At a glance, the iPhone 13’s new A15 processor doesn’t bring much new to the table. That is, until you add the extra GPU core of the iPhone 13 Pro.
We benchmarked the new iPhone 13 models as part of our ongoing iPhone 13 review, and while the A15 is definitely the fastest mobile chip on the market right now, it doesn’t show the kind of performance jumps we saw between previous versions of iPhones.
But first the bragging rights. Apple wants to make it very clear that the A15 is faster than its “leading competitor”, which means the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 in the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, and it is.
On the Geekbench benchmark, the A15 gets a shocking 46% higher multicore score than the S21 Ultra. On Basemark Web, a benchmark for web browsing, Safari on the iPhone 13 Pro nearly doubles the score that Chrome achieves on the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Using the GFXBench Aztec Ruins gaming benchmark, which GPU tests, the 13 Pro hits more than double the frame rate of the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
This is all to say that Apple’s silicon team at Qualcomm (not to mention Mediatek) absolutely crushes on basic measurements of computer performance. Qualcomm has recently shifted much of its marketing from anything to do with traditional CPU/GPU performance to things like image signal processors, Snapdragon Sound, and RF front-ends; you can see why here.
Apples vs Apples
Apple’s A15 chip is based on the same 5nm process as the previous A14. Apple says it has all-new CPU cores, a new ISP, more cache, and a faster ML engine.
Apple may be crushing Qualcomm, but it’s hit a bit of a plateau this year in terms of its own performance. Looking at the iPhone XR (with the A12 processor) versus the iPhone 11 (A13), the iPhone 12 (A14), and the iPhone 13 (A15), you see a consistent improvement between the first three phones, then a real dip in improvement of the A14 to the A15.
Of course, Apple may have just focused intensely on energy efficiency this year. While the A15 isn’t much faster than the A14, the iPhone 13 series has a much better battery life than the iPhone 12 series.
The real shock to me is the spike in speed improvement between the iPhone 13 and the 13 Pro, specifically on GPU computing. The iPhone 13 Pro adds a fifth GPU core to the iPhone 13’s four, but there’s nothing that, in my opinion, would create the 35% jump (!) in GPU benchmark performance that I’ve seen consistently. I hope some of the deeper chipset folks like the AnandTech crew can sort this out.
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What this means for you?
What does all this mean to you? Not much, honestly. iPhones have always run their apps very well and very smoothly. If you’re upgrading from a much older iPhone, you’ll see much better performance here – it always has. If you’re considering upgrading from the iPhone 12, you won’t notice much of a difference.
Apple says the Cinematic Mode in the camera requires the A15, but I wonder if that’s an artificial limit – especially between the iPhone 12 and 13, I don’t see the huge jump that would justify it.
The extra GPU core in the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max, I suspect, is mainly to ensure that the 120Hz ProMotion display functions smoothly, and it does.
Overall, the processor improvements here are far less important to buyers than other factors like battery life and 5G performance. But, of course, they capitalize on those elements of the iPhone experience. Apple builds it all to work together.
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