More power with less: Apple's A13 Bionic is faster and more power efficient

Posted:
in iPhone edited September 11
The A13 Bionic chip used in the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max is the fastest A-series processor Apple has ever designed, but at the same time designed to use far less power. AppleInsider details some of the changes that went into the new fastest smartphone processor on the market.




Revealed on stage during Apple's iPhone 11 event, the A13 is claimed to have both the fastest CPU and fastest GPU of any smartphone or tablet, improving upon the power offered by the A12 used in the 2018 models. The 64-bit chip's CPU and GPU are said to be 20 percent faster than the variants in the A12, with a variety of elements allowing it to perform over one trillion operations per second, some relating to machine learning.

Power and machine learning

The A13 is made up of many sections, but the main three are the CPU, GPU, and the Neural Engine. The CPU consists of two performance cores and four efficiency cores, with each used depending on the workload. The GPU contains four Metal-optimized cores, while the Neural Engine contains eight more.

Also buried within the CPU region are a pair of "Machine Learning Accelerators," which are used to perform matrix multiplication, a calculation that is frequently used in machine learning. Apple says that the A13 will perform this calculation six times faster than the A12 Bionic. Its these accelerators that make the CPU reach the trillion-operations milestone.

A selection of areas Apple has improved in the A13 Bionic
A selection of areas Apple has improved in the A13 Bionic


Due to load balancing of the Apple-designed Machine Learning Controller, the machine learning models can be scheduled on the CPU, GPU, and Neural Engine depending on which would offer the best performance. The controller also does this while balancing the need to stay as efficient as possible, helping reduce the amount of power used.

As the controller takes all the decision-making out of where to process machine learning models at any time away from developers, this also simplifies the process for development.

Reduced power and better iPhone battery life

At the same time as providing more processing power than the A12, the A13 Bionic also pushes to reduce the amount of energy it requires to perform the calculations in the first place. For this generation, it has helped Apple reach multiple extra hours of battery life in the iPhone 11 Pro, rather than typical improvements of an hour.

Part of the saving comes from changes in how it produces the chips in the first place. Taking advantage of chip partner TSMC's most recent commercial processes for creating 7-nanometer chips, described as an "advanced improved 2nd generation 7-nanometer transistor," Apple has tailored each transistor for performance and power.

At the same time, the work has led to Apple squeezing 8.5 billion transistors onto the A13, up from 6.9 billion used in the A12.

Aside from the transistors themselves, as well as being more selective over what is used to perform calculations, Apple has also worked on improving the architecture.

The CPU, GPU, and Neural Engine are all more powerful, but power efficient
The CPU, GPU, and Neural Engine are all more powerful, but power efficient


The use of hundreds of voltage domains on the chip gives Apple more control over what power is used, and when. By only turning on sections at a time when they will be used for processing, while leaving unused areas without power, this brings down how much energy is used in a calculation considerably to just what is required.

At an even smaller level, the use of hundreds of thousands of smaller domains allow for granular control over what gets power, ensuring only the smallest amount of logic in the chip is used for a process.

The work has resulted in vast power savings. The CPU's two performance cores consume 30% less power, the four efficiency cores save 40%, the four GPU cores also save 40%, and the eight Neural Engine cores are 15% more power efficient.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 46
    razorpitrazorpit Posts: 1,006member
    So I guess you can say the A13 has almost 2 billion reasons why it's better than the A12?  :D

    Seriously though, this is an incredible jump in performance and power consumption in just one year's time. How far off can an ARM MacBook Air be?
    StrangeDaysjahbladeSoliMisterKitlolliverFatmanravnorodomwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 46
    I was always under the impression that any CPU sent DC power (which I presume is defined as a 1 bit, or "power on") only to circuits that were actually intended to do anything. But I guess that's not true. Kinda stupid of chip designers to have power running through circuits when its not necessary. I guess they should have hired me decades ago, cause it's un-possible for me to be stupid.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 46
    razorpit said:
    So I guess you can say the A13 has almost 2 billion reasons why it's better than the A12?  :D

