64bits A7/A8 chips: the biggest smartphone technological innovation over the last two years

For some peoples, trivial increase in screen size is what they call innovation. Of course, it is the first things you see but unless there is a significant new underlying technology, making something bigger is a bit trivial. At that rate, we will be talking with 10 and 12 inches phablet to our ears in a few years and call it innovation, instead of stupidity.

No, the biggest technological innovation is unseen to the naked eye: the lower power, high performance custom made 64bits A7 and A8  chips. I wouldn’t be surprise to discover some design genius also in the S1 chip for the Apple watch also (which in itself might be more exciting than the rest of the watch) but will have to wait a few more months.

Apple_A8_system-on-a-chip

2 billions transistors. That is the transistors count of the new 64 bits A8 chips Apple put in its latest smartphone.

Two billion transistors represents about the 2010 Quad-Core Itanuim counts, while the latest Haswell chips has about 1.4 billions transistors (without the GPU). Of course in the A8 this number is for the dual-core CPU and the integrated GPU (6 clusters) units.

Geekbench 3 benchmark scores

The top of the line 3.5GHz i7-4471 64 bits chip score 3914 for single core of  while the A8 gives around 1630 at 1.4GHz (also single core). Interestingly, this give more power per GHz (if such a metric is meaningful). Note that such a score is also equivalent to the 2009 3GHz Core 2 Duo T9900 found in MacBook Pro and iMac of that time… only 5 years back. Also, current MacBook Air scores about 2200 for single core. On the graphic side, the hexa-core Series 6XT GX6650 GPU is around or above 250 GFLOPSs, which would put it in the same class as a GeForce GT 620. The A8 chip is indeed a desktop class chip, if only a few years behind 😉

The iPhone 6 with the A8 does not have the largest numbers in term of GHz, # of CPU core and processor speed; the competition have numbers ranging from factor or 2 to 3 higher in those categories(!). As with anything, higher numbers do not always means better performance or a more efficient device. Yet, the iPhone 6 still ranks best in the class in some benchmarks and in the top contender spots in most categories (expect the benchmark heavily dependent on multicore such as the physics test). This makes it an overall top performer despite having only a 1.4 Ghz dual core chip and despite having only 1 Gb of RAM…

Even more interesting, and certainly part of the excitement for the underlying technologies part of the iPhone 6, is the battery life. Again, the iPhone is not the best but still performing very good in these tests. It does so however with some of the smallest batteries on the market (only 1810 mAh for the iPhone 6). As such, the “talk-time” or “on time” per mAh is by a large margin better for Apple hardware than the competition for similar or better computing performance; Apple obviously prefer smaller phone thickness (which the A-series chips power/performance ratio allow Apple to do) to larger batteries. This option is simply not available to the competition without either seriously impacting “talk time” or decreasing the specs to abysmal level.

In short, the A8 64 bits chip is a truly amazing overall design engineering feat but also telling is the other part of the equation: the extremely efficient underpinning UNIX system (iOS is a derivative of OSX after all) and to some extent much better apps programming to fit within the RAM space and still outperform the competition in usability. This is true innovation, not screen size and the like. At this point, the performance gap between the iPhone 6 and a MacBook Air appears to be roughly 40-50% (based on Geekbench 3 scores). Convergence of computing power between ultraportable notebook, smartphone and other portable devices is almost a reality with the very low power chips.

Again, it is going to be interesting to see what the internal of the Apple Watch is really made of. The internal, that is the S1 chip but also the new haptic interface, might very well be the true innovation in what would otherwise be simply another fitness gadget.

Posted on October 4, 2014, in Gadget, Hardware, Software, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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