Final Words

The iPhone 5s is quite possibly the biggest S-update we've ever seen from Apple. I remember walking out of the venue during Apple's iPhone 5 launch and being blown away by the level of innovation, at the platform/silicon level, that Apple crammed into the iPhone 5. What got me last time was that Apple built their own ARM based CPU architecture from the ground up, while I understand that doesn't matter for the majority of consumers - it's no less of an achievement in my eyes. At the same time I remember reading through a sea of disappointment on Twitter - users hoping for more from Apple with the iPhone 5. If you fell into that group last time, there's no way you're going to be impressed by the iPhone 5s. For me however, there's quite a bit to be excited about.

The A7 SoC is seriously impressive. Apple calls it a desktop-class SoC, but I'd rather refer to it as something capable of competing with the best Intel has to offer in this market. In many cases the A7's dual cores were competitive with Intel's recently announced Bay Trail SoC. Web browsing is ultimately where I noticed the A7's performance the most. As long as I was on a good internet connection, web pages just appeared after resolving DNS. The A7's GPU performance is also insanely good - more than enough for anything you could possibly throw at the iPhone 5s today, and fast enough to help keep this device feeling quick for a while.

Apple's move to 64-bit proves it is not only committed to supporting its own microarchitectures in the mobile space, but also that it is being a good steward of the platform. Just like AMD had to do in the mid-2000s, Apple must plan ahead for the future of iOS and that's exactly what it has done. The immediate upsides to moving to 64-bit today are increased performance across the board as well as some huge potential performance gains in certain FP and cryptographic workloads.

The new camera is an evolutionary but much appreciated step forward compared to the iPhone 5. Low light performance is undoubtedly better, and Apple presents its users with an interesting balance of spatial resolution and low light sensitivity. The HTC One seemed to be a very polarizing device for those users who wanted more resolution and not just great low light performance - with the 5s Apple attempts to strike a more conservative balance. The 5s also benefits from the iOS's excellent auto mode, which seems to do quite well for novice photographers. I would love to see full manual control exposed in the camera UI, but Apple's auto mode seems to be quite good for those who don't want to mess with settings. The A7's improved ISP means things like HDR captures are significantly quicker than they were on even the iPhone 5. Shot to shot latency is also incredibly low.

Apple's Touch ID was the biggest surprise for me. I found it very well executed and a nice part of the overall experience. When between the 5s and the 5/5c, I immediately miss Touch ID. Apple is still a bit too conservative with where it allows Touch ID instead of a passcode, but even just as a way to unlock the device and avoid typing in my iCloud password when downloading apps it's a real improvement. I originally expected Touch ID to be very gimmicky, but now I'm thinking this actually may be a feature we see used far more frequently on other platforms as well.

The 5s builds upon the same chassis as the iPhone 5 and with that comes a number of tradeoffs. I still love the chassis, design and build quality - I just wish it had a larger display. While I don't believe the world needs to embrace 6-inch displays, I do feel there is room for another sweet spot above 4-inches. For me personally, Motorola has come the closest with the Moto X and I would love to see what Apple does with a larger chassis. The iPhone has always been a remarkably power efficient platform, a larger chassis wouldn't only give it a bigger, more usable screen but also a much larger battery to boot. I'm not saying that replacing the 4-inch 5s chassis is the only option, I'd be fine with a third model sitting above it in screen size/battery capacity similar to how there are both 13 and 15-inch MacBook Pros.

The lack of 802.11ac and LTE-A support also bother me as the 5s is so ahead of the curve elsewhere in silicon. There's not much I can see to either point other than it's obvious that both will be present in next year's model, and for some they may be features worth waiting for.

At the end of the day, if you prefer iOS for your smartphone - the iPhone 5s won't disappoint. In many ways it's an evolutionary improvement over the iPhone 5, but in others it is a significant step forward. What Apple's silicon teams have been doing for these past couple of years has really started to pay off. From a CPU and GPU standpoint, the 5s is probably the most futureproof of any iPhone ever launched. As much as it pains me to use the word futureproof, if you are one of those people who likes to hold onto their device for a while - the 5s is as good a starting point as any.

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  • Wilco1 - Thursday, September 19, 2013 - link

    The Geekbench results are indeed skewed by AES encryption. The author claimed AES was the only benchmark where they use hardware acceleration when available. There has been a debate on fixing the weighting or to place hardware accelerated benchmarks in a separate category to avoid skewing the results. So I'm hoping a future version will fix this.

    As for cross-platform benchmarking, Geekbench currently uses the default platform compiler (LLVM on iOS, GCC on Android, VC++ on Windows). So there will be compiler differences that skew results slightly. However this is also what you'd get if you built the same application for iOS and Android.
    Reply
  • smartypnt4 - Thursday, September 19, 2013 - link

    A lot of the other stuff in Geekbench seems to be fairly representative, though. Except a few of the FP ones like the blur and sharpen tests...

    It surely can't be hard to have Geekbench omit those results. I think if they did that, you'd see that the A7 is roughly 50-60% faster than the A6 instead of 100% faster, but I'm not sure there. I'd have to go and do work to figure that out. Which is annoying :-)
    Reply
  • name99 - Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - link

    I'd agree with the tweaks you suggest: (improved memory controller and prefetcher, doubling of L2, larger branch predictor tables).

