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Apple claims that the iPad 3 is "four times faster than Tegra 3"... does that claim hold up?

Apple, Inc. (AAPL), as usual, astounded the world with its latest product launch.  The company who made tablets a hot commodity a week ago pulled the wraps off its third generation tablet.  Featuring a high-definition "Retina" screen from LG Electronics Inc. (KS:066570) and an LTE modem, the new tablet kicked off a crazed frenzy of pre-orders.  

I. Same Results, Different CPU

Apple now has stated it will be out of stock of the popular tablet for several weeks, following the sales of its small-quantity of in-store stock. So what are buyers getting?  Well the first benchmarks have leaked out from Vietnamese forums site, and, if accurate, the picture is not as rosy as some fans had hoped.  

Using the Benchmark from GeekBench that measures integer, floating point performance, stream processing, and memory, the tester reveals that the computing power on the unspecified 1.0 GHz ARMv7 instruction set purported A5X dual-core CPU remains unchanged.

GeekBench iPad 3

[Source: Tienhte]

II. Better Graphics

The results would hint that when Apple said that its system-on-a-chip was "four times faster than Tegra 3", it was referring to the graphics processing unit, not the ARM central-processing unit. The GPU core is expected to be a quad-core variant of Kings Langley, UK-based Imagination Technologies Plc's (LON:IMG) PowerVR SGX543MP2, dubbed the SGX543MP4.

The SGX543MP4 is expected to pack a theoretical 134 MPolygon/s and 4 GPixel/s fill rate.  AnandTech's benchmarking of the iPad 2 vs. NVIDIA Corp.'s (NVDA) Tegra in GPU-centric GLBenchmark showed the last generation iPad to be anywhere from 30 to 80 percent faster than Tegra 3 in different benchmarks, versus Apple's claim that it was twice as fast.  Thus it could be expected that the new core in some cases would be 2x as fast as Tegra 3, or perhaps a bit better.

Given that Tegra 3 has a higher clock, perhaps it would be fair to say that to some extent in clock-per-clock Apple's GPU could be close to legitimately delivering 4x performance speed-up vs. Tegra 3, which is quite impressive (but again, the credit here goes first to Imagination Technologies for making the GPU, and second to Apple for securing the stock).

iPad 2 v. Tegra
[Source: Anandtech]

III. Rivals Prepare Counterstrike

NVIDIA is reportedly rushing its Tegra 4 counterpunch to market.  Named "Wayne", in honor of the DC Comics' fictional billionaire Bruce Wayne (aka Batman), NVIDIA's fourth gen. system-on-a-chip will be built on Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Comp., Ltd.'s (TPE:2330new 28 nm process.  

Tegra 4 will pack a significantly increased core count and faster clock speeds, but NVIDIA hopes to keep power consumption and die size low, thanks to the die shrink and new circuit technologies.

A modified Tegra 4, code-named "Grey", after the iconic Jean Grey of X-Men fame, is packing an on-die 4G LTE radio from Icera Inc.  The shipping date has been accelerated to an earlier 2012 release, but is unclear whether designs sporting the chips will appear in time for the holidays.

"Grey" will be followed by a chip code-named after her at times flame "Logan" (aka "Wolverine").  Logan will pack a greatly improved GPU, and will launch in 2013.

If not, Apple's main competition will likely be the Qualcomm, Inc.'s (QCOMSnapdragon 4, which is expected to see deep pickup in the smartphone and tablet space, as well as in Windows 8 laptops.  Qualcomm is a close ally of Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) who recorded it by making it the exclusive CPU supplier of the Windows Phone platform at launch.

The Qualcomm CPU may prove a threat to Apple's tablet dominance as AnandTech’s described its performance as "insane".

IV. Samsung Truce Could Guarantee Steady Component Supply for iPad 3

AnandTech has published some additional info on the CPU, stating that it's Cortex-A9 MPCore, which indicates that Apple may have purchased an IP core from ARM Technologies Plc. (LON:ARM) and then modified it.  Our sources had previously hinted that the iPad 3 might carry Apple's first in-house designed CPU, but this claim has been difficult to verify due to Apple's extreme secrecy.

