The Upcoming Mobile CPUs, GPUs and SOCs vying for a slot in the iPad 2/3.

Discussion in 'iPad' started by wikoogle, Dec 16, 2010.

  1. wikoogle, Dec 16, 2010
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2010

    wikoogle macrumors 6502a


    Jun 12, 2009
    We all want to speculate as to what might show up in the next iPad.

    Unfortunately, there are so many different up and coming mobile SOCs, CPUs and GPUs that it confuses most anyone trying to keep up. For the uninitiated, an SOC is an integrated chip that includes a CPU, a GPU and various task specific processors as well, and each SOC has it's own codename. I thought it would be useful to list all the major ones, how they perform relative to each other, and thus give everyone here a good framework as to what might show up in future iPads and when.

    One key factor when considering mobile CPUs and GPUs is the number of cores, rather than the clockspeed. Mobile CPUs and GPUs must conserve battery life and minimize heat, and mobile devices always downclock their GPUs and CPUs for this reason. Muticore designs go a long way in maximizing battery life and minimizing heat without limiting performance. This is why the CPU I'm most excited about is ARM's 4 core version of the Cortex a15 (coming in 2012) and the GPUs that I'm most excited about are multicore designs such as the 4 core Mali 400.

    Another key factor to keep in mind is the actual speed of the ram itself. Mobile ram is extremely slow. While general applications run fine on slow ram, quality graphics benefit greatly from fast ram. The two blazing fast mobile rams available are Mobile XDR (not yet found in any mobile devices to my knowledge, though the PS3's CPU makes use of 256 mbs of XDR ram) and the MoSys 1T-SRAM that is rumored to be found in the Nintendo 3DS and is already found in the Nintendo Wii (24 MBs) and Nintendo Gamecube (24 MBs).


    ARM Cortex A8 - This is the chip that found itself in all of 2010's most advanced smartphones. It's also found in the iPhone 4 and iPad.

    ARM Cortex A9 - This is the chip that's going to dominate 2011. Most of the 2011's most advanced smartphones (including the iPhone 5) will likely feature a dual core version of the Cortex A9. In that configuration, it's more than twice as powerful as the Cortex A8 while consuming less power and generating less heat.

    ARM Cortex A15 - This chip should show up in smartphones sometime in 2012. Most configurations will feature a quad core version of the Cortex A15. In terms of performance, it's reported to be five times as powerful as the Cortex A8 found in the iPhone/iPad.

    There are obviously other mobile CPUs in the pipeline as well. AMD is working on one. Intel is working on one. And Sony is working on a mobile version of their Cell cpu that may well show up in the PSP2. However, ARM has such a huge headstart over the competitors in the mobile CPU arena that it will likely take years before any of the competitors show up in a smartphone.


    The most common technique used to benchmark mobile GPU's is the maximum theoretical number of triangles they can render per second. So I included this number where possible. However, that number depends on the clockspeed the GPU is actually being run at. Most SOCs limit the clockspeed of the GPU in order to maximize battery life.

    PowerVR SGX535 GPU - 28 million (triangles per second). This is the GPU found in the iPhone 4, iPad and most of Intel's Integrated Graphics Cards found in laptops (GMA 500/600). The iPhone 3GS also uses this GPU but clocked at a mere 200mhz. At that speed, it only pushes 7 million. We don't know what mhz the iPhone 4 and iPad's GPU are clocked at.

    nVidia's Custom GPU found in the Tegra 2 SOC - 71 million. This GPU's native support for Unreal Engine 3, OpenGL 2.0, and a dedicated processor for 1080p/HDMI output support are all impressive.

    PowerVR SGX540 GPU - 90 million. This is the GPU found in the upcoming OMAP4 SOC, Snapdragon Gen II/III SOC and the Hummingbird SOC. The GPU in the Hummingbird SOC maxes out at 28 million due to it being clocked at 200 mhz and due to limitations related to the memory bandwidth. We will have to wait for the OMAP4 SOC and Snapdragon Gen III to come out before we see if these SOCs have similar limitations.

    PowerVR SGX554MP GPU - Unknown performance. This is a GPU that PowerVR announced a week ago with no information at all regarding it's relative performance to other GPU. It's a multicore gpu and thus the performance would scale based on the number of cores used.

    Marvell's Custom GPU found in the Tri-Core Armada 628 SOC - Marvell claims that this GPU pushes a whopping 200 million triangles per second. As always, the actual devices will likely limit the clockspeed in order to conserve battery life so the real world performance will be significantly weaker.

