The CPU and its Performance

I keep mentioning that the iPhone 3GS is faster than its predecessor, but these numbers speak louder than anything I can write:

Application Launch Time Apple iPhone 3G (3.0) Apple iPhone 3GS (3.0)
Star Defense 54.4 s 22.9 s
Sims 3 28.0 s 9.5 s
Resident Evil 32.0 s 22.5 s
Messaging App 4.66 s 1.97 s
Mail App 2.31 s 0.85 s
Search for "Man" 4.0 s 1.91 s
App Store 7.2 s 3.7 s
Power On Test 39.7 s 25.0 s
iPhone 3GS Advantage over iPhone 3G   95%


This is a generational improvement in performance folks. The new 3GS is, at worst, only 42% faster than the iPhone 3G. At best? Nearly 200% faster. Apple was right to abandon the aging ARM11 core used in the iPhone 3G in favor of the Cortex A8 in the 3GS. I also wonder if any of these performance gains are helped by using faster NAND flash in the 3GS. It wouldn't be enough to account for all of the performance boost, but perhaps 5 - 10%.

WiFi and 3G web page rendering speed is also a lot faster on the 3GS:

3G Apple iPhone (3.0) Apple iPhone 3G (3.0) Apple iPhone 3GS (3.0) Palm Pre (1.03) 41.0 s 24.2 s 14.0 s 17.0 s 34.4 s 18.2 s 9.6 s 13.5 s 84.3 s 58.3 s 19.8 s 23.0 s 67.1 s 35.1 s 18.5 s 22.1 s 75.2 s 47.2 s 19.9 s 24.9 s 44.5 s 25.2 s 13.6 s 12.5 s 75.7 s 28.8 s 22.2 s 25.2 s 103.4 s 46.3 s 15.4 s 26.8 s


I re-ran all of my web browsing performance tests on all of the phones to provide the most accurate comparison. I ran the Palm Pre data before the 1.04 OS release came out but apparently that update didn't improve browsing performance so I wouldn't expect much difference there.

The 3GS makes everything faster, including web browsing over the 3G network. Just to be clear, I used the full site versions of all of these web pages - I did not use any mobile or iPhone optimized sites in the timing. I tried to perform all of the tests at the same time to eliminate any network strangeness. Each test was performed three times and I reported the average.

The 3GS is nearly 300% faster than the original iPhone in browsing over the cellular network. Here the 3GS looks to be around 114% faster than the iPhone 3G - definitely worth the upgrade if you do a lot of browsing on your phone. The iPhone 3GS ended up 24% faster than the Palm Pre, but I suspect that most of that is due to performance differences between Sprint and AT&T at my house.

It is important to realize what we're talking about here. These phones, particularly ones that are using old ARM11 based SoCs, are CPU bound while loading web pages. Even while browsing over a relatively slow < 1Mbps cellular network, the CPU still ends up being a significant bottleneck to web page rendering performance. Compare that to how things work on the desktop - when was the last time you felt your PC was too slow to browse the web? The Cortex A8 is a huge step forward here, and once again, there's no excuse for putting any ARM11 in a high end smartphone today.

Let's remove more bottlenecks and see how big of a difference the CPU alone makes, the following tests were performed over WiFi:

WiFi Apple iPhone 3G (3.0) Apple iPhone 3GS (3.0) Palm Pre (1.03) 13.3 s 8.8 s 10.1 s 12.8 s 8.2 s 8.2 s 35.8 s 15.1 s 11.6 s 27.8 s 17.3 s 21.3 s 36.1 s 17.5 s 16.3 s 17.1 s 11.6 s 7.8 s 21.7 s 12.2 s 12.4 s 29.3 s 10.5 s 22.1 s


Remove the cellular bottleneck and things mostly stay the same between iPhones. The new 3GS is nearly 100% faster than the old 3G (and iPhone original). The major change comes from the comparison to the Palm Pre. The 3GS is now only 8% faster than the Pre, a significant improvement from the earlier releases of webOS. I do firmly believe that Palm has much room to improve performance on its device to bring it up to speed compared to the 3GS. It's running very similar hardware to the iPhone 3GS, there's no reason for it to feel so much slower.

Let me take this opportunity to also chastise HTC for using the Qualcomm MSM7200A in the new Hero smartphone. Here we have yet another Android OS phone using a horrendously old ARM11 based CPU, it’s just unacceptable. The table above shows you how much more performance is on the table if you move to Cortex A8. I’m still waiting for a handset maker to do Android justice and pair it with a truly robust hardware platform.

More Detail on ARM11 vs. Cortex A8 The GPU and its Performance
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  • lightzout - Saturday, July 11, 2009 - link

    My wife actually offered to give me her 3g if she got the the 3gs but I didnt think it was worth it. She asked me this morning how it was better and I didnt know (didnt admit it of course)

    Now I want her 3G "free" and she really does need the 3gs since since is always multitasking/social/, including aim.

    I thought the 3gs would have some radical new gps stuff but the compass is not impressive. Nothing to get me geeked on to the tune of $200. For my purposes having the older iphone would make travel and remodeling job estimating easier over my tattered razr.

