Apple A13 Bionic: closer look at the world's most powerful smartphone chip

Apple A13 Bionic: closer look at the world's most powerful smartphone chip
At the heart of an iPhone is a special chip, one made entirely by Apple, and so far, in the last few years, those chips have been competing only with themselves in the race for the fastest processor on a phone.

So it comes as no surprise that this year, with the new Apple A13 Bionic, Apple has once again extended its lead over the ubiquitous Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 found on most Android phones. Not a tough task considering that last year's Apple A12 already had faster performance than the Snapdragon 855, but still worth mentioning.

What Apple has achieved this year is another significant leap not only in performance, but also in efficiency as the A13 is at the core of why the iPhone 11 series are the longest-lasting iPhones ever made.

So before going into the details, let's quickly take a look at just how fast exactly the A13 is:


The chart comes courtesy of Apple and summarizes the performance of the A13. Notice the Snapdragon 855, the Kirin 980, and the Snapdragon 845 trailing way behind. In fact, the Snapdragon 845 performance is nearly half that of the new A13.

Apple A13 Bionic Highlights


Let's take a look at the Apple A13 Bionic highlights:

  • It has 8.5 billion transistors
  • Uses advanced, second-generation 7nm process
  • It features 4-efficiency CPU cores, used most of the time to get great battery life
  • Hundreds of voltage domains, turning only select parts of the chip to achieve great efficiency
  • Lower Power efficiency: most efficient chip today, up to 20% better efficiency than A12
  • CPU and GPU up to 20% faster performance
  • Best sustained performance ever on an Apple chip
  • Machine learning, capable of 1 trillion operations per second


Power Efficiency


The big focus with the A13 is on power efficiency.

The new chip uses second-generation, advanced 7 nanometer process to achieve that, but it is not just the process and the transistors, but the way Apple has optimized the architecture by using 4 efficiency (low-power) CPU cores for many daily tasks.

Another interesting technique that the company uses is that it can turn up only specific parts of the chip for a specific task (it uses hundreds of voltage domains for this), again achieving higher efficiency.

Everything combined, the new A13 achieves the following in terms of numbers:

  • 2 performance CPU cores are 20% faster, use 30% less power compared to A12
  • 4 efficiency CPU cores are 20% faster, use 40% less power
  • GPU has 4 cores and is 20% faster, uses 40% less power
  • Neural Engine has 8 cores and is 20% faster, uses 15% less power 


Machine Learning


Then, there is machine learning.

Apple claims the A13 is the best machine learning platform in any smartphone thanks to a number of improvements. The major one is new dedicated accelerators in the CPU that allow the phone to carry out one of the most common machine learning tasks (matrix multiplication) 6 times faster. Overall, the CPU alone has a capacity of 1 trillion operations per second.

It comes with a Machine Learning Controller, which allows ML models to be scheduled across the CPU, GPU and the Neural Engine, making this a fully integrated platform that can balance efficiency and performance. It can be used for on-device natural language processing, image classification in photos and videos, character animation in AR apps, and a ton more.


Final Words


Apple has the unique advantage of what it calls "owning the entire vertical stack", meaning that it is the one making the software, the one making the system hardware and the one making the chip design, so it can optimize everything from the tiny transistor to the little bits of code.

We should also say that the above numbers are the official ones provided by Apple. There is no reason to doubt them: previous fact-checking has shown that they are even a bit conservative, but we are looking forward to testing the Apple A13 Bionic ourselves in benchmarks and real-world use.

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103 Comments

99. CreeDiddy

Posts: 2289; Member since: Nov 04, 2011

Pretty impressive 5500/14000 GB4 scores

97. Slowpoke

Posts: 23; Member since: Sep 30, 2015

Some of you are hung up on the operating systems use of multi-tasking being a deciding factor on CPU/VPU benchmark results. When the benchmarks are being run there are proper procedures to running them. Both iPhone and android run many background tasks. For example you can play music while reading a web page and your phone may ring to indicate you have a call. These are examples of multi-tasking. While Apple limits running multiple windows to only its iPads I think this has more to do with screen real estate concerns and total ram included than capabilities of iOS itself. The flat out best comparison of the differences in performance is in an Anand Tech article. If you make it through this technical article you will be able to sound educated and thoughtful to what chip can do what best. And yes the Apple chips were performing measurably better in most aspects. Most importantly power/performance. Google Anandtech SPEC2006 Performance: Reaching Desktop Levels

95. inFla

Posts: 230; Member since: Aug 17, 2018

Most of the people that buy an iPhone don't know or care what chip is in it. They buy it because its an iPhone.

90. Deadeye

Posts: 131; Member since: Jul 26, 2019

Most powerful chip based on a powerpoint presentation made by Apple. What a shameful journalism.

91. kaydentc1

Posts: 3; Member since: Sep 11, 2019

The resulted to use Microsoft PowerPoint I stead of their own software... What shame

100. Titirez

Posts: 4; Member since: Sep 11, 2019

One fact from life: Bad products need advertising. Geast like Iphone and Samsung. A13 and kirin990 are slow. To slow. People wants small things: Speed Fiability ( not damadge after 3 months) That is all.

101. Titirez

Posts: 4; Member since: Sep 11, 2019

People don't need technical theory. Technical presentation it's nothing, for 90% of population. Try to wake up (specialist)

102. Titirez

Posts: 4; Member since: Sep 11, 2019

The best things, don't need advertising.

89. bucky

Posts: 3797; Member since: Sep 30, 2009

This was always going to happen. A12 still wasn’t derailed, never mind A13

88. kamejoko

Posts: 257; Member since: Nov 10, 2011

cause returning galaxy note 10 +?

