Apple's A8X powers iPad Air 2 graphics faster than Google's Nexus 9 with Nvidia Denver Tegra K1

Posted:
in iPad edited June 2015
Apple's new A8X Application Processor not only trounces other Android tablets in CPU tasks, but is also advancing iPad Air 2 to the front of the line in graphics operations as well, even before considering the ten-fold boost potential of iOS 8's Metal API.

iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9, Samsung, Lenovo, Atom


Kishonti Informatics' GFXBench OpenGL ES 2.0 and 3.0 benchmarks for top performing tablets give iPad Air 2 a comfortable lead over the Google-branded, HTC-built Nexus 9, powered by the "Denver" Tegra K1 Application Processor, despite Nvidia's core competency in developing GPUs. GFXBench renders video-game style graphics to demonstrate the core capabilities of the GPU.

With their identical 2048x1536 screen resolutions, iPad Air 2 and the soon-to-be released Nexus 9 offer a nearly direct comparison between Apple's 64-bit A8X and the Nvidia-designed "Kepler" graphics in the latest Tegra K1, hailed as Android's first 64-bit mobile chip to reach the market.

Compared to Nexus 9, iPad Air 2 scored 13 percent higher in Open GL 3.0 and 28.9 percent faster using Open GL 2.0, despite the Nexus 9's Tegra K1 being clocked 60 percent faster.

In CPU operations, iPad Air 2 performed GeekBench multiple-core tests 39 percent faster. Both Application Processors are designed with 64-bit CPU cores using the ARMv8 instruction set, although the A8X uses three CPU cores to the K1's two.

Nvidia announced the Tegra K1 at the beginning of this year at CES, calling it "the first mobile processor to run Unreal Engine 4," the latest video gaming engine from Epic Games targeting PCs, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles. This summer however, Apple brought Epic on stage at WWDC (below) to demonstrate its Unreal Engine 4 running on Apple's A7 chip from last fall, using Metal to supercharge its performance.



Three months later, Apple introduced its A8 successor for iPhone 6 models, delivering enhanced CPU and GPU power that beats comparable new high end Android flagship smartphones by a significant margin.

Apple boosts iPad Air 2 while most Android tablets aim downmarket

Apple's latest A8X Application Processor further enhances the graphics power for iPad Air 2, beating not only Nvidia's Kepler mobile GPU but even more soundly trouncing a series of top-scoring Android tablets powered by Intel Atom (with the "Bay Trail Intel HD" GPU), Qualcomm Snapdragon (with an Adreno GPU), or even Samsung's yet to be released new Exynos Application Processor (which uses an ARM Mali GPU).

Because tablets sell at lower price points than typical high end smartphones, vendors have often resorted to using lower powered chips in a bid to reach price-sensitive consumers. Apple itself is still selling the original 2012 iPad mini to round out the bottom of its tablet offerings, a device powered by the now relatively meek A5.

At the top of the iPad range, however, Apple has aggressively pushed the envelop in high end CPU and graphics performance. Last year's iPad Air and iPad mini 2 were the first tablets powered by a 64-bit chip. This year, Apple opted to design an enhanced A8X for iPad Air 2, giving it even more graphics performance over the A8 in order to drive the 3.1 million pixels of the iPad's Retina Display (in comparison, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have 1 million and 2 million pixels, respectively).

As with their smartphones, a variety of Android vendors (notably Samsung and Lenovo) are equipping their tablets with extremely pixel dense displays but lower end processors that lack the power to comfortably drive all those pixels.

Nvidia's Tegra K1 fails to live up to the hype

In the other direction, Nvidia debuted its new Tegra K1 chip in its own gaming-oriented Shield Tablet this summer, but gave the device a lower resolution on par with Apple's 5.5 inch iPhone 6 Plus.

That enables the Shield Tablet to play stretched Android smartphone games at benchmarked frame rates that beat A7-powered iPads, the A8-powered iPhone 6 Plus and even the A8X powered iPad Air 2 (although--somewhat ironically--the Shield's atypical architecture actually prevents it from running some of the most popular Google Play video games).

However, the Shield Tablet's low resolution and wide format didn't make it very appealing as a general purpose alternative to iPad, resulting in meager sales volumes for the experimental niche device.