    There is also scope for a wider CPU. Obviously the most simple-minded widening of a CPU substantially increases power, but there are ways to limit the extra power without compromising performance too much, if you are willing to spend the transistors. I think Apple is not just willing to spend the transistors, but will have them available to spend once they ditch 32-bit compatibility. At that point they can add a fourth decoder, use POWER style blocking of instructions to reduce retirement costs, and add whatever extra pipes make sense.
    The most useful improvement (in my experience) would be to up the L1 from being able to handle one load+store cycle to two loads+ one store per cycle, but I don't know what the power cost of that is --- may be too high.

    On the topic of minor tweaks, do we know what the page size used by iOS is? If they go from 4K to 16K and/or add support for large pages, they could get a 10% of so speed boost just from better TLB coverage.
    (And what's Android's story on this front? Do they stick with standard 4K pages, or do they utilize 16 or 64K pages and/or large pages?)
    Reply
  • extide - Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - link

    Those are some pretty generous numbers you pulled out of your hat there. It's not as easy as just do this and that and bam, you have something to compete with Intel Core series stuff. No. I mean yeah, Apple has done a great job here and I wish someone else was making CPU's like this for the Android phones but oh well. Reply
  • name99 - Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - link

    "Now, I will agree that this does prove that if Apple really wanted to, they could build something to compete with Haswell in terms of raw throughput."

    I agree with your point, but I think we should consider what an astonishing statement this is.
    Two years ago Apple wasn't selling it's own CPU. They burst onto the scene and with their SECOND device they're at an IPC and a performance/watt that equals Intel! Equals THE competitor in this space, the guys who are using the best process on earth.

    If you don't consider that astonishing, you don't understand what has happened here.

    (And once again I'd make my pitch that THIS shows what Intel's fatal flaw is. The problem with x86 is not that it adds area to a design, or that it slows it down --- though it does both. The problem is that it makes design so damn complex that you're constantly lagging; and you're terrified of making large changes because you might screw up.
    Apple, saddled with only the much smaller ARM overhead, has been vastly more nimble than Intel.
    And it's only going to get worse if, as I expect, Apple ditches 32-bit ARM as soon as they can, in two years or so, giving them an even easier design target...)

    What's next for Apple?
    At the circuit level, I expect them to work hard to make their CPU as good at turboing as Intel. (Anand talked about this.)
    At the ISA level, I expect their next major target to be some form of hardware transactional memory --- it just makes life so much easier, and, even though they're at two cores today, they know as well as anyone that the future is more cores. You don't have to do TM the way Intel has done it; the solution IBM used for POWER8 is probably a better fit for ARM. And of course if Apple do this (using their own extensions, because as far as I know ARM doesn't yet even have a TM spec) it's just one more way in which they differentiate their world from the commodity ARM world.
    Reply
  • smartypnt4 - Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - link

    @extide: agreed.

    @name99: It is very astonishing indeed. Then again, a high profile company like Apple has no problem attracting some of the best talent via compensation and prestige.

    They've still got quite a long way to match Haswell, in any case. But the throughput is technically there to rival Intel if they wanted to. I would hope that Haswell contains a much more advanced branch predictor and prefetcher than what Apple has, but you never know. My computer architecture professor always said that everything in computer architecture has already been discovered. The question now is when will it be advantageous to spend the transistors to implement the most complicated designs.

    The next year is going to be very interesting, indeed.
    Reply
  • Bob Todd - Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - link

    How many crows did you stuff down after claiming BT would be slower than A15 and even A12? Remember posting this about integer performance?

    "Silverthorne < A7 < A9 < A9R4 < Silvermont < A12 < Bobcat < A15 < Jaguar"

    Apple's A7 looks great, but you've made so many utterly ridiculous Intel performance bashing posts that it's pretty much impossible to take anything you say seriously.
    Reply
  • Wilco1 - Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - link

    BT has indeed far lower IPC than A15 just like I posted - pretty much all benchmark results confirm that. On Geekbench 3 A15 is 23-25% faster clock for clock on integer and FP.

    The jury is still out on A12 vs BT as we've seen no performance results for A12 so far. So claiming I was wrong is not only premature but also incorrect as the fact is that Bay Trail is slower.
    Reply
  • Wilco1 - Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - link

    Also new version with A7 and A57 now looks like this:

    Silverthorne < A7 < A9 < A9R4 < Silvermont < A12 < Bobcat < A15 < Jaguar < A57 < Apple A7
    Reply
  • Bob Todd - Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - link

    Cherry picking a single benchmark which is notoriously inaccurate at comparisons across platforms/architectures doesn't make you "right", it just makes you look like more of a troll. Bay Trail has better integer performance than Jaguar (at near identical base clocks), so by your own ranking above it *has* to be faster than A12 and A15.

    You show up in every ARM article spouting the same drivel over and over again, yet you were mysteriously absent in the Bay Trail performance preview. Here's the link if you want to try to find a way to spin more FUD.

    http://anandtech.com/show/7314/intel-baytrail-prev...

    Apple's A7 looks great, and IT is still the powerhouse of mobile graphics. The A7 version in the iPad should be a beast. None of that makes most of your comments any less loony.
    Reply

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