MacWorld has taken an interesting look at what improvements we might expect in this year’s flagship iPhone models. The analysis is partly based on TSMC’s claims for the 7nm process used for the A12 chip, and partly on extrapolating from previous performance gains …
MacWorld’s Jason Cross begins with TSMC’s numbers.
Since Apple is sticking with TSMC to manufacture the A12, we can look at TSMC’s own guidance for a hint of how much better this new process is.
The company paints a very rosy picture. Compared to the 10nm process that the A11 Bionic was made with, the company says 7nm offers “1.6X logic density, ~20% speed improvement, and ~40% power reduction.”
In other words, if Apple were to produce the exact same A11 Bionic chip with the 7nm process, it could be roughly 40 percent smaller, and use either 40 percent less power running at the same speed, or run at a 20 percent higher clock speed at the same power.
As Cross notes, a like-for-like comparison ignores the fact that the A12 will, of course, be a more complex chip, and is unlikely to be able to push the clock-speed much, but extrapolating typical year-on-year improvements still suggests some impressive numbers. Cross says that you do, however, have to take account for the big jump in the A11 performance, which is unlikely to be replicated this year.
The A11 made a major architectural change to the way multi-threaded performance works. It introduced a new second-generation performance controller that, for the first time, allowed the two big cores and the four little cores to all work at the same time. That had a huge impact on multi-core performance. The A12 may have faster cores, and may even be more efficient about using them all at once, but it won’t have the advantage of suddenly being able to use more of them at the same time than ever before.
Therefore, we expect about a 25 to 30 percent improvement in multi-core performance, giving us a Geekbench 4 score in the neighborhood of 13,000.
GPU performance gains will likely be even higher – in the 40% range – but memory bandwidth means this is unlikely to directly translate to gaming performance. Cross predicts that while Apple will cite the higher number, real-life performance gains are likely to be around 15-25%.
Apple has aimed for pretty consistent battery life, so the theoretical improvements to be gained from the 7nm process are likely to be offset by the greater demands the company will make on the A12 chip. But there could be one piece of good news.
The “screen on time” battery life of the new iPhones will be as much about the battery capacity, display efficiency, and radio efficiency as it will be about the A12. But we’ll go out on a limb and say that idle battery life (already a strong suit of iPhones) is going to be killer, and that the presumably larger battery in the new Plus sized iPhone will give it a real advantage over this year’s iPhone X. A more efficient cellular radio should improve battery life, too.
Finally, Cross speculates that the switch to Intel modems could, for the first time, mean a single world iPhone, rather than the modem variants currently seen around the globe to accommodate different cellular technologies and bands. That would be good for travellers, and also provide Apple with a slightly simpler supply-chain.