Six Generations of iPhones: Performance Compared

Section by Anand Shimpi

Cross platform smartphone benchmarks are interesting, but they do come with their own sets of issues. Before we get to that analysis however, let's look at how the iPhone's performance has improved over the past six generations. Luckily Brian has a set of all of the iPhones so he was able to run a few tests on all of the devices, each running the latest supported OS.

We'll start with SunSpider 0.9.1, our trusty javascript performance test:

iPhone SunSpider 0.9.1 Performance

The transition from iPhone to iPhone 3G shows you just how much additional performance you can squeeze out of simply a software change. There's likely even more that could be squeezed out of that ARM11 platform, unfortunately newer versions of Safari/iOS aren't supported on the iPhone 3G so we're left with a runtime that's around 37x the length of a single run on the iPhone 5.

The rest of the devices support and run iOS 6, so we're at least on a level software playing field. The performance boost from one generation to the next is quite significant still. Going by this chart alone, the best balance of minimal upgrades and maximum perceived improvement would be from the original iPhone to the 3GS then again from the 3GS to the 5.

iPhone BrowserMark Performance

The BrowserMark results tell a similar story. The jump from the ARM11 based iPhone/iPhone 3G to the 3GS running iOS 6 is huge. Both the 4S and 5 offer doublings in performance, albeit for different reasons. The 4S delivered a doubling thanks to a doubling of core count and a move to the Cortex A9, while the iPhone 5 doubled performance through a much higher clock speed and microarchitectural improvements.

Finally we have Geekbench 2, which only runs on the iOS 6 supported devices so we say goodbye to the original iPhone and iPhone 3G:

iPhone Geekbench 2 Performance

None of the jumps looks as dramatic as the move to the iPhone 5, but we already know why. The Swift CPU architecture does a great job improving memory performance, which shows up quite nicely in a lot of the Geekbench 2 subtests.

On the PC side we often talk about 20% performance improvements from one generation to the next being significant. It's clear that the mobile SoC space is still operating along a hyper Moore's Law curve. The rate of progress will eventually slow down, but I don't see that happening for at least another couple generations. The move to ARM's Cortex A15 will be met with another increase in performance (and a similarly large set of power challenges), and whatever comes next will push smartphones into a completely new category of performance.

Apple's Swift: Pipeline Depth & Memory Latency General Purpose Performance
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  • grkhetan - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    You dont "need iTunes" per se to use the iPhone any more. However, it is required if you sync music. However, I use iTunes Match -- so I dont need to use iTunes sync for anything... However I need to use iTunes to upload my music to the iTunes Match servers but thats it. I am happy to say with iCloud and iTunes Match -- "syncing" my iPhone is something that is no longer required at all. Reply
  • Touche - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    One doesn't need iTunes, except one does...however, you don't, however you need it...but happily, you don't require it at all, except you do.

    Hmm...
    Reply
  • grkhetan - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    Touche, iTunes is not required to use the phone if you dont need music/videos using the default player. (You could play them from streaming services like Spotify/Pandora, etc or store it in dropbox).

    But if you need to play music using the default music player -- you need to use iTunes to sync the music over. BUT if you use iTunes Match, then you dont need to use "iTunes sync", but you need iTunes to upload the music to iTunes Match servers. This itself is not painful at all in my opinion -- the main burden with iTunes was the "sync"
    Reply
  • phillyry - Sunday, October 21, 2012 - link

    I'm sorry but I'm going to have to agree with Touché here.

    Please don't backtrack/double back to justify the fact that you do in fact need iTunes on an iPhone and need to sync it. Wired or wireless it's still a sync - it just goes through iCloud when done wirelessly.

    Lets not confound the matters of whether the use of an iPhone is pleasant or not with whether you need to use the generally unpleasant iTunes sync. Apple's lockdown on sync methods sucks for the users freedom of access to their own device but, despite that, the device is still great to use.
    Reply
  • ThreeDee912 - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    Basically, if you want to put your own media on your iPhone, you'll need iTunes to sync or upload with iTunes Match.

    You can do everything else on the phone itself.
    Reply
  • darkcrayon - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    No, you don't need iTunes to put media on your iPhone. You do need it to put media in the stock Music or Videos app. If you don't want to use those there are many apps that let you supply your own music via wifi copy to the iPhone or by downloading them directly from the web if you have such a source.

    I don't have any issue with iTunes though so I just use that.
    Reply
  • steven75 - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    Funny, I know people who have switched the other way and are hugely relieved to be free of the bloatware, nervous anticipation of "will my phone ever get updated?", and crappy plastic hardware.

    In summary, anecdotes are fun and enjoy what ya got.
    Reply
  • KPOM - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - link

    Don't let the door hit you on the way out. Also, don't complain when Samsung decides your phone is "too old" for the latest update. I resisted the iPhone as long as I could. I even had a Nexus One for over 18 months. But once Google decided that its former flagship, which was released 6 months after the iPhone 3GS, was 'too old" to get any OS after Gingerbread (which it got about 3 months after Gingerbread devices came out) I decided I could no longer put up with Google's tactics. Plus, it's nice no longer giving away all my personal information to Google just for the privilege of using their bloated copycat OS. Reply
  • Spunjji - Friday, October 19, 2012 - link

    No. Now you're giving it to Apple for the privelege of using their bloated copycat OS instead.

    Seriously, I was following you write up until your final crock-of-shit statement. All smartphone operating systems use your data, and they all borrow from each other.
    Reply
  • Leyawiin - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    "POOF!"

    Hate the commercials, but that guy makes me laugh.
    Reply

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