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Apple walks Ars through the iPad Pro's A12X
By Thom Holwerda on 2018-11-08 00:52:36

Apple's latest iOS devices aren't perfect, but even the platform's biggest detractors recognize that the company is leading the market when it comes to mobile CPU and GPU performance - not by a little, but by a lot. It's all done on custom silicon designed within Apple - a different approach than that taken by any mainstream Android or Windows device.

But not every consumer - even the "professional" target consumer of the iPad Pro - really groks the fact this gap is so big. How is this possible? What does this architecture actually look like? Why is Apple doing this, and how did it get here?

After the hardware announcements last week, Ars sat down with Anand Shimpi from Hardware Technologies at Apple and Apple's Senior VP of Marketing Phil Schiller to ask. We wanted to hear exactly what Apple is trying to accomplish by making its own chips and how the A12X is architected. It turns out that the iPad Pro's striking, console-level graphics performance and many of the other headlining features in new Apple devices (like FaceID and various augmented-reality applications) may not be possible any other way.

During Apple's event last week, the company didn't even mention Intel once, and profusely made it very clear just how much faster the A12X is compared to all other laptops - even its own - that obviously all run on Intel (or AMD) processors. It seems like with this exclusive Ars Technica article, Apple is continuing its A12X marketing blitz, which all just further solidifies that Intel's days inside Apple's Macs are almost over.

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Comparing processors
By Alfman on 2018-11-08 03:35:44
Thom Holwerda,

> During Apple's event last week, the company didn't even mention Intel once, and profusely made it very clear just how much faster the A12X is compared to all other laptops - even its own - that obviously all run on Intel (or AMD) processors. It seems like with this exclusive Ars Technica article, Apple is continuing its A12X marketing blitz, which all just further solidifies that Intel's days inside Apple's Macs are almost over.

The benchmarks show the ipad beating other devices in the mobile form factor, but from what I see, none of the benchmarks show it beating the latest intel laptops. Did I miss something? That's not to say the ipad's performance isn't impressive, but how did you arrive at your conclusions?

Macbook pros are handicapped by relatively poor heat dissipation, which results in CPU throttling. I posted a link of this not too long ago.
http://www.osnews.com/thread?664...

So the MBP may hinder intel's CPU in that it cannot reach it's peak performance due to throttling.

Edited 2018-11-08 03:38 UTC
Permalink - Score: 5
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Customised silicon at what cost?
By cpcf on 2018-11-08 04:34:09
Customising the silicon makes the upgrade path hardware dependent. This isn't an FPGA that you can just flash in the field, new features and performance implemented in hardware not code.

Alarm bells should be ringing!

Look forward to advertising of great new features, that require the purchase of the next model!
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Is this the end of the general purpose CPU/Chip Set?
By BlueofRainbow on 2018-11-08 04:41:02
The various benchmarks point to the total custom hardware solution put together by Apple and centered on the A12X beats everything else in the smart phone and tablet categories. It is not so clear-cut for the notebook category.

Have we come again full circle and, like the Amiga of old, are best served by hardware which has been designed as a system for the intended purpose? It is worth noting that the design could probably be described as "Asymmetric Multi-Processing" in which the various processing units are dissimilar in design and function.

Interestingly, the latest flagship smart phone from Google, the Pixel 3/3XL, appears to be severely lacking in terms of raw processing power. Given this, it would not be surprising if Google does not have a not-yet-publicized custom hardware design project to go hand-in-hand with Fuchsia.

I am not quite sure how to frame the benchmarks comparing the A12X devices to notebooks. Heat control throttling is definitively an important factor - yet likely not the only one.
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RE: Comparing processors
By areilly on 2018-11-08 05:16:55
The A12X is managing those results at (probably) no more than 2GHz and no fan. Even the thermally-limited MBP laptops have fans, and the ones that don't (MacBook etc) clock very slow.

I read a blog post yesterday in which a CS researcher ran his code (single threaded) on his phone (A12) and found it faster than his i7-7700k workstation. Not per cycle, but in absolute terms. 2GHz vs about 4. Most likely due to the A12's enormous on-chip cache, which is mostly there to support GPU and imaging functions, but they're definitely in the ballpark of being "fast enough".

Here's the post. Anecdote isn't data, and YMMV, but still interesting:
https://homes.cs.washington.edu/~...
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RE: Comparing processors
By ksec on 2018-11-08 05:30:54
The MBP throttling was solved, it was somehow Apple failed to include the power management firmware when they ship it, causing the CPU to overdrive and constantly throttle itself.

The MBP CPU has an TDP of 45W, and Apple designed their MBP to dissipate 45W of heat from CPU. That is compared to less than 10W of the A12X in iPad Pro.

So it is pretty impressive. If you look up the MacBook Benchmarks, which is also an fanless design, the A12X is indeed faster.
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RE[2]: Comparing processors
By Alfman on 2018-11-08 06:15:02
areilly,

> The A12X is managing those results at (probably) no more than 2GHz and no fan. Even the thermally-limited MBP laptops have fans, and the ones that don't (MacBook etc) clock very slow.

I read a blog post yesterday in which a CS researcher ran his code (single threaded) on his phone (A12) and found it faster than his i7-7700k workstation. Not per cycle, but in absolute terms. 2GHz vs about 4. Most likely due to the A12's enormous on-chip cache, which is mostly there to support GPU and imaging functions, but they're definitely in the ballpark of being "fast enough".

Here's the post. Anecdote isn't data, and YMMV, but still interesting:
https://homes.cs.washington.edu/~...