    ARM Mali 400 GPU - This is the GPU found in the ST Ericsson U8500 SOC and the Samsung Orion SOC. This is a MP GPU that can scale anywhere from 1-4 cores. The only official number ARM released is that the much much weaker ARM Mali 200 GPU pushes 16 million triangles per second. However, Samsung claims that it's Orion SOC featuring this GPU delivers 5x the performance of the Hummingbird. Samsung previously claimed that their Hummingbird SOC is capable of pushing 90 million triangles per second, where as it's real world maximum performance ended up being around 28 million triangles per second. As a result, the rumors regarding the theortical performance of the four core design range anywhere from 130 million to a whopping 450 million triangles per second. However, the key limitation as always is the clockspeed. A four core design could deliver very impressive performance even at a low clockspeed.

    For comparison's sake...

    Xbox 360's GPU - 500 million triangles per second.

    The Playstation 3's GPU - 250 million. This is an unfair characterization. The Cell CPU in the PS3 is actually a graphical beast and can do an astonishing amount of legwork for the GPU when used properly. One reason is that the Cell CPU packs 256 mbs of blazing fast XDR ram that runs a full 4.5x faster than the GDDR3 ram found in the PS3's GPU and Xbox 360's CPU and GPU. XDR ram runs circles around the DDR3 ram used in cutting edge desktops and laptops as well. This is a key reason why the PS3 manages to produce graphics like those found in Uncharted 2/Killzone 2 that nothing on the Xbox 360 comes close to. The ram used in most mobile devices (the Nintendo 3DS being a notable exception) is no where close to running at even GDDR3 speed, much less coming close to the blazing fast speeds of XDR ram. In addition, mobile devices often must downclock their gpu and cpu performance in order to minimize heat and conserve battery life. So don't expect to see PS3 quality graphics until quad core CPUs and GPUs show up in smartphones.


    iPhone 4/iPad SOC aka. the A4 - Cortex-A8 CPU, PowerVR SGX 535 GPU

    Samsung Orion SOC - Cortex-A9 Dual Core 1GHz CPU, ARM Mali 400 GPU

    ST Ericsson U8500 SOC - Cortex-A9 Dual Core 1.2GHz, ARM Mali 400 GPU

    OMAP4 SOC - Cortex-A9 Dual Core, SGX540 GPU

    Qualcomm Snapdragon SOCs - Gen II 1.3GHz Cortex-A8, Adreno 205 - Gen III 1.2GHz Cortex-A8 Dual Core, Adreno 220 GPU aka. PowerVRSGX540 GPU / 1.5GHz Cortex-A9 Dual Core, Adreno 220 aka. PowerVRSGX540 GPU. There was already a Gen I Snapdragon SOC that is now outdated.

    Tegra 2 SOC - Cortex-A9 Dual Core, nVidia GPU. nVidia also announced a Tegra 3 planned for the end of 2011 and a Tegra 4 utilizing the ARM Cortex a15 CPU planned for 2012/2013. There was already a Tegra 1 SOC that is now outdated.

    Marvell Tri-Core Armada 628 SOC - Three A9 Cores, 1.5 GHz for the two main cores, and 624 MHz for the low power core, all combined with an unknown GPU that Marvell claims will push a whopping 200 million triangles per second.
  2. Piggie macrumors G3


    Feb 23, 2010
    Excellent information thanks.

    I will only say one thing on this subject which is just my own personal comment/feeling.

    I will be sad if due to some penny pinching the iPad2 turns out to be less technically powerful in the CPU/GPU department than some mobile phones next year.

    I hope Apple selects the best they can get, and we all see a lift in what programmers can do with it, as opposed to just a tiny improvement as Apple feels it's all they actually need to do/can get away with doing.

    I would like to see Apple leading the field in this area for their large screen world beating device.
  3. thesmoth macrumors 6502

    Oct 7, 2008
    Honestly at this point, if apple doesn't include a dual core processor they aren't getting my money. It's a big ipad and I don't need it at ALL, but it's cool and I want it. If it has dual core processor I feel it will be future proof for all of the cool and more powerful apps that will come along in the future, which will transform the ipad from a 'big ipod touch' into something entirely different and very useful. It's those creative and amazing apps that no one has made yet that will really make the iPad useful, and I don't want to buy this thing and sit around waiting for them to come, only to find out that by the time they are released my hardware is out dated and cannot run then (exactly what is happening with the iPad 1).

