GPU Analysis/Performance

Section by Anand Shimpi

Understanding the A6's GPU architecture is a walk in the park compared to what we had to do to get a high level understanding of Swift. The die photos give us a clear indication of the number of GPU cores and the width of the memory interface, while the performance and timing of release fill in the rest of the blanks. Apple has not abandoned driving GPU performance on its smartphones and increased the GPU compute horsepower by 2x. Rather than double up GPU core count, Apple adds a third PowerVR SGX 543 core and runs the three at a higher frequency than in the A5. The result is roughly the same graphics horsepower as the four-core PowerVR SGX 543MP4 in Apple's A5X, but with a smaller die footprint.

As a recap, Imagination Technologies' PowerVR SGX543 GPU core features four USSE2 pipes. Each pipe has a 4-way vector ALU that can crank out 4 multiply-adds per clock, which works out to be 16 MADs per clock or 32 FLOPS. Imagination lets the customer stick multiple 543 cores together, which scales compute performance linearly.

SoC die size however dictates memory interface width, and it's clear that the A6 is significantly smaller in that department than the A5X, which is where we see the only tradeoff in GPU performance: the A6 maintains a 64-bit LPDDR2 interface compared to the 128-bit LPDDR2 interface in the A5X. The tradeoff makes sense given that the A5X has to drive 4.3x the number of pixels that the A6 has to drive in the iPhone 5. At high resolutions, GPU performance quickly becomes memory bandwidth bound. Fortunately for iPhone 5 users, the A6's 64-bit LPDDR2 interface is a good match for the comparatively low 1136 x 640 display resolution. The end result is 3D performance that looks a lot like the new iPad, but in a phone:

Mobile SoC GPU Comparison
  Adreno 225 PowerVR SGX 540 PowerVR SGX 543MP2 PowerVR SGX 543MP3 PowerVR SGX 543MP4 Mali-400 MP4 Tegra 3
# of SIMDs 8 4 8 12 16 4 + 1 12
MADs per SIMD 4 2 4 4 4 4 / 2 1
Total MADs 32 8 32 48 64 18 12

We ran through the full GLBenchmark 2.5 suite to get a good idea of GPU performance. The results below are largely unchanged from our iPhone 5 Performance Preview, with the addition of the Motorola RAZR i and RAZR M. I also re-ran the iPad results on iOS 6, although I didn't see major changes there.

We'll start out with the raw theoretical numbers beginning with fill rate:

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Fill Test

The iPhone 5 nips at the heels of the 3rd generation iPad here, at 1.65GTexels/s. The performance advantage over the iPhone 4S is more than double, and even the Galaxy S 3 can't come close.

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Fill Test (Offscreen 1080p)

Triangle throughput is similarly strong:

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Triangle Texture Test

Take resolution into account and the iPhone 5 is actually faster than the new iPad, but normalize for resolution using GLBenchmark's offscreen mode and the A5X and A6 look identical:

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Triangle Texture Test (Offscreen 1080p)

The fragment lit texture test does very well on the iPhone 5, once again when you take into account the much lower resolution of the 5's display performance is significantly better than on the iPad:

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Triangle Texture Test - Fragment Lit

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Triangle Texture Test - Fragment Lit (Offscreen 1080p)

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Triangle Texture Test - Vertex Lit

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Triangle Texture Test - Vertex Lit (Offscreen 1080p)

The next set of results are the gameplay simulation tests, which attempt to give you an idea of what game performance based on Kishonti's engine would look like. These tests tend to be compute monsters, so they'll make a great stress test for the iPhone 5's new GPU:

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt HD

Egypt HD was the great equalizer when we first met it, but the iPhone 5 does very well here. The biggest surprise however is just how well the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro with Adreno 320 GPU does by comparison. LG's Optimus G, a device Brian flew to Seoul, South Korea to benchmark, is hot on the heels of the new iPhone.

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt HD (Offscreen 1080p)

When we run everything at 1080p the iPhone 5 looks a lot like the new iPad, and is about 2x the performance of the Galaxy S 3. Here, LG's Optimus G actually outperforms the iPhone 5! It looks like Qualcomm's Adreno 320 is quite competent in a phone. Note just how bad Intel's Atom Z2460 is, the PowerVR SGX 540 is simply unacceptable for a modern high-end SoC. I hope Intel's slow warming up to integrating fast GPUs on die doesn't plague its mobile SoC lineup for much longer.

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt Classic

The Egypt classic tests are much lighter workloads and are likely a good indication of the type of performance you can expect from many games today available on the app store. At its native resolution, the iPhone 5 has no problems hitting the 60 fps vsync limit.

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt Classic (Offscreen 1080p)

Remove vsync, render at 1080p and you see what the GPUs can really do. Here the iPhone 5 pulls ahead of the Adreno 320 based LG Optimus G and even slightly ahead of the new iPad.

Once again, looking at GLBenchmark's on-screen and offscreen Egypt tests we can get a good idea of how the iPhone 5 measures up to Apple's claims of 2x the GPU performance of the iPhone 4S:

Removing the clearly vsync limited result from the on-screen Egypt Classic test, the iPhone 5 performs about 2.26x the speed of the 4S. If we include that result in the average you're still looking at a 1.95x average. As we've seen in the past, these gains don't typically translate into dramatically higher frame rates in games, but games with better visual quality instead.