Regardless, both AnandTech’s analysis, the GeekBench metrics, and our own sources indicate that while the CPU may be an advance for Apple in terms of internalizing its design, it is hardly a step forward -- let alone a leap forward -- in terms of performance.

The GeekBench benchmark did confirm (as previously leaked by mobile engine developer Epic Games during its iPad 3-related press comments) that the new iPad 3 has 1 GB of RAM -- twice the memory of its predecessor.  That should help keep those hungry graphics GPU cores (which use the DRAM for slow-storage) fed.  

The core -- like the last generation model -- is expected to be printed by Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KS:005930) at its Texas facility, a mere miles away from one of Apple's top call centers.  Samsung -- reportedly the sole remaining profitable DRAM supplier -- is also expected to supply the design and process of the on-die DDR2 RAM (memory).  

Samsung Austin Texas
Samsung's CPU supplying plant is located in Austin, Tex. near Texas Instruments and Apple.
[Image Source: Let's Go Digital]

Samsung and Apple are reportedly negotiating and uneasy licensing truce, a testament to their deep mutual dependence from a supplier-client perspective, that runs counter to their heated market competition and legal rivalry [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8].

V. The Beefy Battery

According to AnandTech’s math, the iPad 3 would last a mere 6 hours with a 25 watt-hour battery, based on the fact that Apple claims 10 hours of battery life on the new 42.5 watt-hour battery.  The new Apple tablet adds several power hungry components -- an LTE modem, a more intense, higher resolution screen, and the aforementioned higher-core GPU.

Apple's iPad 3 is a hungry monster necessitating a fatter battery. [Image Source: Apple]

No benchmarks on the LTE performance (surely network dependent) or battery life have been published yet, to our knowledge.  It remains to be seen whether the larger battery delivers better or worse results than Apple's promised 10 hours, in the real world.  

AnandTech founder Anand Shimpi, a veteran iPad user considered the larger battery a necessary evil, but complained, "The new iPad isn't as heavy as the original model, but it's clearly heavier than the iPad 2. I don't believe the added weight is a deal breaker, but it is a step backwards."

VI. LTE -- Fast and Dangerous

In addition to the $130 USD "LTE tax" you'll pay Apple to trade up from Wi-Fi, AnandTech reports that data plans will remain relatively pricey and capped at lower limits -- the highest of which is 5 GB.  The U.S. plans are available from Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and Vodafone Group Plc. (LON:VOD), and AT&T, Inc. (T) -- America's top two wireless carriers in terms of subscribers.

iPad 3 LTE
[Source: Anandtech]

AT&T has the faster network, according to past tests.  However, Verizon Wireless's LTE network covers a much wider geographic range, covering an estimated 200+ million Americans to date.  That range should balloon if Verizon latest big spectrum purchase is given the greenlight by the U.S. Federal Communication Commission.  However, customers on both networks should be wary of hitting their caps and being smacked with fees -- those 10 second app downloads might be a dangerous privilege for some.

On the plus side AnandTech reports that the new tablet is not SIM-locked.  Apple's decision to open up on the SIM side means an easier path to international roaming, as you can just pop in different cards to hop on different subscribed-to networks.

Sources: Tinhte [Vietnamese], AnandTech, AP

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Apple: Marketing over substance.
By dark matter on 3/13/2012 4:18:34 PM , Rating: 5
If I said my car was 4 times faster than your car. You would expect it to be 4 times faster. Not just on the corners, and to actually be 4 times faster.

Perhaps Apple also have a patent on bullshit. Sure looks like it to me.

By smackababy on 3/13/2012 4:35:09 PM , Rating: 2
If they do have that patent, they better start suing every other company in the world. "Best performance in class" (of the most obscure class we can think of so we only compete against a very inferior product)...

I am sure in one of Apple's synthetic benchmarks, it was 4x as fast as the Tegra 3. They stated a fact.

RE: Apple: Marketing over substance.
By tayb on 3/13/2012 6:10:42 PM , Rating: 2
I think you should sue them.

By foolsgambit11 on 3/13/2012 7:30:15 PM , Rating: 2
Sadly, the US Government rejected their patent application, citing the US Government as prior art.

RE: Apple: Marketing over substance.
By Solandri on 3/13/2012 9:03:35 PM , Rating: 5
If I said my car was 4 times faster than your car. You would expect it to be 4 times faster. Not just on the corners, and to actually be 4 times faster.

