Fresh out the frying pan and into the fire, I just finished my Nexus One review late last night only to have my iPad preorder show up early this afternoon. I had been preparing for it's arrival not by downloading apps but by figuring out what comparative benchmarks I wanted to run on the iPhone 3GS and Nexus One.

As the first device to use Apple's A4 SoC I wanted to see how it stacked up against the Cortex A8 and Qualcomm's QSD8250. All three chips appear to be dual issue in order architectures with varying pipeline depths, clock speeds and cache sizes.

At 600MHz the Cortex A8 in the iPhone 3GS is the slowest out of the bunch. The Snapdragon is much faster as we just established thanks in part to it's 1GHz clock speed. But what about Apple's 1GHz A4?

There's very little we know about the A4 other than it's operating frequency. It is manufactured by Samsung but on an unknown process node. Jon Stokes recently stated that Apple's secrecy surrounding the chip is because it isn't anything special, just a Cortex A8. If that is true, I suspect that it would have to be manufactured at 45nm in order to reach such a high clock speed.

With a new silicon mask there's also the chance that Apple moved to LPDDR2 to boost memory bandwidth; a change that most SoC makers are planning to make this year.

So how does Apple's A4 stack up against today's favorite smartphone brainchild? Keep in mind that these results are generated by running two different OSes (Android 2.1 and iPhone OS 3.2) and two different browsers. What we're looking at is the performance delivered by the combination of the CPU and the software stack:

Applications Processor Performance
  Apple iPad (Apple A4) Apple iPhone 3GS (ARM Cortex A8) Google Nexus One (Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8250) % A4 Faster than Snapdragon
Load 6.2 seconds 9.3 seconds 8.8 seconds 41%
Load 10.6 seconds 18.0 seconds 11.5 seconds 8.7%
Load 7.9 seconds 13.9 seconds 8.6 seconds 8.7%
Load 7.8 seconds 13.8 seconds 11.0 seconds 39.9%
Load 6.8 seconds 12.3 seconds 8.6 seconds 26%
Load 3.7 seconds 7.4 seconds 4.2 seconds 11.6%
Load 13.8 seconds 22.8 seconds 22.0 seconds 59.4%
Load 14.1 seconds 21.4 seconds 16.7 seconds 18.5%
Load 3.0 seconds 6.0 seconds 2.6 seconds -11.8%

Unless otherwise specified, I loaded the full version of all of the websites above (the exception being CNN, where I used the mobile site). To ensure reliability, I ran all of these tests at least 5 times, threw out any outliers and averaged the rest. The rests were also run at around the same time to ensure that content on the sites was as similar as possible (and thus shouldn't be compared to this morning's Nexus One results). You'll note that the Engadget results are a bit odd. It looks like the iPhone and Nexus One scores are bottlenecked somewhere else (there seemed to be some network issue plaguing the loads, but it wasn't present on the iPad), but if you toss out the very large differences you end up with what I believe to be the real story here. Update: Flash wasn't enabled on any device (not supported on iPad/iPhone, not officially available on Android yet), and all three devices connected to the same WiFi network.  The Apple devices used mobile Safari, while the Android device used the Android Browser.  Both are WebKit based but there are obvious, unavoidable software differences.

Removing the AnandTech, Ars Technica and Engadget loads (which were repeatable, but unusually long) the iPad loads web pages 10% faster than the Nexus One. If you include those three results the advantage grows to 22.5%. I'd say somewhere in the 10% range is probably realistic for how much faster the A4 is compared to the Snapdragon.

I also ran the official WebKit SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark on all three platforms to give us a network independent look at real world JavaScript performance:

If we take the network out of the equation, the A4 in the iPad has a 37.6% performance advantage over the Qualcomm QSD8250. This actually supports some of the larger performance differences we saw earlier. If Apple can manage to deliver this sort of performance in its smartphone version of the A4, we're in for a treat.

The why is much more difficult to ascertain. It could be as simple as the the iPad OS being better optimized than Android, a definite possibility given how much longer Apple has been working on it compared to Google. The advantage could also be hardware. The A4 may boast higher IPC than Qualcomm's Snapdragon thanks to better core architecture, larger caches or a faster memory bus. The likely case is somewhere in between, where the iPad's advantage comes from a combination of hardware and software.

It could also be a power optimization thing. The A4 in the iPad is paired with a much larger battery than the QSD8250 in the Nexus One, Apple may be able to run the SoC at more aggressive performance settings since it doesn't have to worry about battery life as much. Either way the one thing we can be sure of is Apple's A4 SoC is much more like a 1GHz Cortex A8 rather than anything more exotic. Good work Jon :)

I should note that while the performance improvement is significant, it's not earth shattering. Despite the early reports of the iPad being blazingly fast, I found it just "acceptable" in my limited time with it thus far. I'll go into greater detail in my full review later.

This does bode well for the upcoming 4th generation iPhone, which is widely expected to also use the Apple A4 SoC. That upgrade alone should put the next iPhone ahead of Google's Nexus One in performance, assuming that it offers the same performance as it does in the iPad. Pair it with a modernized and feature heavy iPhone OS 4.0 and we might see an Apple answer to Android in 2010.

The A4 is particularly exciting because it combines Snapdragon-like CPU performance with a PowerVR SGX GPU. A much better option than the aging ATI core used in Qualcomm's QSD8x50 series.

With Apple showing its A4 performance this early, Qualcomm also has a target to aim at. The first single-core 45nm Snapdragon SoC due out in 2010 will run at 1.3GHz. That could be enough to either equal or outperform Apple's A4 based on what we've seen here today.

Expect our full review of Apple's iPad as well as more discussion about the A4 next week. Have a great weekend guys.

Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • TopDNBass - Sunday, April 4, 2010 - link

    The Pad dimensions:
    9.56 inches (242.8 mm)
    7.47 inches (189.7 mm)
    0.5 inch (13.4 mm)
    1.5 pounds (0.68 kg) Wi-Fi model;
    1.6 pounds (0.73 kg) Wi-Fi + 3G model

    The Nexus dimensions.
    119 mm
    59.8 mm
    11.5 mm
    130 g (with battery)
    100 g (without battery)

    The nexus is a fuckin' PHONE, with an overclockable 1gHz processor, 512MB RAM, GPS, 3G, Multitouch, Flash coming soon, Amazing everything.

    Compared to a damn Pad, <256MB RAM, OPTIONAL 3g, will NEVER have real multitasking, and probably not FLASH, since their trying to make HTML5 the new standard...

    If you haven't noticed, the Pad is 2-3x bigger than the nexus in every way.
    Yet still has a disgustingly low amount of RAM, and you have to pay extra for 3g.
    If cr@pple couldn't get it right with that much space, and the best CPU they could churn out just barely compares to a phone's imagine what google and htc could do!

    Pad, pick on someone your own size! You don't see me comparing phones to netbooks or laptops!
    Not to mention this is an inherently flawed benchmark in every way..
  • TopDNBass - Sunday, April 4, 2010 - link

    Sorry about the dbl post, I can't edit?

    I also wanted to add, the nexus has a camera with flash, it's a PHONE so it makes CALLS.Has live wallpapers, revolutionary Voice-To-Text, amazing apps, not a bunch of b.s. like in the app store.

    I've lost respect for you Anand, you put this under smartphones? Is apple really so far behind that they need to inflate the size of an iphone by more than 3x to compare to an HTC cell phone?
  • colddarkdrink - Sunday, April 4, 2010 - link

    Palm Pre Plus Web OS 1.4.0

    sunspider benchies
    I got 17360@600
  • vol7ron - Sunday, April 4, 2010 - link

    Despite the problems mentioned w/ comparing "Apples" to oranges - pun intended - I am thankful for including the IPhone 3GS in there. I think this is the best that can be done, since the 3GS and the iPad are almost the same product. You didn't design the product, so there really is nothing in the same class as the iPad. It's less than a tablet, or a netbook, but a little more than an iPod Touch.

    Thanks Anand.
    I'm looking forward to future reviews of the iPhone 4g and some of the other smartphones when they're out.

  • nitussi - Sunday, April 4, 2010 - link

    The ipad may bring up a web page over wifi faster than my quad-core laptop.. but there is no-way in hell it has a faster processor. Hell, my laptop brings up a webpage faster with chrome than it does with explorer, so what does that mean?
  • Kidster3001 - Sunday, April 4, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the article.

    The iPad is not a netbook replacement, nor is it a smartphone replacement. It doesn't replace either and isn't intended too. Anyone who wants to use one to replace one of the other platforms will not like it. Anyone who expects it to compete against either of those platforms is crazy.

    It's an appliance, a toy, whatever you want to call it, to allow for nearly instant access to small things quickly. When the wife and I are watching a movie and can't remember the actors name we can get it in 10 seconds with the iPad. I can check forum posts or blogs in a few seconds in the morning over coffee These things can be done with a net book or smartphone, but the tablet makes it so much more convenient.

    Posted from my iPad in the Lazy-boy
  • Alexstarfire - Sunday, April 4, 2010 - link

    No offense, but more convenient? Really? You do know that there have been other, better tablets released already, right? Not to mention IDK how a tablet is either to read than a laptop/netbook. I suppose it could be on par if you want to spend extra money to get the stand, but that's about it.

    It's not much use trying to use logic to argue with those who defend most Apple products though. If you guys want your stuff for looks, ease of setup (assuming iMac anyway), and essentially not having to worry about viruses/malware (if only for the moment) then that's fine. I just find it laughable when people try to defend them in any other way. This especially includes the iPad.
  • T2k - Monday, April 5, 2010 - link

    "When the wife and I are watching a movie and can't remember the actors name we can get it in 10 seconds with the iPad. I can check forum posts or blogs in a few seconds in the morning over coffee These things can be done with a net book or smartphone, but the tablet makes it so much more convenient."

    You iTards are hilarious - which one of these features are more convenient on a coffee table-sized iPod than on, say, any 8-9" tablet or laptop, let alone a decent 4" smartphone?

    You guys are so hilarious with your twisted, idiotic (ill)ogic, bending backwards to justify your latest mandatory BOGU-purchase* from Apple...

    *: Bend Over, Grease Up, here comes this year's 'must-have' Apple (tax)...
  • nitussi - Sunday, April 4, 2010 - link

    The Nexus one is a phone which has to do a lot more than the ipad does..

    The problem to me is, with todays technology I expect to have control over how much ram is in my device and being able to change the battery without sending it in for service when it dies in two to three years. I prefer not to have to spend an extra $100 for 16GB.. $200 for 32GB.. and a wopping $300 for 64GB for memory. No usb port! This is a oversize ipod and peeps are being played with this ipad just like back in the day.
  • Some1ne - Sunday, April 4, 2010 - link

    While I understand that the iPad is little more than a super-sized iPhone, it is still marketed as a tablet PC. And I would fully expect a tablet PC to trounce a smartphone in terms of performance. If anything, I think the fact that the numbers are reasonably close in most cases shows that the iPad is woefully underpowered given that it's a completely different class of device. It should be able to handily outperform any smartphone, and not just by 10-20%. It really should be more like 100-200% faster, all things considered. Why would I want a tablet PC that can only just barely outperform my phone?

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now