83. ScottsoNJ56

Posts: 169; Member since: Oct 01, 2017

This is the most powerful IOS chip. Since it's not running android and the snapdragon isn't running ios how can they compare how fast they are when they aren't running the same thing???

85. kaydentc1

Posts: 3; Member since: Sep 11, 2019

The A13 (like every other chipset Apple has created) is OPTIMIZED for one and only OS. If the chipset is exposed to one OS, it's not gonna perform as well because it's not made for it. Android is multiplatform! Meaning you can edit or even replace your OEM software to extend battery life, increase performance, or customize it to your taste. Now I am not participating in the Apple fanboy AmashAziz circle jerk of 2019 who keeps getting backed into a corner and expects us to suck Apple's dick because he watched a video based on someone's opinion that really doesn't matter when it comes to a long term use and also listened to Apple's keynote that the results are based in-house and not in the real world, I'm saying that real-world performance is the ONLY thing that matters. And Apple wouldn't be anywhere without TSMC, Qualcomm, Samsung, SanDisk, Sony, Omnivision, ARM, Yahoo, Oracle, and many more companies I didn't name.

86. kaydentc1

Posts: 3; Member since: Sep 11, 2019

Multiplatform and developer friendly*** I goofed up part of my comment. Lookout Reddit, here I come!

87. ScottsoNJ56

Posts: 169; Member since: Oct 01, 2017

That's why I never understand when they make a claim like this. It's like comparing a Porsche and a Tesla and which 1 goes faster

71. Rellaghs

Posts: 6; Member since: Jun 19, 2019

Benchmarks are corrupt, multiple times we've been fooled by companies workarounds. True day-to-day experience is the key, and SD855 and Apple A12 are more than enough! Now lets get those prices down, 1000$ phones are too much. Thank you.

66. Cat97

Posts: 2055; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

We have to give credit where it's due. But what I do NOT understand is, if Apple's chips are so efficient, why is their phone's battery life so poor compared to anything else (minus the Google Pixel which is just as bad) ?

67. Gustaurus

Posts: 25; Member since: Sep 03, 2018

Pay attention to the 3D Touch layer on the display that increasing the thickness of the display itself. That case make smaller room for the battery. The problem of the latest iPhone's battery endurance is not the efficiency but the battery capacity itself. That's why this year Apple removes the 3D Touch layer on the display to make the battery capacity larger although it's still smaller capacity than Android flagship. Maybe because the design of the Apple SoC itself is bigger than Android SoC maker. So Apple feels so hard to put larger battery on their iPhones because their SoC takes much space.

56. Gustaurus

Posts: 25; Member since: Sep 03, 2018

Benchmark is run from different OS, so it's not clear. I've watch so many real speed test especially on opening apps simultaneous and processing task such as video converting on youtube both A12 and SD855, the A12 wins on benchmark but mostly left behind on speed test. But in opening games, both are close. But if comparing A13 and SD855+, I'm quite sure A13 wins because it's the newest SoC. It is interesting to see how real speed test on Kirin 990 vs A13 which is launched in about same month (this September). But on benchmark, yes Kirin 990 maybe below A13.

53. kamejoko

Posts: 257; Member since: Nov 10, 2011

no 7nm EUV?

51. Priyam009

Posts: 79; Member since: Oct 23, 2018

You know its gonna get a crazy high score in review when a dumb meh phone like this gets 20 odds article in PA! Whereas way better phones will get hardly 2 when they got released! And worlds most powerful PA says? Its Kirin 990 at the moment! Same 7nm euv process with 2billlion more transistors! Bias level too damn high

54. kamejoko

Posts: 257; Member since: Nov 10, 2011

990 not sure 7nm euv. I don't see any 7nm euv from huawei.

60. Priyam009

Posts: 79; Member since: Oct 23, 2018

Lol check again kirin 990 is the first soc to incorporate EUV!

49. gadgetpower

Posts: 327; Member since: Aug 23, 2019

The fastest chip ever on a phone. Even iphone is 5 years old, it will still work flawlessly as compared to android.

59. Cicero

Posts: 1163; Member since: Jan 22, 2014

How do you know that? I still have iPhone 4 and Samsung S2 and both work flawlessly. With a LOT of downsides. Because of old software they are running.

48. sean8102

Posts: 2; Member since: Jan 25, 2019

I wonder why it's so hard for so many people to accept that Apple's in house chip team dose a fantastic job? I have not bought or owned a iPhone since the iPhone 4. I HATE iOS and how locked down and lacking in customization it is. But I got no problem giving credit where credit is due, Apple's A series SoC's are beasts. From what I understand a big reason they have such high perf is they have a larger cache size than the high end SoC's on the Android side (which also makes the chips more expensive). The SD855 for example has 2MB L3 cache while the A12 has 8MB.

39. KhaoticShot

Posts: 5; Member since: Sep 10, 2019

I'm just over here waiting for the ROG Phone 2 to clap everyone

37. Jrod99

Posts: 782; Member since: Jan 15, 2016

Looks like we need a tech expert on the scene. One from the old school. Does anyone know one?

33. Forthememes

Posts: 1; Member since: Sep 10, 2019

What about the Kirin 990?

35. AmashAziz

Posts: 2934; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

Good chip. But the A13 is much faster.

36. TheYellowFlash

Posts: 45; Member since: Oct 08, 2015

Just like Victor's claim that A12 is faster than SD855? But the Note 10+ destroyed the 10 XS Max on speedtest. I guess we'll found out soon enough.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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