A14 Bionic Test: iPhone Silicon Vs Android SoCs
The Apple A14 Bionic is the latest chip from the company, which powers the whole iPhone 12 range. It was the first chipset to be announced to be designed using TSMC’s advanced 5nm process. It brings improvements in performance and energy efficiency beyond 2020’s larger 7nm designs.
Apple spent more time contrasting the A14 Bionic with the much older A12 instead of the more recent A13 during the iPhone launch presentation. This generation is getting hints of lower results. The output gap could be narrower than ever, with Android phones taking advantage of an upgraded Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus model and the Snapdragon 875 just around the corner.
We have an iPhone 12 Pro at home. So we thought we would run a few benchmarks on the chip to see how it worked. With the chipset from Apple, we also go deeper into what is fresh.
Apple A14 Bionic
With the Apple A14 Bionic, the biggest news is the step back to the smallest 5nm development node in the industry.
Interestingly, however, research shows that the transition to 5 nm achieved only a 1.49x shrinkage in template size, rather than TSMC’s claims of a 1.8x shrinkage for 5 nm. It’s getting more and more difficult to shrink the inner workings of a processor, especially when it comes to memory. That is not the only new thing about Apple’s latest chip anyway.
Apple is also sticking to a 4-core GPU cluster on the GPU side, designed entirely in-house. This layout looks the same as the A13, with any change in efficiency likely due to clock increases rather than significant changes in design or core count.
The iPhone 12 Pro is also Apple’s first 5 G smartphone. The A14 Bionic does not have an integrated 5G modem, as does the Snapdragon 865. Apple instead switched to Qualcomm and paired the chip with a 4G and 5G dual-mode Snapdragon X55 modem. This includes support for mmWave and sub-6 GHz, 5 G FDD, 4G / 5 G coastline spectrum, and support for future-proof 5 G stand-alone networks. On mmWave networks, the modem speeds come out at 7 Gbps. However, consumers would see much slower speeds than that. Interestingly, instead of Qualcomm’s QTM525 used in Android smartphones, Apple appears to have opted for a slimmer Chinese USI mmWave antenna.
Apple and Android benchmarks
When comparing Apple and Android benchmarks, there is one common pitfall: they are not a fair comparison. Using various graphics APIs, many benchmarks are run, especially those that emphasize the GPU. Like Metal vs OpenGL from Apple and Vulkan used on Android phones. As such, the ratings work slightly differently, making it very difficult to make a clear comparison.
What we can do is compare GeekBench 5’s CPU performance. For some, we will have to look at the difference in efficiency between the iPhone 11 Pro and 12 Pro. Compare it to a previous comparison we’ve made to put us in the right position between the older Apple handset and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865. Now let’s turn to the math.
The final verdict:
The A14 Bionic is a strong sign of Apple’s ambitions, with notable CPU and memory improvements, but a modest GPU wins this generation. The A14 is doubling CPU gains, with Arm-powered Macs on the horizon, to close the gap between smartphone and laptop products. It extends Apple’s lead Android SoCs. After all, but with a smaller silicon footprint for graphics and the number of cores, the A14 is expected to be the foundation of Apple’s laptop chips.
At the same time, Apple has dedicated more silicon than ever to “AI” and photography capabilities. Two fundamentals of heterogeneous smartphone computing capabilities. In that regard, the next generation of Android SoCs are likely to follow, but we don’t expect CPU performance to reach laptop territory as far as Apple. While Arm’s Cortex-X1 powerhouse can certainly help close the gap, overall, though, it’s Apple’s gaming advantage that’s most at risk for the next decade.
Overall, Apple’s A14 looks like the best chip on the market right now. But at this point, we should note that new Android SoCs are hitting the industry. They are ideally suited to accommodate the Bionic A14. These include the Kirin 9000 and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 875 from Huawei, which we’ll be testing in more detail shortly. With this generation’s minimal GPU gains, it is very likely that Android phones will close this long-running gap in 2021.
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