Apple’s A16 chip doesn’t live up to its price or “Pro” expectations
Posted onAuthorMelissa A. HarbisonComments Off on Apple’s A16 chip doesn’t live up to its price or “Pro” expectations
Every year, Apple debuts a new A-series system-on-chip to pair with the latest iPhones. This year, the company took a whole new path. The new A16 processor is reserved for “Pro” iPhone models only, while standard iPhone 14 models get the same A15 we were introduced to last year (the 5-core GPU version that was in iPhone 13 Pro models).
The separation of this year and last year is not the only unique thing. The A16 is, more than usual, a relatively minor evolution over the previous SoC. There are of course some changes, but the average user is unlikely to notice them. The differences between A15 and A16 appear to be relatively slight compared to Apple’s typical annual cadence.
Earlier this year, I made a few predictions about the A16 that were based on assumptions that certainly didn’t all come to fruition. While some things are true, the A16’s performance boost is about half of what I predicted, and there are fewer major tech upgrades visible. Here’s what’s new in the A16 and what you can expect from Apple’s first “Pro-only” A-series chip.
What has changed compared to A15 Bionic
At first glance, the A16 looks architecturally similar to the A15. There are two high-performance CPU cores and four high-efficiency cores, five GPU cores and 16 Neural Engine cores to run machine learning and AI algorithms. Just like the A15.
The chip is made using a new “4 nanometer” process from TSMC, according to Apple, making it the first such processor in a smartphone. According to the Nikei Asia teardown, this is an expensive change. The site found that the chip costs “more than 2.4 times more than the A15 version used in the iPhone 13 Pro Max released last year”. The site reports that Apple is paying $110 for each chip, driving iPhone production costs “to an all-time high.” To its credit, Apple hasn’t raised the price of the iPhone 14 Pro models from last year.
It should be noted, however, that TSMC’s “N4” process is not a 4nm process in the truest sense, with TSMC itself even calling it “an upgraded version of N5 technology”. Although this is a more advanced process than previous A-series processors, it is not a true next-generation silicon manufacturing process; you’ll have to wait for the 3nm process next year for such a thing.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
The number of transistors has increased by a few percent to 16 billion (from 15 billion), and it’s likely that most of this higher budget will be spent on the new display engine (which handles the display of the iPhone 14 Pro down to 1Hz in always-on display mode and can throw it at up to 2000 nits in direct sunlight), memory controller and image signal processor.
As for the more versatile parts of the processor, they seem hardly changed. The high-performance CPU cores are codenamed “Everest” and can clock up to 3.46 GHz, an increase of about 7% from the A15’s 3.24 GHz maximum for its cores.” Avalanche”. The high-efficiency cores are codenamed “Sawtooth” and are clocked at up to 2.02 GHz, almost the same speed as the 2.01 GHz of the A15’s 2.01 GHz “Blizzard” cores. Although these cores are renamed, the architectural changes seem minor at best, as they don’t deliver performance outside of the expected increase in clock speed boost.
The Neural Engine is still 16 cores, just like in the A15. Apple claims to perform up to 17 trillion operations per second, an increase of around 8% over the A15’s 15.8 trillion. I think it’s probably the same design just a bit higher.
Perhaps the biggest change is the switch to LPDDR5 memory, which should provide 50% more memory bandwidth than the A15’s LPDDR4x memory. Apple has actually moved to LPDDR5 in the M1 line of processors (on the M1 Pro, Max and Ultra), which is based on the A14 chip architecture – the only real surprise here is that the company has waited so long to do so in their iPhone-related chips. There may be very specific circumstances where a task is entirely limited by memory bandwidth on the A15, in which case the A16 should perform much better.
So at first glance we have what looks to be essentially an A15 that clocks higher, with a new display engine and possibly an image signal processor. We have read reports that there are new security measures in the processor ROM; This isn’t surprising, considering how hard Apple works on both hardware and software to make their devices difficult to hack.
Given that the CPU architecture hasn’t changed much, but is running at up to 7% higher clock speed (and with more memory bandwidth available), we should expect that most CPU benchmarks show performance gains of 10% or less.
A quick look at the numbers from Geekbench 5 shows us that indeed the maximum performance of the single-core processor seems to have increased by around 8-10% compared to the A15. Multi-core performance is a bit better, but it’s likely that these tests are more easily able to overwhelm chip caches and would therefore benefit from the increased memory bandwidth.
The A16 Bionic has five GPU cores, just like the top-end A15, and I don’t think there were any architectural changes. But high-end 3D graphics tend to be very demanding on memory bandwidth, and I expect the switch to LPDDR5 memory to have a significant impact here. I have no real idea of GPU clock speeds, but it would be reasonable to expect the cores to be able to clock around 7% higher, just like high performance CPU cores.
Looking at one of the most demanding 3D graphics benchmarks, 3DMark Wild Life, performance ranges from around 7% faster in the easiest modes to around 19% in the “Wild Life Extreme” test. Unlimited”. It’s a good improvement, and in line with what I would expect from a slight increase in clock speed and a large increase in memory bandwidth.
When using the GPU to perform general-purpose calculations, as tested in the GeekBench Compute Score (see above), the performance improvement is on the order of 7-8%.
A15+ would be a more honest name
There is no doubt that the A16 is not just a “binned” version of the A15 (“binning”, which is when the chips that are tested to perform better in manufacturing are separated and sold as a different model). This is a new chip. But there’s no major architectural overhaul here that I can see, just minor revisions to improve maximum clock speed and power efficiency. That’s less of a leap from last year’s model than what we’re used to seeing in Apple’s annual iPhone redesign, a fact that’s only underscored by the fact that the Standard iPhone 14 models still use last year’s A15 while offering important features like Action Mode, Photonics Engine, and 4K Cinematic Mode.
Apple hasn’t promoted any particular CPU features as “new” other than the display engine (which is needed to handle the iPhone 14 Pro’s always-on display and 1Hz refresh rate), and the actually marketed most directly against Android phones. and the A13 is the three-year-old flagship. The performance graphs are just not very impressive with a 7-10% performance increase.
To that end, I feel like Apple probably shouldn’t have given this chip the A16 moniker. In most cases, this is an optimized A15. Even the new “4nm” manufacturing process is best described as a modified 5nm process. It’s probably unreasonable to expect breakthrough advancements every year, with entirely new architectures delivering 20% performance improvements. The occasional “tune-up” year is a good one, especially since Apple currently has such a lead in smartphone performance. But the naming should reflect that, and a title like A15+ or A15 Pro looks like a more honest representation of this chip.
SkyWater Technology (NASDAQ:SKYT – Get a review) had its price target raised by Cowen from $12.00 to $20.00 in a research note released Tuesday to investors, Stock Target Advisor reports. The company currently has an “outperform” rating on the stock. Cowen’s target price would suggest a potential upside of 5.10% from the company’s current price. […]
A new Housing Market Snapshot from Zoopla suggests that the supply of housing in the market has triggered a slowdown in house price growth after a period of remarkable increases.
The portal says the increase in the number of homes for sale at the start of this year was actually 5% over the […]
Cable One (NYSE: CABO – Get Note) had its target price reduced by KeyCorp research analysts from $1,896.00 to $1,725.00 in a research note released on Friday, Benzinga reports. The brokerage currently has an “overweight” rating on the stock. KeyCorp’s target price indicates a potential upside of 25.53% from the stock’s previous close. Other analysts […]