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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  • mykebrian - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - link

    is motorola razr i same price with iphone 5? Reply
  • Death666Angel - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - link

    "By controlling its own SoC destiny it could achieve a level of vertical integration that no OEM has enjoyed in recent history."
    I would argue that Samsung enjoys a similar level of vertical integration. They trade the OS-stuff for some fabs. Not sure which can be more profitable. But other than that, they are very much like Apple in terms of vertical smartphone integration I think. :)
    Reply
  • iwod - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - link

    Any Reason Why Front Camera not using High Profile When Recording Video? It could have saved yet another bit of space with MUCH better quality then baseline.

    And do Apple offically support play back of H.264 High Profile Video Clip yet?
    Reply
  • Spunjji - Friday, October 19, 2012 - link

    I very much appreciated the details on the SoC design. Your attempts to refine your battery life analysis were also appreciated, as these do seem to better reflect real-world usage. In general this article was well-researched, well-written and very informative.

    Unfortunately, the section on the anodization process does end up reading like one big apology. The matter is explained in detail but it's done with an air of resignation, as if this were the only option available to Apple. The fact is that they could have retained some additional girth (whilst still losing some) and had a device with good handling, good aesthetics and superior durability. No comparison to competing devices is made whatsoever, so we have no idea based on your article alone if this really is unavoidable or just poor choice of materials.

    The same goes for the part about the camera flare. Is a short comparison with a few relevant models too much to ask? The problem is that (like the previous criticism) I already know how this comes out and it doesn't look very good for Apple.

    So there are hundreds of hours spent testing comparative performance and battery life where Apple win, yet no time at all dedicated to comparative analysis where they do not look so good. That starts to look upsettingly like bias. I hope that isn't the case but based on other areas (notebook reviews in particular) it starts to feel like a theme.

    Anandtech, as a site I love your tech journalism, but the personal preferences of the writers need to stay at home (or firmly in editorials).
    Reply
  • Slaanesh - Friday, October 19, 2012 - link

    Couldn't agree more. Reply
  • Krysto - Friday, October 19, 2012 - link

    I have to agree. Through out the article, you almost got the impression of worship from the writers, and they've only focused on what Apple did right and how much better that was than their competitors.

    And what's with all the going back to history of Apple's devices? Was that really necessary for a phone review? Should we expect this for all new iPhones...or for all new Galaxy S devices? I think that part alone shows bias.

    And was 50 page review (or whatever it is) really necessary and to wait a month and a half after the product launch? The reason I'm asking is because I know they will never repeat this for any other non-Apple product. But I also think it's kind of pointless, and reviews need to appear max 1 week after the product launches. Maybe two. More than that is really pointless, and it's already obvious in the review that half of it is about how awesome Apple were in the past and still are, and only the other half goes down to the analysis.
    Reply
  • dyc4ha - Saturday, October 20, 2012 - link

    +1 Reply
  • Klugfan - Friday, October 19, 2012 - link

    Does everyone remember Edward Tufte's complaints about the iPhone 4 design?

    If I wasn't concerned about impact on the antenna performance, I'd be tempted to take some fine grit sandpaper to my black iPhone 5, and round off the edges a little. Believe it.

    If your biggest concern about phones _really_ is resale value, well the iPhone 5 will do fine, with or without scuffs. If your biggest concern about brain phones is what they look like to other people who see you using them, well, first you're an idiot, and second the iPhone 5 really will do fine there, with or without scuffs.

    Does my phone make me look smug? Whatever shall I do.
    Reply
  • Hxx - Friday, October 19, 2012 - link

    got this phone close to release day and I'm throughly impressed with it. Coming from a droid incredible 2 who crapped out on me 10 months after purchase (the memory slot broke and lost all my pics, videos etc - not fun) I gotta say this is my first interaction with an iOS powered device and so far i love it. I think most Apple products are overpriced (hence the reason why i never got one) but this phone is a beauty for $199 given that i paid almost just as much 1 year ago for my droid phone. A huge thank you to Anandtech for providing such detailed review. Although i may never need as much detail about a phone :-), its nice to know i can always rely on you guys if I ever have any technical questions.
    Good job Guys!
    Reply
  • ol1bit - Friday, October 19, 2012 - link

    As always, Anandtech gets into the details I didn't even know I wanted to read about!

    I'm not an apple product owner, and never plan to be, but it really appears to be a great phone.

    Keep up the good work!
    Reply

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