    Seriously though, this is an incredible jump in performance and power consumption in just one year's time. How far off can an ARM MacBook Air be?
    The hardware is already at a level it could easily power a desktop. The problem is the software. All applications and drivers need to be recompiled to ARM which is a huge logistics nightmare. Imagine having bought this fancy ARM laptop and no commercial app besides Apple’s first party software runs on it, because they need to build it for a new architecture now.... 
    I think Apple is preparing for this with Project Catalyst, by creating a system that is not simply abstracting UI/UX, but doing the same for CPU/GPU architectures. If your app is developed using Catalyst, compiling for ARM would simply be a matter of recompilation and some minor adjustments, while Catalyst under the hood does the heavy lifting. A company like Adobe, who uses a lot of propriety modules and build systems, would not benefit from that, but a company who builds Pixelmator Pro for example would have an relative easy job.
    razorpittmayjahbladeravnorodomwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 46
    But but but Apple didn't innovate anything, because the shell of the phone still looks the same! They're lazy! /s
    tmaylkruppbeowulfschmidtwilliamlondonDeelronRayz2016lolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 46
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,894member
    It’s interesting that Apple chose to save a greater percentage of power than they did to increase performance. It’s a choice. Next year they may decide to go the other way.
    FileMakerFellermuthuk_vanalingamentropyswatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 46
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,310member
    melgross said:
    It’s interesting that Apple chose to save a greater percentage of power than they did to increase performance. It’s a choice. Next year they may decide to go the other way.
    Easy choice when your SOC is already outperforming everything else on the market.
    tmaytwokatmewDeelronlolliverneo-techFileMakerFellerentropyswatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 46
    I was always under the impression that any CPU sent DC power (which I presume is defined as a 1 bit, or "power on") only to circuits that were actually intended to do anything. But I guess that's not true. Kinda stupid of chip designers to have power running through circuits when its not necessary. I guess they should have hired me decades ago, cause it's un-possible for me to be stupid.
    Clock gating is a non-trivial endeavor. The logic required to enable/disable a signal will necessarily insert a delay in that signal. You also need to know when a piece of logic will be needed before you need it, so you aren't waiting for it to turn on.

    It may be un-possible for you to be stupid, but it's certainly possible for you, me, and many others, to be ignorant.
    tmaySoliFileMakerFellermuthuk_vanalingamcommand_fmatrix077
  • Reply 8 of 46
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,663member
    melgross said:
    It’s interesting that Apple chose to save a greater percentage of power than they did to increase performance. It’s a choice. Next year they may decide to go the other way.
    Performance is not a concern for 90+% of the smartphone consumer market, but battery life is. Look how many people are totally happy with their iPhone 7's.  It really was an easy choice
    lollivermuthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 46
    What I don’t understand is why the Pros are gaining so much hours of extra battery life, while the iPhone 11 is only gaining 1 hour. It’s the same A13 SOC right?
    Or is the smartness of regulating power requirements a ‘pro’ feature that’s not built into the non-pro iPhone 11?
    Or are there other reasons for the Pros gaining more hours of battery life? Like an optimised screen (like smart refresh rates), that Apple didn’t talk about?
    edited September 11
  • Reply 10 of 46
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,894member
    lkrupp said:
    melgross said:
    It’s interesting that Apple chose to save a greater percentage of power than they did to increase performance. It’s a choice. Next year they may decide to go the other way.
    Easy choice when your SOC is already outperforming everything else on the market.
    Possibly, but I bet they agonized over every small choice they made. It’s interesting what they didn’t talk about that they do every year. We were expecting the Neaural Engine to get to 20TFlops this year, from 5 last year, but nothing. We also expected to hear about improvements in the ISP, but also nothing. They did talk about the new machine learning cores and something about what they do, but very little. Nothing about the new, what is it called, the UI core with the new, also unmentioned UWB sensing?

