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Tested: Why the iPad Pro really isn't as fast a laptop

Gordon Mah Ung | Nov. 26, 2015
One benchmark makes it look good. A lot of other benchmarks show a different story. Get all the details here.

ipad pro

Stop the presses. The PC is dead, and so is the Mac. Killed by the more powerful iPad Pro. At least that’s what some tech writers proclaimed after Apple’s latest iPad Pro wonder hit the streets.

But is the iPad Pro really a PC killer? After days of poking and prodding, I can safely say Hell no. Far from it.

Before this turns into a flame-fest, let me say this: The iPad Pro is shockingly fast, and Apple has again worked its mastery of hardware, software and virtually unlimited resources to build an amazingly fast chip for the iPad Pro. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. My battery of tests shows that in some things, it ain’t that fast.

How we got here

What started the “Intel and its CPUs are doomed” talk were benchmarks showing the A9X SoC in the iPad Pro overpowering Intel’s older Haswell chips and even its newest Skylake CPUs.

Many of those conclusions were based on performance results from the popular multi-platform Geek Bench 3 benchmark, as well as browser-based benchmarks such as Mozilla’s Kraken and Google’s Octane 2.0. This limited data set had the faithful buzzing that the end was nigh for x86.

If you like to test hardware, you know the weakness of the last two tests: A browser test isn’t a test of the CPU/SoC, it’s a test of the chip plus the browser and OS optimizations underneath it. On the iPad Pro the browsers are pretty much the same, as Apple makes all use its highly optimized rendering engine. On the PC, your browser pick matters. Browser-based benchmarks are hardly the best tools on the PC either.

Geek Bench 3 is different. The creators of Geek Bench 3 have stated their goals are to create a cross-platform test that isolates the CPU as much as possible, using algorithms that it believes are valid for chip performance. If you peep at the chart below, you can see what got people in a tizzy.

ipad pro geek bench single core overall
Fan boys have used Geek Bench 3’s performance results to write screeds that the x86-based PC (and Mac) are officially goners. Click on image to enlarge.

Yes: Whoa. That iPad Pro in single-core performance (which is a good metric to use to judge across platforms where some chips have more cores) is every bit as fast as the CPU in the newest mid-range Core i5 Surface Pro 4 in Geek Bench 3. It’s uncomfortably close to that Core i7-6600U in the far pricier top-end Surface Book, too.

For the record: Almost all of the tests in this section were run within the last few days, with the latest OSes and updates applied. The only OS that was out of date was my corporate-issue Windows 8.1 box with its 3.4GHz Core i7-2600, which I threw in for kicks.  


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