective. Intel's biggest issue going forward (other than getting Atom into more tier 1 phone designs) is going to be improving GPU performance. Luckily it seems as if it has the roadmap to do just that with the Atom Z2580.

Six Generations of iPhones: Performance Compared GPU Analysis/Performance
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  • TrackSmart - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    Shouldn't the battery life on the Verizon Galaxy SIII with LTE be higher than shown? That result bunches up with the 3G scores rather than the LTE scores. I wonder if the "LTE" listing is a typo.

    It's also a bit surprising how much of a difference the connection speed makes (3G vs 4G LTE) for the battery life tests. Are you guys really testing differences in power efficiency under typical use? Or have you, inadvertently, created a strange test of air interface throughput/watt - which would vary based on signal strength and network speed, but not based on the main device power draw under typical browsing (i.e. screen + intermittent CPU usage spikes).

    I would have guessed that that screen power draw would be the largest cause for differences between handsets, not the air interfaces on the new devices, now that LTE is no longer a power hog.
    Reply
  • phillyry - Sunday, October 21, 2012 - link

    If it's anything like the Telus GS3 up here in Canada than it's not likely a typo. My brother has it and it tanks so bad on LTE that he keeps it turned off. Same thing with NFC btw. Two major selling features of the GS3 that went down the tubes in reality. Reply
  • Skidmarks - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    I've got to hand it to Apple, if nothing else they sure know to market their rubbish. Reply
  • Freakie - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    I haven't seen the 5 in person, but every time I see a picture of the front of it, I swear its design echos Samsung devices quite a bit. If any light hits it directly then it looks off-black, at least in the pictures, to the point of looking like Samsung's Pebble Blue color back when it was a bit darker (Samsung Impression).

    They got rid of the band around the phone and just have a slanted surface which when looking at pictures taken 8 inches away from the phone, has it's sharp "edges" that it slants to become one smooth transition. Reminds me a lot of the GSII's front.

    Now I'm not a fan of any design litigations going either way, but I've never seen a Samsung device echo the looks of Apple's devices quite as much as the iPhone 5 echos a number of Samsung's design flairs that they've been using for a while.

    Just my two cents xP
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    Are you kidding me. Look at how much the original; Samsung Galaxy copies the iPhone 3G. Same with the Galaxy SII.

    See for yourself

    3G versus SGI

    https://encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:AN...

    and 4S versus SGII

    http://www.gizmowatch.com/entry/comparing-mights-i...
    Reply
  • medi01 - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    Wow, SGII and 4S have the same screen ratio, you shameless iScum... Reply
  • Freakie - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    Oh I never said that Samsung hasn't produced a phone similar to an iPhone, though your second picture is pretty ridiculous (that's the SGI not SGII) which came out several months before the 4. Not only that but the picture its self is most definitely shot/edited in a way to make them as similar as possible.

    My complaint is just Apple doing something very different than normal, and echoing someone else for a change. Usually they seem to go for something different than the rest and the iPhone 5 most definitely does not come anywhere near that.
    Reply
  • steven75 - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    This is probably the most silly comment I've read among any iPhone reviews. iPhones have always been similar overall since the revolution if 2007 and now you are seriously making the claim this looks more like a Samsung device?

    /smh
    Reply
  • MNSoils - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    Apple has an interesting story here and your group did a wonderful job telling it.

    On the 2 graph of the "Increased Dynamic Range" page, the idle power for the Tegra 3 SOC after finishing the Kraken benchmark seems awfully high for just the companion core. Does more time have to elapse before Android reverts to the companion core? Is the companion core not that power efficient (power-gated, etc.)? Does Android revert to the companion core?
    Reply
  • colonelclaw - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    Thanks for a terrific article. It's just a shame that about 75% of the comments will be by people who either love the device or hate it, and nothing in this carefully researched and written appraisal will make them change their minds either way.

    How did we get to this? Actually, don't answer, that would turn into an irrelevant pissing match too.
    Reply

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