Nvidia Shield Tablet


Google, Nvidia and HTC (which had abandoned the tablet market in 2012 after the flop of Android 3.0 Honeycomb) subsequently collaborated on the new Nexus 9 in order to deliver an iPad-style resolution and display ratio in an effort to deliver a viable tablet competitor to Apple (or ostensibly, to demonstrate how another company could do this).

However, after matching the iPad's pixel workload, the Nexus 9's Tegra K1 falls behind in both CPU and GPU performance, even with Nvidia's new 64-bit CPU cores and using an even faster clock rate. Nexus 9's GPU and CPU benchmark scores also don't reflect the fact that iOS apps already have a year-long lead in gaining 64-bit optimizations and can benefit dramatically from the 10x potential of Metal to further enhance GPU performance on the same hardware.

The tiny installed base of Android devices with either 64-bit CPUs or Kepler graphics will contribute toward a lack of optimization in the software app market that will further exaggerate these underling hardware performance differences.

Google is discounting the Nexus 9 by $100 over the cost of the cheapest iPad Air 2, but won't be matching Apple's larger capacity options or Touch ID, and the new tablet uses a smaller 8.9 inch screen that places it midway between the iPad Air 2 and an iPad mini in size.

This all happened before

Joel Hruska, the same ExtremeTech writer who insisted last year that Apple's "64-bit A7 is marketing fluff and won't improve performance," expressed a very different opinion on 64-bit chips from Nvidia earlier this summer.

A7 doubter


Three months ago, he wrote, "On paper, and in Nvidia's internal benchmarks, the [Tegra K1] 64-bit Denver CPU core sounds rather exciting. The CPU handily beats every other ARM CPU on the market by some margin, and even does pretty well against the dual-core [Intel] Celeron 2955U (Haswell). The 192-core Kepler GPU will probably be the fastest GPU on the market by some margin, too."

Throughout 2014, ExtremeTech, Toms Hardware and a series of other sites with a dim view of Apple compared preliminary Tegra K1 benchmarks against last year's A7, declaring the Tegra K1 "the fastest GPU on the market by some margin" apparently without considering that Apple would also be working on a new mobile chip for the more than 70 million iPads it expects to sell the following year.

Apple's big investments in mobile silicon paying off

Apple currently offers Nvidia's PC-class GPUs in its fastest MacBook Pros, while featuring AMD GPUs its new 5K Retina Display iMac and high end Mac Pro. It also uses basic Intel HD graphics across its entry level Mac lineup.

Apple's line of iOS-powered products, however, have used PowerVR mobile-optimized GPUs developed by Imagination Technologies, a British design firm in which Apple owns nearly a 10 percent stake.

Apple's highly profitable sales of over 500 million iPhones and more than 225 million iPads has driven its investment in both its own custom silicon designs and the licensing of the best available technologies for use in its products. With Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows Phone driving prices downward, it will be increasingly difficult for rival mobile chip vendors to rival Apple's current ownership of the high end of tablets and smartphones--the most profitable mobile market segments by a huge margin.

Texas Instruments abandoned its OMAP mobile chip market after a string of flop products (including Amazon's Kindle Fire, the Nook, BlackBerry Playbook and the Google-Samsung cobranded Galaxy Nexus) using its chips failed to sell.

Similarly, after the failure of its Tegra 4i, Nvidia has given up on the smartphone market too, leaving Qualcomm and low end chip makers like MediaTek as the primary remaining vendors for smartphone Application Processors.

iPad 10K


Going forward, Apple's iPads--powered by increasingly sophisticated A-series Application Processors--appear to be on a trajectory to continue their erosion into Intel's PC chip business. While there's been much handwringing about Apple's annual iPad sales decreasing by 4 percent over the previous year, IDC reported that PC industry shipments contracted by 9.8 percent over the previous year, and the firm predicted a 6 percent drop for PCs sold this year.

Flush with profitability from large volume sales of high end Macs and iOS mobile devices, Apple appears positioned to continue being able to design and finance the development of new generations of advanced mobile processors without having to worry if there will be a market for its latest designs.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 181
    nVidia is getting squeezed. Sure, they rule the roost in PC gaming GPU's...but that's an ever declining market. Profitable, but niche. They were soundly trounced by AMD in the console market, with nary an nVidia component in sight. Tegra is a constant flop. They might be smart to just concentrate on being a profitable niche vendor.
  • Reply 2 of 181
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,687member

    Good article!

