AnandTech iPhone 4s Tests – What do they mean?

AnandTech (www.anandtech.com) is truly a professional blog with some of the best technical analysis you will find. They have just published a set of tests results on the iPhone 4s, titled:

iPhone 4S Preliminary Benchmarks: ~800MHz A5, Slightly Slower GPU than iPad 2, Still Very Fast 

I thought I would explain some of this to those with less technical backgrounds.

First, a few points:

  1. Apparently, these tests were not made by Anand Tech themselves, but gathered from other bloggers who seemed to have had early access to 4s units. Hence the “Preliminary” in the title. AnandTech will be running their own tests as soon as they get their own units.

Some Tech Basics

  1. CPU = Central Processing Unit: This is the “Brains” of a computer that reads instructions from programs, and makes everything happen in the computer. (Smartphones are miniature computers with phones incorporated.)
  2. GPU = Graphics Processing Unit: This is a special kind of processor, similar to a CPU, but designed to process image data. They are designed to perform certain mathematical operations repeatedly on millions of graphical data points. (They can also be used to process certain types of mathematical problems and are seeing new uses in this area.)

Click here for more Computer Basics Terms

One thing that is important to note is that the overall performance (speed) of a system is dependent on many things, and not simply the speed of the processor and/or the number of cores, nor on any other single factor. Additionally, the overall design of the system and subsystems may enhance certain aspects of performance will neglect other aspects. So one system may load and render multiple web pages very quickly, but be slower at certain types of graphics operations.

Finally – System performance is dependent on software as well as hardware. This applies both to the Operating System (OS) and to the particular application being run.


There are basically two types of tests. (Well I am sure you can come up with other classifications, but for our purpose this will do.) These are “real-life” tests which use real software programs, and benchmark tests which are programs designed specifically to test system performance. While the latter are more likely to test compare real limitations of a system (or some part thereof), they sometimes are not indicative of real user experience of said system. A mix of both types of tests is important to get a useful view of a system. I think one could say that benchmark tests test the hardware to the limits, while software tests give better overall system analysis. The problem with software tests is that you cannot test every aspect of even one piece of software, let alone of all software in its class.

Test Results:

Browser Tests

There were two browser benchmark tests with slightly different results. In both cases, the 4s handily beat all Android phones, pretty much tying the Galaxy Tab, which, of course, is a tablet not a phone. It should be noted here that the iPhone 4 (no ‘S’) was roughly comparable with the best Android phones when upgraded to iOS 5. So people who keep these phones should see a very significant browser improvement when they upgrade.

Graphics Tests

In the graphics tests listed, again, the 4s handily beat all Android phones, and  the Galaxy Tab as well.

A5 Clock Speed

It appears that the A5 chip in the iPhone 4s is clocked at 800MHz instead of 1GHz (1000MHz) as in the iPad. Now why would Apple want to “cripple” its CPU? Simple. Two reasons.

  1. In the fabrication of Integrated Circuit chips, each chip is tested after production. A percentage pass and a percentage fail. But some of the failures can still be used at reduced speed. Thus, lower speed means you get higher production from the fabs.
  2. More importantly, I am sure, is the reduction in electrical current consumption. As the report state:
    • Dropping a CPU’s core voltage, yields a greater-than-linear decrease in power consumption, making the marginal loss in clock speed a good choice.
What are the implications of this? Again as AT continues:
    • Apple does have to exploit its strengths in software to avoid any tangible performance penalties. Apple has traditionally done this very well in the past…

I would like to add, that this is not only software, but the A5 also has superiority over the competing Tegra 2 chip frequently used in Android phones, particularly in the GPU. Without getting too technical here, both system are based on the same design by the ARM group. The specifications for the dual-core ARM Cortex-A9  architecture allows for different GPUs, and Apple elected to implement a much faster GPU than is found in the Tegra 2. The results of tests bear this out.


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The big Apple (non?) Event.

Well, At fist glance, this event was no-news – at least to us tech fanatics who have been following all the rumors for weeks now!

So, it seems like there are more reasons than ever to buy an iPhone: it is definitely a leader in smartphones if not the leader. It probably has the greatest technology of any phone. But to upgrade? First I do at first glance, then I follow with a deeper  analysis below.