Yeah, there's no doubt ARM chips are making lots of progress. I've been eager to get ARM for datacenter applications for years now. On performance per watt, ARM has been excelling for a while, but overall performance was still slow. I think if companies like apple throw enough money at the problem, ARM eventually could dethrone intel as the performance king. But it would be too early to make that claim until the latest generation ARM processor is shown to beat the latest generation intel processor. Your link puts apple roughly 1.5years behind intel in terms of performance, which isn't bad at all, but I'm a bit confused by Thom suggesting that it already happened.
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RE: Comparing processors
By unclefester on 2018-11-08 06:43:41
>
The benchmarks show the ipad beating other devices in the mobile form factor, but from what I see, none of the benchmarks show it beating the latest intel laptops. Did I miss something? That's not to say the ipad's performance isn't impressive, but how did you arrive at your conclusions?


It is just cherry picking - single core performance using synthetic benchmarks.

In the real world no mobile chip is capable of sustained maximum output.
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RE[2]: Comparing processors
By Alfman on 2018-11-08 07:37:37
ksec,

> The MBP throttling was solved, it was somehow Apple failed to include the power management firmware when they ship it, causing the CPU to overdrive and constantly throttle itself.

That's interesting, this is what I found about it...
https://www.overclock3d.net/news/...
> Following extensive performance testing under numerous workloads, we've identified that there is a missing digital key in the firmware that impacts the thermal management system and could drive clock speeds down under heavy thermal loads on the new MacBook Pro. A bug fix is included in today's macOS High Sierra 10.13.6 Supplemental Update and is recommended.

We apologize to any customer who has experienced less than optimal performance on their new systems. Customers can expect the new 15-inch MacBook Pro to be up to 70% faster, and the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar to be up to 2X faster, as shown in the performance results on our website.


This suggests that the problem was that the CPU clock speeds were simply being held too low, however if you look at the benchmarking video I linked to very closely, the problem isn't merely that the clock speed was too low, but that the CPU's temperature instantly shot up to 100C at around 3.6Ghz and had to throttle immediately thereafter.

So, even if apple did identify a bug keeping the CPU from reaching the CPU's turbo frequency of 4.1Ghz, that doesn't really address the CPU running too hot in the first place and there are tons of reports across the internet confirming the problem.

> The MBP CPU has an TDP of 45W, and Apple designed their MBP to dissipate 45W of heat from CPU. That is compared to less than 10W of the A12X in iPad Pro.

I did some more digging and found a guy who tested his MBP before and after apple's update. True to apple's word, they did a much better job at regulating the clock cycles.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U...

However you'll note that his macbook pro is still thermal throttling after the patch. Around 98C at a clock speed of around 3.1Ghz (the CPU's official turbo speed is 3.8GHz). So while apple did manage to bump up performance a tad by fixing the wild clock cycle jitter problems, it still isn't able to deliver the full performance of the CPU due to thermal throttling. And consider his macbook pro is only fitted with a lower power i5 processor with only 28 watts of heat dissipation.
https://ark.intel.com/products/13...

The fact is that the MBP can't even dissipate enough heat to sufficiently cool a midrange i5 processor. We have to be honest with ourselves, the macbook pro wasn't engineered to run high performing processors. Sure apple may sell them to people who choose to pay the premium, but it doesn't mean they will actually get the CPU's rated performance since they're constantly throttling. This is exactly what I was seeing on an earlier generation MBP.

> So it is pretty impressive. If you look up the MacBook Benchmarks, which is also an fanless design, the A12X is indeed faster.

Can you provide a link? Despite the MBP's throttled performance as discussed, the benchmarks in the article still show the ipadpro being beat by the MBP in every single category except "memory". Am I missing something? Did apple say that the A12X beats the MBP somewhere?
Permalink - Score: 4
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RE[2]: Comparing processors
By avgalen on 2018-11-08 07:44:32
> The MBP CPU has an TDP of 45W, and Apple designed their MBP to dissipate 45W of heat from CPU. That is compared to less than 10W of the A12X in iPad Pro.And how does the A12X compare to that CPU for real world performance?
> If you look up the MacBook Benchmarks, which is also an fanless design, the A12X is indeed faster.which version of that MacBook? https://ark.intel.com/compare/954...
* 1.2 GHz dual-core Intel Core m3-7Y32 Kaby Lake processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.0GHz)
* 1.3 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-7Y54 Kaby Lake processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.2 GHz)
* 1.4 GHz dual-core Intel Core i7-7Y75 Kaby Lake processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz)
All of those are 4.5W CPU's, so half of the A12X right? They are also 2 year old parts that really shouldn't deserve the name i5 and i7 and shouldn't be in a laptop that starts at 1500 Euro and goes up quickly in price from there.

(* haven't read the article yet)
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RE[3]: Comparing processors
By avgalen on 2018-11-08 08:15:20
> > So it is pretty impressive. If you look up the MacBook Benchmarks, which is also an fanless design, the A12X is indeed faster.

Can you provide a link? Despite the MBP's throttled performance as discussed, the benchmarks in the article still show the ipadpro being beat by the MBP in every single category except "memory". Am I missing something? Did apple say that the A12X beats the MBP somewhere?

The link is in the original article where the A12X beats the MacBook (with 2 year old CPU's as I point out in another reply). MacBook isn't the same as MacBook Pro!

Thanks for the reminder on the "MBP cannot dissipate enough heat on the higher CPU-versions making those upgrades a bad idea"
Permalink - Score: 4

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