     

    The iPad Air 2 is indeed insanely powerful! Gaming on it is great! I can't wait until more metal games get released!

     

    And once again ignorant Fandroids the world over are shocked by the actual performance of the A8X chip and how it devastates what they have been hyping in upcoming Android tablets. Just yesterday on another forum, I was reading that some Fandroid was claiming that the Nexus 9 was more powerful, because you know, the specs! What a damn fool! <img class=" src="http://forums-files.appleinsider.com/images/smilies//lol.gif" />

     

    And ignoring the piss poor performance of the Nexus 9 for a moment, what truly makes that tablet belong in the dumpster is the fact that 32 GB is max RAM! Seriously? Google apparently isn't even trying anymore. Android has now further cemented it's position as the OS for the unsophisticated and the choice for the truly ignorant.

  • Reply 3 of 181

    Well of course. Apple software is designed specifically for Apple hardware.

     

    Optimization already comes with the meal.

  • Reply 4 of 181
    NVidia first demonstrated their K1 processor at Siggraph in 2013. Their strategy appears to be to show off next years processor and compare its performance to this years shipping processors and GPUs. In that light it appears to be extremely impressive but by the time it ships in an actual phone or tablet, it is merely average. The K1 has decent performance but I suspect it is being held back by Google's interpreted/JIT code. No matter how much Google tries, native compiled code will always run rings around it.
  • Reply 5 of 181

    The Air 2 seems like the only tablet on the market with no compromises. Great display, super thin and light, best performance.  Almost makes my 3rd gen iPad look ancient.

  • Reply 6 of 181
    I'm guessing the Google paid YouTube Tech Pundits will ignore this one.
  • Reply 7 of 181
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,352member
    markbyrn wrote: »
    I'm guessing the Google paid YouTube Tech Pundits will ignore this one.

    Oh those 'What's up guys" presenters ... :no: Those intros have the same reaction on me as RAP ... I can't move to click the close button fast enough ...
  • Reply 8 of 181
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,352member
    Ok I have to say this. I hope Apple continue to expand into the GPU area and come up with hardware for Macs too at some point. How many of the MBP failure issues have been GPU issues? I rest my case.

    Imagine an Apple GPU on a Mac that is faster than anything out there ... gamers would wet their pants. Well of course a lot of them do anyway but you know what I mean. :D
  • Reply 9 of 181

    Too bad the Air 2 battery life isnt' as great as the Air.

  • Reply 10 of 181

    So, why is it claimed that Apple can't innovate anymore?  Apple isn't mainly a processor design house therefore the creation of A-series processor isn't exactly standard fare for a consumer tech company.  For the mobile industry and Wall Street to simply ignore that Apple is building processors that compare with companies whose bread and butter comes from designing chips seems a bit foolish.  I'm not saying Apple is some king at building processors but they should get some worthy mention instead of being said not to innovate at all.  Those A-series processors aren't clones of NVidia or Qualcomm chips because Apple has chosen some other path of design that doesn't involve the necessity of high clock speeds.

  • Reply 11 of 181
    Apple probably already has A9X lined up for next year and A10X for the following year. It's scary.
  • Reply 12 of 181
    The Air 2 seems like the only tablet on the market with no compromises. Great display, super thin and light, best performance.  Almost makes my 3rd gen iPad look ancient.

    Yes. I've got to upgrade at long last.
  • Reply 13 of 181
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Constable Odo View Post

     

    So, why is it claimed that Apple can't innovate anymore?  Apple isn't mainly a processor design house therefore the creation of A-series processor isn't exactly standard fare for a consumer tech company.  For the mobile industry and Wall Street to simply ignore that Apple is building processors that compare with companies whose bread and butter comes from designing chips seems a bit foolish.  I'm not saying Apple is some king at building processors but they should get some worthy mention instead of being said not to innovate at all.  Those A-series processors aren't clones of NVidia or Qualcomm chips because Apple has chosen some other path of design that doesn't involve the necessity of high clock speeds.


     

    Markets and press's idea of innovation is all about the look of the iPad.  For example, since iPad Air 2 looks very much like iPad Air 1, iPad Air 2 is merely superficial upgrades.../s.