At first glance there was nothing really new. Let’s look at them:

  • Upgrades to iPods? Ok. Nice, but not much really. I wish the iPod Touch had a camera (still) and GPS. That has always been a disappointment to me.
  • The iCloud – Sounds kinda cool, but… well we’ve known about that for months. So what’s the big deal with it anyway. A nice little convenience, but does not really change much.
  • iPhone 4s :

    • iPhone 5! Yay! – oh, oh… there is none. Gee, that is disappointing, only a new 4s…
    • New Camera? – very impressive, but this is not earth shattering. I watched Engadget’s live blog and the photos really are spectacular, but still this does not rocket one to the overnight queue.
    • New A5 chip. Now this is impressive. The technological advance is mind boggling. But still, in terms of some real new functionality, it does not get me jumping. Unless you are a real gamer, it does not seem like a reason to jump online.
    • Siri Assistant – now this is very cool! This seems like amazing technology, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it! Or… well maybe I can wait. I mean, I have lived without this for all my life. I just wait until next year when my plan gets me a new phone (well my wife gets a new phone. While I am a technophile with computers and photography, I have never liked cell phones and don’t own one smart or dumb. When my Nikon can talk to the phone over wifi, I will get one.)
    • Better Antenna/Reception: That is good too. (yawn)
    • Higher Data Speeds is something we can all get behind, but if you
So… What is the verdict here?
I have been saying all along here that this is at first glance. And if you list all the new features one by one, you get a picture of great evolutionary growth here. Everything is a significant improvement over the iPhone 4. The 4s is a strong push ahead. Heck, you cannot create a revolution every year!
Analysis
The new features seem so modest at first glance, one could easily pass them as cosmetic. But I believe they are not all so superficial.
A5 Chip: The power here is pretty amazing. You see it most i the gaming. The demo there had even the usually snarky Engadget blogger impressed. This new chip will make all graphic intensive jobs go much faster, from taking photos, to editing them, to web page reproduction. It also allows compute intensive jobs to run quicker, including the Siri Assistant. In fact, that appears to require the A5 to function. This is a greater advance than many will think in advance, but will go a long ways to improving the experience overall (not to mention Siri Assistant again).
Siri Assistant
This, I think, will be very very big. at first it will be only a novelty. As people use it, however, they will soon find that can’t remember how they lived without it. It reminds me of all the pundits who said of the iPad “Oh so nice, but who needs it?” Only to write two months later, “Now I can’t live without it.” In three or four years, it will be just a part of our lives like text messaging.
iCloud
To me, this is the really big one. Finally, the promise of my digital world anytime, anywhere, seamlessly and effortlessly will be a reality. It has been coming slowly. Thirty years ago it existed in the technical world of Unix programmers who could access their account from any machine in their company’s system. Later we got the ability to do so from home via VPN, and it was not longer limited to Unix. But it was never seamless. You had to log on and there was definitely a sys-admin to deal with both for help and restrictions.
Now we all have that access with no hassle at all (other than having access to the internet).
Once again, I am certain that this is feature is going to become so incredibly pervasive, that it will soon be a complete necessity. This is particularly good news for Apple share holders because it is going to make the product line very very “sticky.” That is, once a person has an iPad, it only makes sense to get a Mac because it will share seamlessly. Sure, you can get on any web browser and access your photos and files, it it takes a concerted effort to do so, With iOS and Lion, it will all happen automagically.
The even bigger thing for investors is how this will effectively lock users into the Apple family. Today, if Julie wants to move from an iPhone to a droid, she just has to figure out once how to to get her iTunes library into her new phone, not a difficult thing at all. But if Julie has most of her files in the iCloud, then it is a different story. Now she has to make sure that everything gets downloaded to her computer (which she maybe does not use much anymore) and while this is not particularly difficult, it is non trivial and a real pain. So, while she is not locked in, there is certainly a real hurdle to get over if she wants to change.
Amazon has realized this too. They realize very well the importance of the cloud storage. This is why they limited Kindle to just 8 GB of data. First to save a few dollars (and very few dollars). After all, you do not need a lot of onboard memory when you can always get what you need from the internet whenever you need it. (Although this is a little more problematic on a device with no cellular connection to the internet.) More importantly, however, they understand that to get you to join their system, is to lock you into it. They do not throw away the key, just make it a little more difficult to jump ship. Besides, it is also so easy to just upgrade to another one of their own devices later on…
Conclusion
While some of the individual components of the 4s upgrade appear to be merely evolutionary, and others while new and “cool” do not appear enormously important, two of there really are revolutionary improvements that will have profound effects on the future of computing, both mobil and desktop/laptop.