    If they cheap out like usual and give us a slightly faster single core A9 or an overclocked A8, apple can go to hell and i'll either get a playbook or stick with my mbp. With the playbook and the motorola android honeycomb tablets coming out early 2011 with dual core processors, I don't see how it's possible that apple can not go with a dual core processor and keep a straight face. That snake Steve Jobs would really to find some words more fancy than 'magical' at his next keynote in order to sell most reasonable consumers if they don't.
  4. Piggie macrumors G3


    Feb 23, 2010
    Whilst those are quite strong comments I do agree with your feelings.

    Programmers, the high end ones, are probably hitting a "power" brick wall quite hard now, and using "tricks" to get things as good as they are, which is very good, considering what they have to work with really.

    As you imply if Apple do put in something quite a bit more beefy then it will open up a whole new level of what the developers can seriously look at doing.

    I'm guessing the ideal would be something that clocks real low for normal text based apps, and will last for ages on battery so we get all the benefits we currently do, but when needed can ramp up the power to give us some stunning visuals in entertainment apps.
  5. Pressure macrumors 68040


    May 30, 2006
    Being a good programmer means making it work with what you got.

    The original iPad will continue to be the baseline for the vast majority of applications, simply because there is strength in numbers.

    If you do not find the Unreal Development Kit (which Infinite Blade is based upon) quite amazing with the current specifications then you are probably aiming to high.

    They are most likely moving the SoC to either 40nm (or rather optimistically 32nm) lithography and a dual Cortex A9 design, which in the end will offer around a 30% increase in performance.

    Remember that the hardware was set in stone many moons ago.
  6. Piggie macrumors G3


    Feb 23, 2010
    The only issue I see is that Infinate Blade is I'm sure all done with smoke and mirrors.

    The current iPad does not have the power that this game makes you think it has.

    they are using some very clever tricks and cheats to create this eye candy game, which is very clever indeed.

    However I'm not sure how much you can really do with this, very pretty engine that looks great when there is nothing in the game, but it looks like it cannot handle a game AND the game engine.

    Or in other works, it's almost more like a very pretty tech demo. A clever one, and full praise to them for making it look the way they have.
  7. blackNBUK macrumors 6502a

    Feb 19, 2010
    Computer graphics in games on all platforms are "smoke and mirrors" in that no platform has the power to do a physical visual simulation of the world around us. The difference between platforms is more down to which tricks are used and now much detail in packed in, not whether tricks are used or not.

    Limiting the movement of the camera (like Infinity Blade and Rage do) definitely makes the job easier. However that doesn't mean that the software isn't producing a full 3D environment. Epic Citadel definitely is and it works very well on my iPad. Maybe a FPS based on the Unreal Engine would have to use a lower level of detail but my bet is that it won't be that much lower.

    My concern isn't the performance of the hardware, it's the economics of iOS. Console games are at least 8 times the price of the average iOS game and I don't think that this is all fat-guy padding. If people want games with more and better content then we're going to have to pay more for it.
  8. henrikrox macrumors 65816


    Feb 3, 2010
    Wirelessly posted (Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU iPhone OS 4_2_1 like Mac OS X; nb-no) AppleWebKit/533.17.9 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/5.0.2 Mobile/8C148 Safari/6533.18.5)

    Great writeup. Kinda amazing to see all the new tech that's coming
  9. Piggie macrumors G3


    Feb 23, 2010
    The thing is, they have never really tried this concept have they?

    Perhaps at this moment in time there are not enough iPads, but say in another year or 2 years when we have, what, 50, 100 million iPads out there.

    They could try a Blockbuster game at 4.99 instead of 39.99 or 49.99 and sell 10x as many copies.

    I know from myself if something is cheap I will buy it to have a play with it, as it's cheap, so it's worth it just to play a bit.

    If iPad apps were 29.99 I'd not buy them at all. In fact I'd probably not even have an iPad.

    Sell things cheap and sell millions more copies than you otherwise would of.
  10. GnillGnoll macrumors member

    Sep 16, 2009
    Theoretical triangles per second is a meaningless number. No real world app ever comes close to achieving this peak, and the architectures of mobile GPUs are so different that their peak numbers are not comparable.

    Actually, 28 Million is quoted for 200 MHz. But see above.

    What is "native support" for UE3 supposed to mean? UE3 runs on the other GPUs, too. Similarly, it supports OpenGL ES 2.0 just like the other GPUs.

    90 Million is wrong, but see above. Qualcomm Snapdragon SoCs use Qualcomm Adreno GPUs, not PowerVR SGX. The two are not related. The Samsung SoC is called S5PC110, Hummingbird is the name of the CPU.

    ARM states 30 Million triangles per second for Mali-400, but see above:
    The triangle throughput of Mali-400 does not scale with the number of "cores", because the "cores" are just pixel pipelines.

Share This Page