The latest official benchmarks from Geekbench (which we first saw via AppleInsider) are in, and the results show that Apple’s A11 Bionic system on a chip – or SoC – is more powerful than this year’s MacBook Pro models.
The A11 Bionic SoC powers the newly announced iPhone X, iPhone 8, and iPhone 8 Plus.
Benchmarks are synthetic tests that put a device’s SoC to a squeeze to understand its capabilities, mainly speed. They address the chip’s cores and calculate how long it takes for them to complete a task.
Cores can operate individually or together – it depends on the task – and Geekbench offers both single- and multicore scores, which helps to break down performance and understand what kind of operation a device is good at.
Manufacturers have generally prioritised optimisation of single cores, as most of the things people do with their phones don’t require multiple operations to occur simultaneously.
However, multicore processors have made their way to flagship phones, particularly in the past few years, as apps have become more complex and demanded more power.
Apple’s A11 Bionic is among them: It one-upped its predecessor, 2016’s A10 Fusion, by adding two extra cores, as well as throwing in the first Apple-designed graphics processing unit and even a dedicated neural engine, which mainly takes care of Face ID on the iPhone X.
The A10 was already incredibly powerful, but the A11 is in a league of its own. It increased single-core performance over the A10 by about 25%, but it’s multicore performance where the A11 shines. The new SoC is so powerful that it scored higher than the Intel Core i5 inside the newest baseline 13-inch MacBook Pro.
That’s an 80% jump over the A10 Fusion in multicore, which indicates how much faster the new chip is at handling complex tasks – you would notice this if you were to edit a video on the fly or play some heavy game.
The iPhone 8 scored marginally better than the iPhone 8 Plus, which in turn beat the iPhone X. This doesn’t mean the latter two are less powerful devices, however – their larger, more-pixel-packed screens are meaningfully more demanding than the sub-HD screen inside the iPhone 8, so it’s easier for the A11 to perform every test faster there.
This is also what happens when we consider the comparison with the MacBook Pro, which has a significantly larger screen that also contains many more pixels. Still, that we can put an iPhone in the same ballpark as a MacBook Pro (not even a standard MacBook) is a testament to Apple’s engineering prowess and its optimisation work.
Moving to the seemingly more sensible comparisons with its Android peers, the A11 Bionic is, however, all the more impressive. The A11 is markedly faster than three biggest other smartphone chips: Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon, the 835; Samsung’s Exynos 8895; and Huawei’s proprietary Kirin 960.
The devices that use it – the Xiaomi Mi 6, the Samsung Galaxy S8, and the Huawei P10, respectively – did a good job outpacing the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus in multicore scores, though they couldn’t compete in single-core performance. And the comparison with the A11 Bionic is just unfair.
Apple’s ability to achieve such things is largely because it controls everything about its SoCs – from the software they power to the hardware they run inside – and amortises costs by producing these chips at scale. (The average iPhone model easily tops 150 million units sold worldwide in the first year it’s released.)
Its biggest competitor, Qualcomm, doesn’t necessarily lag in technical expertise, but it doesn’t have manufacturers willing to buy state-of-the-art components off the shelves. Those who do try to compete – Samsung, Huawei, and possibly even Google – are following Apple’s model and making silicon in-house.
Benchmark performances don’t always translate to real-life, day-to-day performance, however. For the most part, flagship smartphones execute daily tasks in the blink of an eye, so the giant performance gap takes place behind the curtains. (The OnePlus 5 ranked higher than the iPhone 7, for instance.)
However, with graphics-intensive technologies like augmented reality on the horizon, it makes sense for manufacturers to juice up their phones’ SoCs’ raw power, as better-performing devices are likely to much better stand the test of time.