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iPad Pro's A9X Chip Rivals Performance of Intel's Low-End Core M Processors

AnandTech today published an in-depth iPad Pro review with detailed hardware and software analysis, including an interesting performance comparison between the tablet's dual-core A9X chip and Intel's Core M processors.

The test was conducted to determine to what level Apple's custom ARM chips have caught up to the performance of Intel's Core M lineup, given Apple's continued advancements in architecture and manufacturing, compared to Intel's slower rate of growth over its last few generations of Core processors.

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The review pitted the iPad Pro's A9X chip against various Core M devices, including the Broadwell-based 12-inch Retina MacBook with a low-end Core M chip and ASUS Transformer Book T300 Chi with a high-end Core M chip, and Skylake-based ASUS ZenBook UX305CA with a base-tier Core m3 CPU.

The SPECint2006† benchmark results reveal that the iPad Pro is competitive with the Retina MacBook and Asus ZenBook UX305CA in certain tests, winning half of the benchmarks against each device, but the tablet lags behind in overall performance. Meanwhile, the high-end ASUS Transformer Book T300 Chi unsurprisingly beat the iPad Pro in every category.

Evidently, Intel's Core M lineup continues to lead in overall performance, but Apple is quickly closing the gap.
A9X can compete with both Broadwell and Skylake Core M processors, and that’s something Apple couldn’t claim even a generation ago. That it’s only against the likes of Core m3 means that Apple still has a way to go, particularly as A9X still loses by more than it wins, but it’s significant progress in a short period of time and I’ll wager that it’s closer than Intel would like to be, especially if Apple puts A9X into a cheaper iPad Air in the future.
Apple's progress is notable given multiple rumors that suggest the company may release ARM-based Macs in the future.

In this scenario, Apple would replace the Intel chips it currently uses in Macs with custom designed A-series chips, allowing the company to better time processor upgrades with new product launches. On multiple occasions, Apple has had to hold off on updating its Mac lineup while waiting for Intel's latest generations of processors.

In January 2015, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo projected that Apple could begin launching ARM-based Macs within one or two years based on its custom chip designs. As these A9X benchmarks show, however, the use of A-series chips in Macs would very likely be limited to lower-end devices like the 12-inch Retina MacBook at first.

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In May 2014, French website MacBidouille reported that Apple has prototyped several ARM-based machines, including an iMac, Mac mini and 13" notebook with 4-8 64-bit ARM quad-core processors, and new keyboards with large-format Magic Trackpads, but many doubted the feasibility of moving forward with such a plan.

Nearly two years later, the prospect of Apple releasing ARM-based Mac remains questionable, especially for high-end Macs, but the A9X chip is evidence that Apple's A-series processors are increasingly rivaling the performance of Intel's entry-level offerings. At the very least, it gives Apple options moving forward.

SPECint2006 is a CPU-intensive cross-platform benchmark that tests processors based on a wide range of real-life usage scenarios, ranging from video compression to PERL execution to AI. For a detailed technical explanation of the SPEC CPU benchmark and its 12 sub-benchmarks, read the full review.

Related Roundup: iPad Pro
Buyer's Guide: 12.9" iPad Pro (Neutral)


Top Rated Comments

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26 weeks ago

still worthless to me without OSX on it, mouse support, etc

Fixed that for ya ...
Rating: 43 Votes
26 weeks ago

still worthless without OSX on it, mouse support, etc

I mean, you're entitled to your opinion, but I think "worthless" is a bit extreme. Definitely not as useful as a desktop or laptop, but iPads have their purpose.
Rating: 20 Votes
26 weeks ago
still worthless without OSX on it, mouse support, etc
Rating: 19 Votes
26 weeks ago

Apple also stated that the finger was the best way to use touch screen devices... Oh wait.

"Who wants a stylus?" - Steve Jobs


This is tired now and just obtuse. The stylus is not a primary input device. You don't navigate your emails with it. It's an optional accessory for drawing and similar functions. You really think the iPad would be a better product if it were exactly the same except that you couldn't draw on it?
Rating: 10 Votes
26 weeks ago
Impressive stuff.
I wonder how the processor would fare if it was running a real OS, (with what I’m assuming are lots more background processes), whilst setting those benchmarks.
Rating: 7 Votes
26 weeks ago

My opinion is that if Apple is building this to compete with the MS Surface Pro then they are losing the battle.

There is no battle. Or it was lost a long time ago. Microsoft failed to establish a mobile OS presence and lost it's market position in the mobile space to Android. Without a viable phone OS there is no way to attract developers for tablets anymore. The Surface Pro is the same old non-mobile Tablet-PC technology, trying to compete with real tablets. Core M is merely the first Intel CPU to run without a fan, but it still consumes vast amounts of energy and is way too expensive. Another failing company. Intel and Microsoft both will now always remain PC companies and slowly vanish as the Post-PC era dawns. The Commodore and Amiga of our time.
Rating: 7 Votes
26 weeks ago
I'm pretty sure Apple has been underclocking their chips to account for heat dissipation. We don't really know what the A9X is capable of if it's put into a Mac with multiple processors and a fan.
Rating: 6 Votes
26 weeks ago

still worthless without OSX on it, mouse support, etc


An iPad Pro that I could use my bluetooth keyboard/mouse AND ran OSX. Yeah, that's what I'm excited for. Then, and only then, would Tim be right in saying the iPad can be a replacement for a desktop/laptop.
Rating: 6 Votes
26 weeks ago
Things are starting to get exciting!!! :)
Rating: 6 Votes
26 weeks ago

Apple also stated that the finger was the best way to use touch screen devices... Oh wait.
"Who wants a stylus?" - Steve Jobs

Apple doesn't sell styluses. The Apple Pencil is a drawing device, it doesn't control the interface.
Rating: 5 Votes

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