GPU Performance

The A12 SoC in the iPhone XSs showcased some fantastic results with some extremely high scores. We expect the iPhone XR to perform just as well – the only unknown factor here is the thermal designs of the two phones.

The iPhone XR actually differs quite a lot in this regard to its XS siblings: The iPhone XS and XS Max employ a “sandwiched PCB” motherboard design, in which the SoC lies between two substrates. While I don’t have empirical data on this, I just have to assume that such a design is not helpful for actually dissipating heat away from the SoC to the body of the phone.

iPhone XS vs. iPhone XR PCBs (Images Courtesy iFixit)

The iPhone XR on the other hand employs more of a traditional single PCB design, such as found in past iPhone models. The SoC here is found inside an EM shield facing towards the screen assembly. I was always questioning this a design as well because theoretically there should be a slight air gap between it and the display backplane which could hinder heat transfer. Also because the SoC is facing towards the display, it also doesn’t make direct contact with the aluminium frame of the phone. As Apple’s SoC’s become ever more power hungry at their peak performance states, it is weird to see that Apple hasn’t been any more aggressive in their thermal dissipation solutions as say what we now commonly see from some higher-end Android counter-parts.

3DMark Sling Shot 3.1 Extreme Unlimited - Physics

Starting off with the physics subtest, which is mainly a CPU test within a (GPU) thermally constrained scenario, we see the iPhone XR perform nearly equally to the iPhone XS, showcasing some very good sustained performance near the peak levels of the SoC.

3DMark Sling Shot 3.1 Extreme Unlimited - Graphics 

The graphics subtest of 3DMark also doesn’t seem to drastically differ from the iPhone XS. This was one of the tests that caused problems for the XS variants as it would cause the phones to crash the GPU at peak performance, only able to complete the test when the phones were warmer and throttled more. I re-tested the XS and did manage to somehow complete a run at a higher peak performance state, however my iPhone XS Max still managed to crash with the same behaviour as back in October.

Moving onto the GFXBench suite, starting off with the two variants of the new Aztec sub-test, which represents a more modern 3D workloads:

GFXBench Aztec Ruins - High - Vulkan/Metal - Off-screen GFXBench Aztec Ruins - Normal - Vulkan/Metal - Off-screen

The iPhone XR performed extremely well in these two tests, however we do note that there’s a difference in the peak performance showcased by the XR and the XS variants: It seems that Apple might be running the GPU at a slightly lower frequency here. This would match the slight difference in the peak 3DMark graphics score as well, and could be the reason why the iPhone XR didn’t crash in the same way the XS did.

GFXBench Manhattan 3.1 Off-screen GFXBench T-Rex 2.7 Off-screen

In the Manhattan 3.1 and T-Rex offscreen tests we see similar behaviour: the peak performance of the XR is slightly lower than that of the XS phones, however the sustained scores are higher.

One of the reason we use off-screen scores in our benchmark suite is that it allows for an apples-to-apples workload comparison across all devices. While in most cases this is a good and representative scenario for what you might expect from the thermals in actual games, this actually doesn’t seem to apply for the iPhone XR:

Because of the relatively low screen resolution on the part of the XR’s display – a sub-FHD 1792×828 – I’ve had a lot of trouble actually getting workloads to push the A12's GPU to its peak frequencies in on-screen scenarios. This causes an interesting dilemma for the iPhone XR: It has absolutely abundant GPU performance that won’t be used any-time soon. As game developers on iOS will be targeting and tuning their workloads to run smoothly on the most demanding devices of a generation, it means that games will most likely be setting their baseline as the higher-end iPhone XS Max, which has to push over twice the pixel resolution. The net result is that for any given 60fps graphics workload, the iPhone XR will run cooler and with a longer battery life than what you would experience on the XS or XS Max.

If gaming and gaming performance (and battery efficiency) is important for you, then the iPhone XR is definitely the phone to get. Not only does it deliver class-leading performance, but it also will be quite future proof in terms of performance thanks to the lower-resolution display.

System Performance Display Measurement
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • shabby - Wednesday, February 6, 2019 - link

    Typical iPhone user, you give them an identical phone but in a different color and they'll say it's faster, smoother and lighter.
  • Byte - Wednesday, February 6, 2019 - link

    My friend finally upgraded from his original 6 to an XR after his camera died. He says the 6 feels faster. Go figure.
  • 808Hilo - Thursday, February 7, 2019 - link

    The same new phone now newer. Waiting will cost you.
    Cook really has no new ideas but that's not what the church of apple is all about. Tithe one tenth of your income for the promise of salvation.

    @shabby you summed it up. Its a psychiatrical condition.
  • Azethoth - Tuesday, February 12, 2019 - link

    Typical Android user. Just admit that Apple has the faster CPU and GPU on a smartphone and move on. Just don't lecture us about how superior you are because 5 or 6 hundred of you "customize" your phones.
  • cha0z_ - Monday, February 11, 2019 - link

    More likely it has to do with the screen itself (the panels are different after all, albeit both designed around the same tech and pixels density).
  • Samus - Saturday, February 9, 2019 - link

    The huge advantage of keeping this phone with an LCD (particularly one lacking 3D Touch) is the repair/replacement cost is a fraction of the OLED screens. There are no decent 3rd party OLED screens from any phone vendors in my experience so your either stuck with new OEM screens (which Apple doesn’t sell to end users) or harvested screens from used phones.

    At last glance Apple charges $300 for an Xs and $350 for an Xs Max screen. That’s double that of the 8 series and nearly double that of the Xr.

    And that’s from Apple. Considering the simplicity in manufacturing and repairing LCD screens, especially those without 3D Touch, you can find quality screens from 3rd parties for under $100 and do it yourself in 30 minutes with a screwdriver and a hair dryer.

    Since 50% of smartphone users have reported breaking their phone screens AT LEAST ONCE at some point, this is a huge boon to the Xr’s long term investment cost.
  • zodiacfml - Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - link

    But plenty people like to show off that they have an expensive phone, hence, the value of the iPhone X despite the existence of the new XR.
  • shouterreview - Wednesday, February 6, 2019 - link

    I am XR user too, I love iPhone 7. But I have some display issue. How to solve it?
  • Lolimaster - Thursday, February 7, 2019 - link

    The resolution is just craptastic vs a 5.8" S9 where you can have TRUE 1080p RGB AMOLED when going 1080p in the options down from 1440 pentile mode.
  • star-affinity - Thursday, February 7, 2019 - link

    I have trouble seeing why a ”TRUE 1080p” display is so important on such a small device as an Iphone XR. I think the resolution is just fine. Black levels are more of a concern to me since the backlight of the LCD makes black slightly greyish compared to an OLED display.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now