It's standard marketing drivel. "Sale! Up to 90% off!" when the average discount is 5% and they have a candy cane marked down from $1 to 10 cents. Apple is very, very good at it (better than Microsoft). Like releasing the iPhone 4 just as 4G service was rolling out, causing many buyers to mistakenly think they the iPhone had 4G. Deceptive, but true. How to lie without lying. In other words, normal marketing.

The actual message here is that at one unspecified graphics benchmark, the A5X scored 4x higher than Tegra 3. But the slick way it was presented, the message most people will (incorrectly) remember is that the iPad 3 has a CPU 4x faster than the top competitor.

Personally, I think advertisers should be prohibited from citing a maximum without a minimum, or should have to cite an average. e.g. "128 kbps - 4.5 Mbps internet speeds!" or "average 1.5 Mbps internet speeds". Capitalism works best when buyers are making informed rational choices, so deceptive marketing actually hurts the free market.

By Reclaimer77 on 3/14/2012 9:39:11 AM , Rating: 2
Capitalism works best when buyers are making informed rational choices, so deceptive marketing actually hurts the free market.

It's pretty easy to inform oneself these days about something. There's really no excuse for just taking the word of a company and not doing a minimum of homework first.

Personally, I think advertisers should be prohibited from citing a maximum without a minimum

Prohibited how? There's a fine line between fraud and freedom of speech. I fear you would cross that and ruin many industries entirely. How would that help the free market? No thank you, we have enough problems with the government inserting themselves into everything without them coming up with strict advertising guidelines.

Does a Monster Cable truly offer the end user a better experience over a budget cable? Probably not. But it's still their right to sell it and claim it does.

By testerguy on 3/14/2012 3:16:51 AM , Rating: 1
If I said my car was 4 times faster than your car. You would expect it to be 4 times faster. Not just on the corners, and to actually be 4 times faster. Perhaps Apple also have a patent on bullshit. Sure looks like it to me.

I'll come back to why this comment is fundamentally wrong a little bit later, but first:

Look at it like this. Lets say both the iPad and Tegra 3 are cars. The 'retina display' of the iPad can obviously hold back performance when compared to the poor resolution of all Tegra 3 tablets (relatively speaking). In car terms, this is the equivalent of the car being bigger and heavier. The advantage, is that what you see is much higher quality. In car terms, this is the equivalent of being able to carry more passengers (or more luggage)

In this comparison, the iPad car has 2 modes. It has mode 1, where you are carrying all the passengers and all the additional weight, to the benefit of the user. Obviously in this case, it isn't capable of travelling 4x faster, but it is capable of carrying passengers that the Tegra 3 isn't.

However, it ALSO has a second mode, where you strip out all of the back seats, lose all of the additional weight, and effectively end up at the same weight or less than the Tegra 3 car. You lose the ability to take extra passengers, but you gain the extra speed and can actually drive at the claimed 4x faster.

To explain this - the new iPad has the capability to render games at the lower resolution of 1024 x 768, and then upscale them to the screens native resolution. This means that if the developers want, they can push games at 2x the speed of the iPad 2 on the new iPad. Which is 4x the speed of Tegra 3. The developers also have a choice, if they want, to use the higher resolution. The choice they have means that they can optimise the game they are working on, depending on what it needs in graphics terms, and can always ensure that the FPS is perfect. The same choice does not exist for Tegra 3 developers, who don't even have the option to match the resolution of the iPad, and certainly can't match the graphics power at any resolution.

Which brings me to my next point - which is that given any certain resolution, the iPad GPU will deliver performance up to 4x faster than Tegra 3. Perhaps future Tegra 3 tablets will catch up with the iPad resolution or even exceed it, which will exacerbate this point. Remember, Tegra 3 is not a tablet, so it doesn't have a specific resolution.

Finally, and coming back to my first sentence, Apple never claimed that the 'car' is 4x faster. They claimed that the ENGINE is 4x more powerful. The 'power' of graphics cards happens to be measured in 'speed' in casual terms, and all comparisons of the 'speed' of different GPU's are carried out using benchmarks at the same resolutions and same settings. So their claim is perfectly valid.

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