Apple’s iPad Air 2 Dissected – What Makes Tri-Core Cyclone Beat Denver?

Ramish Zafar

With the launch of Google's Nexus 9 and Apple's iPad Air 2, the big question we all had on our minds was, which device comes out on top? After all, Google aimed high for the Nexus 9 by equipping the device with Nvidia's Tegra K1 Denver CPU with 192 GPU shader cores on board. Apple's response was the A8X on the iPad Air 2, a SoC which the company claimed delivered up to 40% increased CPU performance and 2.5% increased graphics performance over the A7, its predecessor in the iPad Air.

Since the launch of the two devices, we now have benchmarks available for both the Nexus 9 and the iPad Air 2 for the first time. So now it's time for the much-awaited benchmark comparison of the Nexus 9 and the iPad Air 2 and to decide which device ends up offering better performance. So let's start.

gkbsc1Single Core Results.

Looking at single core results, we can see that the Nexus 9 gets a score of 1903 points in GeekBench. If you've been following us regularly, you know that the above scores surfaced a week ago and allowed us to have a good initial look at the capabilities of the Tegra K1 on board the Nexus 9. As can be seen above, the Nexus 9 doubles the score of every Android device, except for the Galaxy Note 4. However, how does it compare to the iPad Air 2? Let's take a look below.

gkbsc2The iPad Air 2 nearly matches the Nexus 9 in single core results, but the Nexus 9 manages to keep its lead. However, before we jump to any conclusions, it is important to consider two facts. First, the benchmarks of both the devices are preliminary, and should therefore not be used to reach concrete conclusions.

gkbmcMulti Core Results.

Starting once again from previous results, we saw the Nexus 9 being topped by Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 in preliminary GeekBench results. The device however managed to top the Apple iPhone 6 Plus, which demonstrated the clear advantage Tegra K1 has over Apple's A8 SoC. However, things change dramatically with the A8X and the iPad Air 2. In these latest multi-core benchmarks, we see the A8X taking a clear advantage over the Nexus 9.

gkbmc1The iPad Air 2 outperforms the Nexus 9 by a huge margin of 1217 points in GeekBench multi-core.While it might seem surprising at first, this difference is better explained when we take a look at how the A8X works. By the initial looks of things, it looks like Apple had prepared well for the Tegra K1 beforehand. So what makes the A8X beat Nvidia's dual-core 2.3 GHz Denver beast?

What Is The A8X And What Makes It Tick?

Before the launch of the iPad Air 2, several sources expected the company to follow in the steps of the iPad Air  and equip the tablet with the A7. But with the launch of the Nexus 9 just days before the iPad Air 2, Apple had to make changes in order to stay competitive, and changes it did make. With the iPad Air 2 came the A8X, a processor that the company claimed possessed drastic performance improvements over its predecessors, and now we finally know why.

Geekbench-Overall-score Starting from the very basics, the A8X has three billion transistors on board. The processor departs from Apple and industry tradition altogether by coming with three cores on board, as opposed to the dual core A8. The presence of this extra core on the A8X is one of the reasons the A8X ends up beating Nvidia's Tegra K1 in GeekBench Multi-core.

Now the A8X features 6-way super scalar cores with out-of-order execution. Basically the Apple's A8X processors can execute 6 micro operations per second. The A8X fetches instructions in the compiler generated order but can complete and execute in any order, whereas the Denver variant features 7-way super scalar but with in-order execution. Basically, though the Denvers can execute 7 micro operations per second, they can only fetch, complete and execute instructions in compiler generated order. Also the Apple SoC is based on the 20nm process, while the Tegra K1 is stuck on the 28nm one. Even after everything considered, the Tegra K1 shows very impressive results in the single core departments but takes a step behind in multi core because of the simple reason you are comparing 2 cores vs 3 cores.


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