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Apple’s A14 Bionic on iPad Air tells us a lot about iPhone 12 and MacBook with Apple Silicon

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The A14 Bionic and the S6 chips are examples of why Apple has been so dominant in the last decade. These are the two chips, which are in the newly announced iPad Air and Apple Watch Series 6, and they underpin Apple’s performance advantage over everything else that is sold in the industry today. If one goes one step further then there is the addition of the U1 chip for spatial accuracy, which debuted in the iPhone 11.

Apple’s A14 Bionic on iPad Air tells us a lot about iPhone 12 and MacBook with Apple Silicon
The A14 Bionic and the S6 chips are examples of why Apple has been so dominant in the last decade. These are the two chips, which are in the newly announced iPad Air and Apple Watch Series 6, and they underpin Apple’s performance advantage over everything else that is sold in the industry today. If one goes one step further then there is the addition of the U1 chip for spatial accuracy, which debuted in the iPhone 11.
Now, this chip is there on iPad Air and even Apple Watch Series 6. What’s interesting here is that these chips are also built on the latest manufacturing technology. For instance, Apple is quick to note that A14 Bionic is the first chip in the world to be built on a 5nm manufacturing process. It will be the only mass-produced chip to be released in 2020 that will be based on this process, which again underlines Apple’s relentless pursuit of the cutting-edge and advantage over its competitors.
What’s in the A14 Bionic
There is some fascinating analysis done over at AnandTech, which reveals a little more than what Apple talked about the A14 Bionic. Apple’s claims are all over the place as it rates the performance of A14 Bionic up against the last generation iPad Air which was based on A12 Bionic. So here Apple actually isn’t talking about the two most powerful chips it makes —A12Z Bionic and A13 Bionic. A12Z is the one on 2020 iPad Pro while A13 Bionic is on iPhone 11 and iPhone SE line.
Compared to A13 Bionic, CPU and GPU gains on A14 Bionic are rather humble 16 percent and 8.3 percent gain. Despite the move to 5nm, the transistor count hasn’t gone up dramatically. It is a 38 percent increase to 11.8 billion from 8.5 billion. AnandTech postulates that Apple’s gains in the last couple of years had been so immense that the chips rarely managed to consistently perform at peak levels because they got so hot. But the performance gains were so dramatic that it could maintain a huge performance advantage over anything else in the industry at even reduced states.
This year, Apple is seemingly gunning for more sustained performance. Apple did this with the A11 Bionic that came with the iPhone X.
A11 was also the first chip to feature the neural engine. The new 16-core neural engine is where they really dial things up. It represents a more than 100 percent performance boost over A12 Bionic and an 83 percent performance boost over A13 Bionic. This was bound to happen as the core count has doubled since A13 Bionic.
Apple is also doubling down to the machine learning accelerators that were introduced in the CPU cores of A13 Bionic. A14 Bionic now comes with second-generation accelerates which represents a 10x boost in matrix multiplier compute on iPad Air since it didn’t get A13 Bionic earlier.
The most interesting thing happens when one looks at A12Z Bionic chip which has 10 billion transistors. This means that the transistor count has gone up even though this is not an“x” or “z” branded chip meant for a device like an iPad or Mac. This is the same chip that will likely find its way into the new iPhone that’s expected next month.
Given the rather modest gains in CPU and GPU performance this still probably would mean A12Z Bionic is still Apple’s fastest chip in pure throughput as it has both an 8-core GPU and CPU architecture. A14 on the flip side has a 6-core CPU and 4-core GPU. There is also a new ISP that Apple hasn’t detailed much but it powers a camera system that was transplanted from the iPad Pro.
This means in pure performance terms, this is Apple’s second-fastest processor after the A12Z Bionic and A12X Bionic, which has been seen on the previous two generations of iPad Pro. A12Z Bionic was also seen on the Apple Developer Transition Kit Mac Mini for Apple Silicon on macOS.
Now, there are no figures in relation to battery efficiency but likely there are going to be huge gains.
What does this mean for the iPad Air
iPad Air is Apple’s most popular iPad. So this is a huge upgrade. Apple iPad Pro models are already faster than some of the Intel-powered notebooks including MacBook Pro models.
This basically means that it is going to be insanely fast. It now gets improved cameras which are going to be great for work from home. It gets the front 7-megapixel camera on the front and the 12-megapixel camera on the back — the very same as the iPad Pro which is based on iPhone 11’s camera system. This again is better than anything available on a notebook.
Apple is also incorporating the latest technologies like WiFi 6 and landscape speakers with support for Apple Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil 2. With the addition of iPadOS, this will be something that will make for a better computer than most things in its price range.
What does this mean for the next iPhone and MacBook
Perhaps the most interesting thing here is what it represents for the next iPhone. The next iPhone is expected to be powered by the very same chip. In purely real-world performance terms, this shouldn’t mean much of a change for the users. But Apple hasn’t talked much about the battery life. With rumours indicating that Apple may not use 120Hz refresh rates on the new iPhones, the signal is that Apple is waging a war on poor battery life. There will be some huge ramifications for battery life hopefully in the positive.
This will be coupled with better sustained performance and dramatic improvements in on-device machine learning thanks to the next generation accelerator and a 16-core neural engine. This will also have a huge impact on camera performance as it uses on-device machine learning in tandem with the ISP. While not much is known about the ISP, apart from the fact that it is new, we do know that the next iPhone will get a LiDAR and improved cameras. The new cameras are said to be able to shoot 240fps video in 4K which is insane. The LiDAR will enable video portrait alongside better low-light imaging and bokeh.
All of this processing will need the new neural engine, ISP and machine learning accelerators. It will also be huge for augmented reality related tasks.
On MacBook which will be a 12-inch model, there is an expectation that a souped-up version of A14 bionic called A14X Bionic will be unleashed. Now already on A12Z Bionic, Apple doubled the GPU core count and increased CPU cores by 50 percent. This time around Apple is expected to make a bigger leap with both GPU and CPU cores are expected to be doubled.
In layman terms, this could mean around 20 billion transistors on the die which could mean a performance ramp-up of between 75 per cent to 100 per cent of what’s available on the iPad Air. This will be stunning. While doing so, since this chip is based on the 5nm manufacturing, it could mean two times the battery life that one expects of a MacBook Air.
We already know that the performance of the A12Z Bionic is in the range of a high-end MacBook Pro. This would mean that you’ll be looking at something prodigiously powerful and efficient which hasn’t been seen before on the notebook space.
Apple Watch Series 6 is no slouch
Now Apple Watch Series 6 has the new S6 system-in-package which uses dual-cores that are transposed from A13 Bionic on iPhone 11. This would indicate that it is also built on a 7nm process as the older chip. But this is ridiculous performance for a watch which is likely to be faster than some high-end phones.
This feature is enabling the elaborate sensor suite which is facilitating features like the Bloody Oxygen scanner and the new Fitness+ service which uses intelligence gathered from the use on the device and collates it with training material.
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