  • Reply 14 of 181
    DED must be nervous about the new Nexus line considering all the benchmarking articles he's been writing! It's interesting how benchmarks are suddenly very important.


    Don't worry DED. The iPad will outsell the Nexus handily even if Lollipop provides a better user experience.
  • Reply 15 of 181
    How about a little less zealotry and a bit more balance? Seriously people do you guys ever venture beyond the sanctity of garageband and iTunes?

    First and fore most the A8 is a half generation ahead of NVIDIA's Tegra. The K1 sits between it and the A7. Second of all Apples, with all it's massive economies is on a process a generation plus ahead of the K1's - that in and of itself will help level the playing field when TSC finally roles 20nm out in volume to it's customers. So in early 2015 when the TM2 is released Denver plus Maxwell we'll see. The maxwell GPU was designed to scale and crushes the latest desktop cards in a TDP a fraction of it's predecessors and the best competition. Combine that with 20 nm and the A8 and I suspect the A9 is left in the dust.

    Moreover Denver beats the A9 handily on the CPU side core for core - single threaded performance. The A9 only beats it out in multicore performance simply because it has an extra core. That is something afforded to Apple mostly due to being on the latest node process. For those, including the author, who want to venture away from making pretty pictures in Photoshop for a bit check out the CPU and GPU architectures. Denver is quite cleaver and should allow for tremendous scale.

    Finally, if you hand't read there is a lawsuit filed against Samsung and Qualcomm over patent infringement - NVIDIA's. Apples licenses their GPU tech (they didn't build it from scratch) from Imagination - a company referenced in the suit. You'd be naive to believe that A. Apple isn't infringing on NVIDIA patents and B. That either a license agreement is in the works or a lawsuit be filed pending the outcome of the Samsung suit - which appears quite strong.
  • Reply 16 of 181
    thttht Posts: 3,241member

    Oh Daniel, you love to deliver blowback don't you. Michael Wolfe should be your next target! That dude is plying his Apple doomsaying stick without even a hint of knowing that he's lying. At least Hruska only is skeptical about Apple and will admit when he's wrong, sometimes. At least, I think so. He'll accept data.

     

    It's ok to be skeptical of Apple's performance claims, but there's no excuse swallowing Nvidia's marketing spiel. They've gone through too many shame-on-me cycles. 

  • Reply 17 of 181
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by TheWhiteFalcon View Post



    nVidia is getting squeezed. Sure, they rule the roost in PC gaming GPU's...but that's an ever declining market. Profitable, but niche. They were soundly trounced by AMD in the console market, with nary an nVidia component in sight. Tegra is a constant flop. They might be smart to just concentrate on being a profitable niche vendor.



    The worse case scenario for nVidia is to become a niche vendor.  GPUs have become general purpose. They are almost as basic to computing now as the CPU, so there will be no niche market or it will be infinitesimal for very low end products.  They need to stay relevant in the general market at all costs.

  • Reply 18 of 181
    incremental progress can require revolutionary breakthroughs and design. A7/A8 is an example of this. doesn't get enough appreciation.
  • Reply 19 of 181
    koopkoop Posts: 337member
    The Nvidia Shield isn't suppose to be a general purpose machine. It's a portable gaming machine meant for the gamer crowd.

    They kept the resolution at 1080p for the same reason that PC gamers keep their resolutions at 1080p. Because that's the ideal resolution that graphics chips/cards that process complicated instructions - in this case Nvidia Shield wants to run half life 2 or portal at high FPS. Don't think they are trying for angry birds here.

    You could flip this around too. There are intensive games like Bioshock that do NOT run on Apple's native resolution, as it's too graphics intensive. Games like that would run well on the Shield Tablet. I understand you're trying to make this an indictment of Nvidia's chip, but it's misleading to use this tablet as an example.
  • Reply 20 of 181
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,860member
    GrangerFX wrote: »
    …The K1 has decent performance but I suspect it is being held back by Google's interpreted/JIT code. No matter how much Google tries, native compiled code will always run rings around it.

    I'd love to see a tablet running Native LINUX without the Android crap. Such a tablet would make a far more viable alternative to Apples devices than an Android based tablet. Here by alternative I mean significantly different in concept.

    The thing here is I love my iPad, it is my go to communications device. However I really don't like the lack of accessibility when trying to do non mainstream things. This is where a tablet with good access would be valuable.
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