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iPad Pro's A9X Chip Rivals Performance of Intel's Low-End 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.
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.
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.