General Purpose Performance Increased Dynamic Range: Understanding the Power Profile of Modern SoCs


View All Comments

  • Calista - Sunday, October 21, 2012 - link

    English is not my native language (as I'm sure you have noticed) and so the flow in the language is far from flawless. But I still believe my opinions are valid and that the review was too long-winded. Reply
  • Teknobug - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    I live in a big city and I don't know a single person that went and got the iPhone 5, most are happy with the iPhone 4 or whatever phone they're using, I don't see what's so great about the iPhone 5 other than it being built better than the iPhone 4's double sided glass structure (I've seen people drop their's on the train or sidewalk and it shattering on both sides!).

    And what now? iPad mini? I thought Apple wasn't interested in the 6-7" tablet market, Steve Jobs said 9" is small enough. I know Apple tried a 6" tablet a decade ago but the market wasn't read for it back then.
  • name99 - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    You know what AnandTech REALLY needs now?
    A comment moderation system like Ars Technica, so that low-content comments and commenters (like the above) can be suppressed.

    Teknobug is a PERFECT example of Ars' Troll Type #1: "Son of the "I don't even own a TV" guy: "

    This is the poster who thinks other people will find it interesting that he cares nothing about their discussion or their interests, and in fact judges himself as somehow morally superior as a result. The morphology of this on Ars Technica includes people popping into threads about Windows 8 to proclaim how they will never use Windows, people popping into threads about iOS 6 to proclaim that they never have and never will buy an Apple product, and people popping into Android related threads and claiming that they will never purchase "crappy plastic phones." In these cases, the posters have failed to understand that no one really cares what their personal disposition is on something, if they have nothing to add to the discussion.
  • ratte - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    yeah, my thoughts exactly. Reply
  • worldbfree4me - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    I finished reading the review a few moments ago. Kudos again for a very thorough review, however I do a have a few questions and points that I would like to ask and make.

    Am I wrong to say, Great Job on Apple finally catching up to the Android Pack in terms of overall performance? The GS3, HTC X debuted about 6 months ago yes?

    Have these benchmark scores from the competing phones been updated to reflect the latest OS updates from GOOG such as OS 4.1.X aka Jelly Bean?

    Clearly the LG Optimus G is a preview of the Nexus 4,complete with a modern GPU In Adreno 320 and 2GB ram. I think based on history, the Nexus 4 will again serve as a foundation for all future Androids to follow. But again, good Job on Apple finally catching up to Android with the caveat being, iOS only has to push its performance to a 4inch screen akin to a 1080p LCD monitor verses a true gamers 1440p LCD Home PC setup. Ciao
  • Zinthar - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - link

    Caught up and passed, actually (if you were actually reading the review). As far as graphics are concerned, no smartphone has yet to eclipse the 4S's 543MP2 other than, of course, the iPhone 5.

    I have no idea what you're going on about with the Adreno 320, because that only gets graphics performance up to about the level of the PowerVR SGX 543MP2. Please see Anand's preview:
  • yottabit - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    Anand, as a Mech-E, I think somewhere the anodization facts in this article got very wonky

    I didn't have time to read thoroughly but I saw something about the anodized layer equaling half the material thickness? The idea of having half a millimeter anodized is way off the mark

    Typically there are two types of anodizing I use: regular, and "hard coat anodize" which is much more expensive

    If the iPhone is scuffing then it's definitely using regular anodizing, and the thickness of that layer is likely much less than .001" or one thousandth of an inch. More on the order of a ten-thousandth of an inch, actually. The thickness of traditional anodizing is so negligible that in fact most engineers don't even need to compensate for it when designing parts.

    Hard-coat anodize is a much more expensive process and can only result in a few darker colors, whereas normal anodizing has a pretty wide spectrum. Hard-coat thicknesses can be substantial, in the range of .001" to .003". This usually must be compensated for in the design process. Hard coat anodize results in a much flatter looking finish than typical anodize, and is also pretty much immune to scratches of any sort.

    Aluminum oxide is actually a ceramic which is harder than steel. So having a sufficient thickness of anodize can pretty much guarantee it won't be scratched under normal operating conditions. However it's much cheaper and allows more colors to do a "regular" anodize

    When I heard about scuffgate I immediately thought one solution would be to have a hardcoat anodize, but it would probably be cost prohibitive, and would alter the appearance significantly
  • guy007 - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    A little late to the party with the review, the iPhone 6 is almost out now... Reply
  • jameskatt - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    Anand is pessimistic about Apple's ability to keep creating its own CPUs every year. But realize that the top two smartphone manufacturers (Apple and Samsung) are CRUSHING the competition. And BOTH create their own CPUs.

    Apple has ALWAYS created custom chips for its computers - except for a few years when Steve Jobs accidentally let their chip engineers go when they switched to Intel and Intel's motherboard designs.

    Apple SAVES a lot of money by designing its own chips because it doesn't have to pay the 3rd party profit on each chip.

    Apple PREVENTS Samsung from spying on its chip designs and giving the data to its own chip division to add to its own designs. This is a HUGE win given Samsung's copycat mentality.

    Apple can now always be a step ahead of the competition by designing its own chips. Realize that others will create copies of the ARM A15. But only Apple can greatly improve on the design. Apple, for example, greatly improved the memory subsystem on its own ARM chips. This is a huge weakness on otherARM chips. Apple can now custom design the power control as well - prolonging battery life even more. Etc. etc.
  • phillyry - Sunday, October 21, 2012 - link

    Good points re: copycat and profit margin savings.

    I've always been baffled by the fact that Apple outsources their part manufacturing to the competition. I know that Samsung is a huge OEM player but they are stealing Apple's ideas. They are doing a very good job of it and now improving on those ideas and techs, which is good for the consumer but still seems completely illogical to me from Apple's perspective. Must be the 20/20 hindsight kicking in again.

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