    My media mogul mamacita however needs that sleek new 3gs like yesterday as every gripe she has about the 3g phone seems to have been addressed somehow.

    Great write-up!

    Only regret is when I saw the new screen and sleek size of the 3gs at the apple store a couple days ago it does screem "arent I beautiful?" but that is what apple does so well right?
  • MrBowmore - Saturday, July 11, 2009 - link

    Give the magic, or hero another chance!
    Your numbers for those phones are whacked, its faster than the 3G at alot of things. Try to kill all the backgroundapps. (yes, it multitasks)
  • RadnorHarkonnen - Friday, July 10, 2009 - link

    Very good analisys.

    I was just surprised ARM CPUs still made on 90nm and 65nm. With the performance and power saving 55nm and 45 nm processes i would imagine they would jump the bandwagon fast.
  • nubie - Thursday, July 9, 2009 - link

    Some people can't drop $600 in a lump or $2600 over 3 years on something as stupid as a cellphone. No matter what it can do.

    Besides the fact that Apple is killing all support for proper hardware acceleration and access to OpenGL 2.0, whatever.

    Can we get more Android and G1 coverage? Please?
  • psonice - Friday, July 10, 2009 - link

    Like the guy above said, you buy a phone, you either pay a lot upfront, or you get it with a contract. Either way you'll still need to pay a ton of money each month to for your voice and data. You could get a cheap phone that only makes calls and costs almost nothing, but that's not the same is it?

    And what's this about apple not supporting hardware acceleration / opengl es 2.0??? Almost everything in the gui is hardware accelerated. And there's very good opengl es 1.1/2.0 support in the sdk, hence the ton of hardware accelerated games. There may not be much supporting es2.0 yet, but that's because the first 2.0 capable device has only just been released.
  • Affectionate-Bed-980 - Friday, July 10, 2009 - link

    You know what? The cost is:

    $199 up front
    $70 / year * 24 months
    = $1680 + $199

    But let's face it, most of you already have cell phones. A quick look at a WinMo phone like the HTC Touch Pro is $70 / month too at minimum ($39.99 voice + $30 data. Same with a Blackberry.


    So if $1880 is too much for you, don't get a cell phone period.

    Stop complaining. The iPhone is actually pretty damn cheap. You're locked in a contract, but even if you had another phone WHY WOULD YOU GO DATALESS?
  • araczynski - Thursday, July 9, 2009 - link

    i'll care about the iphone/ipod when they start sporting VGA screens. if my digital camera can have a 3" 640x480 display, so should these overpriced toys.
  • psonice - Friday, July 10, 2009 - link

    Higher res screens look pretty, but 640x480 needs 2x more power to fill than 480x320. The screen is more than acceptable already, so I'd take faster running apps/games and longer battery life over more pixels any day.
  • Kougar - Thursday, July 9, 2009 - link

    Thanks for the informative crash course in CPU instructions, that filled in some gaps I didn't understand. It's nice to now understand how some aspects of the design fit into or affect the rest of the design.

    Unfortunately, you've only drummed up the excitement factor for Intel's Sandy Bridge... from some general info that's been around and based on what you've given it sound like the potential is very much there for some very significant performance jumps. So much for Gulftown's allure!
  • christinme7890 - Thursday, July 9, 2009 - link

    I love the attention to detail when describing the CPUs and the graphics processor and stuff. Very cool. I hate that other people are dissing the iphone hardware. If you don't like Macs rules get a pre. Plain and simple. I for one support these people that want to sell their apps for a good price and are trying to make it big in the dev world. Kudos and I will buy your apps.

    I will be honest, I am sick of the multitasking argument. You do hit on a point that needs to be addressed imho by Apple and that is that there is no good app for chatting. I really think that Apple needs to include their own IM App that stays on in the background (if you want it to) and collects all your SMS, MMS, IM, facebook, Twitter, etc messages. This would be great. While it would be great I recognize that this would totally sap the power on the iphone. If you had all this info push to your phone, the servers would be constantly sending you messages every second. As for multitasking, I don't really care to have it. There are areas where I wish I had it but it is not necessary. Not to mention that the palm pre has a horrible battery life...plain horrible. I hear people talk like they need 3 backup batteries just to get through the day.

    I have noticed myself that the compass is a little sketchy. There was a time on 07/04 that a friend and I were lost in the city walking around and we used my maps app to find where we are and I tried to get the compass to work to make reading the map easy and it wouldn't work. The map wouldn't rotate and it was frustrating. Oh well.

    Your review of the camera was spot on. It will never replace my uber camera but when I am out and about doing whatever it does great for quick and easy pics. And the movie functions are awesome as well. Now if only you could cut out middle pieces of a movie. Hopefully soon.

    I love the speed of the 3gs. I notice, not tested but notice, a large speed increase and I absolutely love it.

    The one major place the 3GS has over the pre is the App store. No company has been able to implement an app store like Apple. I get all my multimedia from one source (itunes) which is great....Movies, podcasts, video, audio, apps, etc...all in one place is the best thing that apple has done in forever. I will not argue prices or app submission ethics because I truly believe that apple keeps the People as their top priority.

    Great article.

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