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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  • 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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