The release of Apple’s latest iPhone 6S and iPad Pro, with the new A9 and A9X processors, has led some to speculate that the devices can beat Intel’s latest chips. This was based primarily off Geekbench, a cross platform benchmark, which showed these new iOS devices coming near or, in some cases, beating the MacBook. But the benchmark is not an entirely fair comparison, as its results can be swayed by each platform’s operating system overhead and memory configuration. That left the final verdict up in the air.
Now, thanks to Anandtech, we have a new, more definitive comparison, accomplished by compiling versions of the SPECint2006 benchmark for the iPad Pro and several Intel-powered systems. Even this is not an “apples to apples” comparison, but it’s about as close as someone reviewing a retail device can get.
For comparison, Anandtech pitted the iPad Pro against three other systems: the Apple MacBook with a Core M-5Y31 processor, the Asus T300 Chi with a Core M-5Y71 processor, and the Asus Zenbook UX305CA with a Core m3-6Y30 processor.
In terms of wins and losses, the iPad Pro and MacBook tied, with five wins each across the set of ten benchmarks. However, the iPad Pro’s margin of victory was no more than 38 percent at the best, while it lost by up to 74 percent in its weakest showing. On the whole, then, the MacBook takes the crown.
The results skewed even further in favor of Intel with the Zenbook and the T300 Chi, which have more powerful processors. With the Zenbook’s entry-level Skylake the ratio of wins and loses remained the same, but the iPad Pro’s wins became very slim, indeed. The T300 Chi, with its top-tier Core M-5Y71, defeated the iPad Pro in every benchmark and in some cases more than doubled the iPad’s score.
Of course, these results shouldn’t be seen as rain on the iPad Pro’s parade. Anandtech’s review found the new model is between 30 to 80 percent quicker than the iPad Air 2 in the same benchmark set, and the plus-sized iOS tablet completely destroys the Android competition in every test aside from a lone 3DMark physics benchmark. Apple’s device is hugely impressive – but it’s not able to beat Intel yet.
Still, it’s worth taking note of Apple’s jump in performance. As noted by Anandtech’s review, “it’s significant progress in a short period of time, [and we’ll] wager it’s closer than Intel would like to be.”
If Apple can keep up this rate of improvement it could, in fact, overtake Intel’s Core M processors within a few years. But that’s the rub. At this point, Apple may be operating at the limits of what’s possible with the production technology it has access to (Intel owns its production facilities, while Apple relies on third-party foundries, like Samsung and TSMC). Can Apple keep up the pace? That’s anyone guess, but the next few years should prove very interesting for hardware geeks.