    it seems as though Apple is moving further from announcing anything technical at all. I don’t like that direction. They didn’t go over the last year, as usual, because Cook said that they had so much to talk about, but still ended short of the usual two hours, and well short of last year’s.
    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 11 of 46
    What I don’t understand is why the Pros are gaining so much hours of extra battery life, while the iPhone 11 is only gaining 1 hour. It’s the same A13 SOC right?
    Or is the smartness of regulating power requirements a ‘pro’ feature that’s not built into the non-pro iPhone 11?
    Or are there other reasons for the Pros gaining more hours of battery life? Like an optimised screen (like smart refresh rates), that Apple didn’t talk about?
    More place for bigger battery?
    rinosaur
  • Reply 12 of 46
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,894member

    MplsP said:
    melgross said:
    It’s interesting that Apple chose to save a greater percentage of power than they did to increase performance. It’s a choice. Next year they may decide to go the other way.
    Performance is not a concern for 90+% of the smartphone consumer market, but battery life is. Look how many people are totally happy with their iPhone 7's.  It really was an easy choice
    That’s not really true. Every company talks about the performance. Without that, many features wouldn’t be possible. At any rate, Apple doesn’t sell to most of that 90% who might not care, because they buy much cheaper phones, where price is the major issue for them. But when you buy a flagship, you do care, because you want reassurance that your money is going to something that flies, not crawls.
    rinosaur
  • Reply 13 of 46
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,894member

    What I don’t understand is why the Pros are gaining so much hours of extra battery life, while the iPhone 11 is only gaining 1 hour. It’s the same A13 SOC right?
    Or is the smartness of regulating power requirements a ‘pro’ feature that’s not built into the non-pro iPhone 11?
    Or are there other reasons for the Pros gaining more hours of battery life? Like an optimised screen (like smart refresh rates), that Apple didn’t talk about?
    The 11 already had much better battery life than the bigger phones. Until we know what Apple has done with the batteries, we won’t know what the reason is.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 46
    Anyone know how much RAM the new phones have? I know Apple doesn’t specify.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 46
    melgross said:
    lkrupp said:
    melgross said:


    it seems as though Apple is moving further from announcing anything technical at all. I don’t like that direction. They didn’t go over the last year, as usual, because Cook said that they had so much to talk about, but still ended short of the usual two hours, and well short of last year’s.
    I find this observation very interesting and would like to hear others from the AI community provide some insight to why this is occurring as well. Let's hear your thoughts please.
  • Reply 16 of 46

    We consumers don't appreciate anywhere near enough how much effort goes into designing and building the products that we enjoy every day.

    Chips with 8.5 BILLION transistors..... seriously... in a one-square-inch of space. This is insane!


    lolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 46

    I was always under the impression that any CPU sent DC power (which I presume is defined as a 1 bit, or "power on") only to circuits that were actually intended to do anything. But I guess that's not true. Kinda stupid of chip designers to have power running through circuits when its not necessary. I guess they should have hired me decades ago, cause it's un-possible for me to be stupid.

    You're not appreciating the true complexity of these chips. It's not anywhere near as simple or as straightforward as you're describing it to be. There's always the possibility that they had the 'idea', but were unable to implement it, and each year they learn new things and better ways of doing things.

    muthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 46
    tmaytmay Posts: 3,944member

    I was always under the impression that any CPU sent DC power (which I presume is defined as a 1 bit, or "power on") only to circuits that were actually intended to do anything. But I guess that's not true. Kinda stupid of chip designers to have power running through circuits when its not necessary. I guess they should have hired me decades ago, cause it's un-possible for me to be stupid.

    You're not appreciating the true complexity of these chips. It's not anywhere near as simple or as straightforward as you're describing it to be. There's always the possibility that they had the 'idea', but were unable to implement it, and each year they learn new things and better ways of doing things.

    It's interesting that Huawei is quoting 10.3 Billion transistors for their Kirin 990. but I'm thinking, that's a lot of brute force that isn't going to get them anywhere near the A13.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 46
    There is so much talk about Neural Engine that is mostly used for computational photography, but what else is it learning and is there any good examples from developers using it in their apps?
    edited September 11 watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 46
    Designing their own silicone was one of the best business decisions Apple made. And while true in the first gen iPhone it is amazing that it is at least as true today 
    watto_cobra
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