Final Words: Preparing for 3GS

As I mentioned earlier, the Palm Pre uses a similar combination of hardware to what I expect from the iPhone 3GS. TI’s OMAP 3430 combines a Cortex A8 CPU core with a PowerVR SGX 530 GPU. The difference is that while the Pre uses its excess horsepower to enable user-level application multitasking, Apple won’t be. The Pre is most definitely faster than the iPhone, but it still has some rough edges. Combine the power of the Pre with the highly optimized software stack of the iPhone and you’ve got the recipe of an extremely fast iPhone. While I’ve yet to play with one, on paper, the 3GS should be every bit as fast as the videos make it seem.

The iPhone 3GS' performance upgrades should make the phone feel a lot faster, but the real improvement will be what it enables application and game developers to do. Apple recently hired two former AMD/ATI CTOs, presumably to work on some very graphics-centric projects. The iPhone 3GS may be a mild upgrade from a consumer perspective, but what it's going to enable is far from it; watch out Nintendo. Remember the performance gains we saw in the early days of 3D graphics on the PC? We're about to go through all of that once more in the mobile space. Awesome.

Looking toward the future, there’s always more around the corner. There’s the Cortex A9 which brings multiple cores to the table, and the PowerVR SGX engine can be scaled up simply by adding more USSE pipes to the architecture. Newer manufacturing processes will enable bringing these technologies to life without any decrease in battery power.

It’s curious to me how central ARM and Imagination Technologies are to these smartphones. On the PC side it’s all about Intel, AMD and NVIDIA but when we’re talking Pres and iPhones it’s all ARM and PowerVR. Intel wants to bring Atom down to ARM power consumption levels and NVIDIA desperately searches for treasure in the mobile market, but those two are the underdogs in this race. For the foreseeable future at least.

There you have my take on the iPhone 3GS’ hardware. If Apple would just get their pre-ordering system working right I might not even have to camp out this year...

The iPhone Becomes a Gaming Platform: Enter the PowerVR SGX


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  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Wednesday, June 10, 2009 - link

    In addition to the ARM11 core, I believe the GPU side of tegra does use too much power for something like the iPhone. I can't find detailed specs for NVIDIA's low end Tegra, but Wikipedia lists ~4W for the higher end model - that's simply too much. We need to see values in the mW range.

    Take care,
  • peccavi - Wednesday, June 10, 2009 - link

    From what I gathered, Apple is increasing support for iPhone peripherals. Could this allow for a controller / docking cradle for the iPhone? Imagine 4 buttons and a couple of directional pads on either end of the phone in landscape mode. Would make for a great little gaming unit. Reply
  • eburnette - Wednesday, June 10, 2009 - link

    One thing that wasn't clear from the article is how certain are you about the information? Is it just speculation at this point until somebody gets one and tears it down? Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Wednesday, June 10, 2009 - link

    I'm very certain. The info comes from sources very close to the licensees for both the CPU and GPU. Without hardware in hand it's impossible to be 100% sure, but what Apple has implied lines up well with what I've been told.

    The ~2x gains in app performance would only come from a faster processor. Apple's options there are to either use a much higher clocked ARM11 or move to the Cortex A8. You can't get 2x out of a 200MHz speed boost to an ARM11 core, so that leaves the A8.

    The graphics side I'm also very sure about, although I can't post why :)

    Take care,
  • psychobriggsy - Wednesday, June 10, 2009 - link

    Thanks for confirming the rumours.

    I think you should point out that the CPU and GPU are actually on the same die, indeed everything apart from the RAM will be on that die. Some parts of the article imply that the CPU and GPU simply share the package, but could be separate dies.

    A little sad that the GPU is the SGX520 - the lowest end, but it's still so much better than the MBX it doesn't matter. Shame you can't snaffle a die shot from Samsung ;) maybe the graphics are by comparison quite large, even considering the A8 with L2 cache.

    The crypto co-processor that's been added is certainly being used, as hardware crypto was mentioned in the keynote. That will aid iPhone SSL web browsing speed I'd hope.

    Also the A9 is out-of-order, so comparable to a Nano, as the A8 is comparable to Atom and the ARM11 is comparable to a very fast 486.
  • Simon F - Wednesday, June 10, 2009 - link

    [quote]Paired with this CPU is a PowerVR MBX-Lite GPU core. This GPU, like the CPU, is built on a 90nm process and is quite simple. The GPU does support hardware transform and lighting but it’s fully fixed function, think of it as a DirectX 6/7 class GPU (Riva TNT2/GeForce 256).[/quote]

    This is not strictly correct. IIRC the MBX model in the iPhone has a programmable vertex shader that exceeds DX8. The pixel pipeline, though, is fixed function. Having said this, I'm not sure if the programmable aspects of the vertex shader are exposed in the iPhone interface.
  • faxon - Wednesday, June 10, 2009 - link

    i have by and large stayed away from apple my entire life, but given their recent innovation on the consumer devices front and their virtual monopoly on the high capacity music players market with the ipod, i have been keeping them on my radar none the less. when a family member picked up an iphone3G when we switched to AT&T for our wireless service, i was actually rather impressed at simply how much better it was than the blackjack 2 i picked up, at just about everything. the only complaint i had was in its texting performance, but with a cloned SIM card i could get around that simply by pulling out my blackjack 2 instead. I have been looking at getting an iphone since i use my phone for mobile browsing excessively, and even using opera the blackjack 2 doesnt come close in ease of use compared to the old iphone on edge. with the new 3Gs also supporting picture texting (a requirement of my GF) i may just look into this if i get the promotion im gaming for by the end of the summer. Reply
  • sxr7171 - Wednesday, June 10, 2009 - link

    I avoided the iPhone for so long and I even bought one to jailbreak and play with, but it wasn't until OS 3.0 that it became my daily phone. The Exchange support on it beats most other smartphones. Reply
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, June 10, 2009 - link

    I'd say high capacity music players are the only segment of mp3 players where the Ipods are not dominant. The only high capacity models are the classic/video ones, which don't seem to be that popular and don't appear to have been upgraded nearly as recently as the touch and nano. Reply
  • Dennis Travis - Wednesday, June 10, 2009 - link

    Anand, thanks so much for your preview. I can't wait for your review after you get a hold of the phone. I am really interested in battery life. During the keynote I thought they said something about a new battery and that was why more battery life. I guess we will soon know for sure.

    Thanks again!

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