The Cyclone processor core: unprecedented width
Before we get into the technicalities, let’s mention that all new Apple smartphones and tablets (the iPhone 5s, iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina) are powered by the Apple A7 chip. What’s a bit surprising with Apple’s choice of silicon is that all three new Apple devices actually feature the the exact same modification of the chip, the S5L8960X.
However, this chip does not perform equally on a tablet and on a phone. The larger space and better cooling possibilities of a tablet allow Apple to run the A7 Cyclone processing core at higher speeds. While the iPhone 5s features a dual-core chip that runs at up to 1.3GHz, the iPad Air uses the same dual-core chip but now at speeds of up to 1.4GHz.
What’s more interesting is that under heavy load, the iPhone 5s hits peak speeds for a few moments and then drops back to 900MHz, that’s Apple’s throttle here and it’s implemented to keep heating in check and battery life reasonable. On the iPad Air a throttle also kicks in, but it downsized the clock speeds to the much higher 1.2GHz. This means that under heavier loads, the iPad Air could perform up to 40% faster than the iPhone 5s, but not less than some 8% better.
Apple A7 comes with lower power consumption
In real life testing, the iPad Air proves to be a battery-thrifty chip dropping down to 4 watts in less intensive tasks and still less than 5 watts in games like Infinity Blade. While peak power could theoretically reach as high as nearly 12 watts compared to up to 8 watts on previous iPads, real-life usage shows that the power drain actually averages to somewhere around 4 to 5 watts. So even though the Air is well capable of eating out battery quicker, in reality it is more power-savvy than earlier iPads.
All of this comes as Apple has decreased significantly the battery size. The iPad Air features a 32.4Wh battery, down from a 42.5Wh one on the iPad 3rd and 4th generations.
Now - somewhat surprisingly - having a smaller battery might actually be a good thing for an iPad. The tablet ships with a 12W charger and the large battery in earlier iPads meant that the device took an excruciatingly long nearly 6 hours to recharge. This drops to around 4 hours on the iPad Air, still not as fast as one would like, but definitely a more reasonable time frame.