iPad Air 2 (Apple A8X) benchmarks reveal tri-core CPU surprise, 2GB of RAM confirmed

Apple unveiled the iPad Air 2, claiming the world’s thinnest tablet title, but the second generation of the airy tablet also packs some serious punch coming with the Apple A8X system chip. So far, we only knew that Apple has ramped up the number of transistors in the A8X to a whopping 3 billion, up from 2 billion in the A8 and 1 billion in the A7. This remarkable achievement, however, did not reveal much about the inner workings of the Apple A8X: it’s most likely a 20nm chip, but what about its CPU and GPU?

The iPad Air 2 is yet to arrive in stores, but some folks have gotten an early look at it and ran it through benchmarks. The results are in and so are some very interesting revelations: Geekbench reports that the iPad Air 2 comes with a very unorthodox tri-core CPU and each core gets a bump in nominal clock speed from 1.4GHz in the A8 to 1.5GHz in the A8X.

This additional core explains a lot about the 1 billion increase in transistors, and it further cements the point about the iPad Air being in a whole different league in terms of productivity when compared to the iPhone. This border was blurred last year when both the iPhone and the iPad used largely the same Apple A7 chip, while this year Apple is eager to make a more clear distinction between the two.

The iPad Air 2 has also got 2GB of RAM, double the amount of memory on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, and that’s important for multitasking.

Geekbench results give us a well-rounded look at CPU performance:

Interestingly, we can clearly see that after years of enjoying being the undisputed king of single-core performance, Apple is finally seeing some solid competition from the Nexus 9 with its Nvidia Tegra K1 chip. Both the Apple A8X and the Tegra K1 are contemporary 64-bit platforms with large CPU cores, and it shows in the results. The K1 is actually a bit ahead of the Apple A8X in terms of single-core compute.

Cyclone vs Denver

Technically, the Denver CPU core is also a wider core than Apple’s Cyclone: it has a 7-issue superscalar in-order design with a large 13-cycle pipeline, and if you’re wondering why Nvidia has gone with in-order rather than out-of-order (OoO), the company claims this is because of a technique called “Dynamic Code Optimization”. Here is what Nvidia says about this:

Apple’s Cyclone core on its part is also a large, 6-issue wide OoO design with a mispredict penalty of 14 to 19 cycles, similar to that of Intel’s desktop architectures.

With all those technicalities in mind, it’s worth also pointing out that having three CPU cores results in a spectacular multi-core performance for the iPad Air 2. In fact, comparisons with the 2011 MacBook Air (with what is assumed to be a basic, Core i5 Sandy Bridge configuration, show that the iPad Air 2 actually beats the three year old notebook. Impressive!

Apple iPad Air 2 GPU benchmarked

Finally, we’re also seeing the first results for graphics performance on the iPad Air 2, courtesy of 3D Mark Ice Storm Unlimited where the iPad Air 2 scores 21660, less than the 25700-ish score of the Tegra K1. We still have no clear idea what is the exact GPU used in the new iPad Air 2, but we'd bet on the PowerVR GX6650 6-cluster graphics chip, an upgrade from the 4-cluster GX6450 on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Let’s keep in mind, though, that all of these are preliminary benchmarks that we have not yet been able to run on retail devices. 

With this disclaimer, what do you think: does the Apple A8X and iPad Air 2 live up to your expectations?

Thanks for the tip, TylerGrunter!


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