Tablet Chip Showdown: Nvidia Tegra 3 vs. the New iPad’s A5X

Tegra 3 vs A5X

When Apple announced the new iPad earlier this month, CEO Tim Cook claimed that the new iPad’s new A5X chip offers four times the performance of Nvidia’s quad-core Tegra 3 CPU.  Now that the new iPad has hit the street, we’ve been able to compare its performance to that of an ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime, the first tablet with a Tegra 3 inside. The results may surprise you.

GLBenchmark 2.1

In GLBenchmark 2.1,  one of the few benchmarks that has versions for both Android and iOS, the new iPad scored higher. On the program’s Egypt Standard test, which shows a 3D animation of ancient Egypt, the new iPad and its A5X chip processed 6718 frames at a rate of 60 frames-per-second to the Transformer Primer’s 5,939 frames at 53 fps. 

When GLBenchmark ran the Geometric test (vertex weighted), which measures low-level shader performance, the new iPad processed 7,530,524 frames at a rate of 57 fps while the Tegra 3-based Transformer Prime processed just 3,523,926 at a rate of 27 fps. We saw the same trend on the program’s Fill test, which measures texturing speed, as the iPad processed 1.98 billion textels per second to the Prime’s 404.61 million.

GLBench 2.1 Fill Test

Geekbench

On Geekbench, a cross-platform benchmark that measures raw processing power rather than graphics, the quad-core Tegra 3 blew its competitor way as it achieved an overall score of 1,571 to the A5X’s 692. On the integer (1391 to 614), floating point (2408 to 825) and memory subtests (1076 to 784) , the Tegra 3 dominated, but the A5X bested it by a small margin of 324 to 266 on the stream subtest.

Geekbench Score

Browser Benchmarks: Peacekeeper and Sunspider

We also tested the new iPad’s Safari browser performance on two synthetic benchmarks and compared the results to those on the Transformer Prime’s stock Android browser. In Peacekeeper, a general-purpose browser benchmark, the two tablets got nearly identical scores of 386 for the iPad and 387 for the Prime. However, the iPad completed the Sunspider JavaScript rendering test in just 1810 milliseconds to the Prime’s 2216 ms. 

Sunspider JavaScript Test (lower is better)

Unfortunately, since the two tablets use two different browsers, it’s impossible to isolate the processor’s role in giving the iPad slightly faster Sunspider results. It’s quite possible that Safari just performs better on this test than the Android 4.0 browser does.

Subjective Gaming Performance

Evaluating gaming performance on any tablet is a mainly subjective task, because there’s no benchmark that measures framerates like FRAPs does in Windows. However, we attempted to see what the differences in appearance were when we played the same game on both devices and placed them side by side. 

When we fired up the jet ski racing game Riptide GP on both devices, we noticed immediately that images looked sharper and more colorful on the new iPad’s retina display. Edges of objects like our avatar’s ski jacket, the walls on the racing course, and the writing on the scoreboard looked so much crisper on the iPad’s 2048 x 1536 screen and colors just popped a lot more than on the Transformer’s 1280 x 800 display. The difference in screen quality was only a little less pronounced when we played the third-person shooter game Shadowgun.

However, when we looked past the beautiful screen, we noticed that the version of the game playing on the Transformer Prime had some additional visual effects that were not present on the new iPad.  In Riptide, we noticed more reflections in the water and a splashing effect that made it look like water was hitting the screen when our ski landed from a jump. On the iPad, we just saw a little foam appear on landing, not splashes.

Riptide on Tegra 3 has splash effects you won't find on the iPad.

In Shadowgun, we walked into a scene with a burning helicopter and, on both devices, saw gorgeous billows of smoke and fire rising up to the sky. However, only on the Tegra 3-powered Transformer Prime, did the game show two flags billowing in the wind; the flags weren’t even there on the iPad version.

Shadowgun on Tegra 3 has billowing flags you won't find on the iPad

Shadowgun on the iPad doesn't have the flags.

Our experience playing Shadowgun and Riptide on the two tablets shows how difficult it is to separate processor performance from other system components like the screen. It’s likely that, if we could put a gorgeous 2048 x 1536 screen on the Transformer Prime, these games would have both the great special effects and the sharp, beautiful images.

However, comparing tablet-to-tablet rather than chip-to-chip, the iPad’s screen makes the gaming experience a much tastier visual feast than you get on the Transformer Prime. We hope that upcoming higher-res Android tablets like the 1920 x 1200 screened Transformer Prime TF701 will give mobile gamers the perfect combination of special effects and sharp, vibrant images.

It is also possible that, once developers rework their games for the new iPad’s A5X chip, we’ll see the same kind of added special effects that we see with Tegra 3. Neither Shadowgun nor Riptide has yet been optimized for the A5X chip, so who knows what they will look like in their next iOS iterations. For now, its clear that the A5X offers better benchmark performance, while Tegra 3-optimized games offer more and better visual effects. 

AUTHOR BIO
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. godrilla Says:

    Nice review leave the bias aside unlike other sites.

  2. John Says:

    Your testing with one optimized for tegra and the other for the iPad 2. Not a even fight

  3. Generalkidd Says:

    It doesn’t really matter, the differences are overall pretty subtle. And in terms of gaming, tablets (with the exception of Intel tablets), just don’t cut it. The graphics in these two tablets still look like they’re from games made during the 90’s or early 2000’s.

    Now if you’re talking about Windows 8 tablets or even Windows 7 tablets, the one that Samsung has made which runs using an Intel Core i5 blows both of these tablets away. Not only does the Core i5 outperform both the A5X and Tegra 3, but the integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 is also a lot more powerful than what the Tegra 3 or A5X has (ironically). In the desktop and laptop markets, Intel HD Graphics is a joke but is getting better to the point where HD Graphics 3000 can run games like Halo 2 or Crysis (at low-med settings). But in the tablet market, Intel HD Graphics is like the GeForce or Radeons of the PC market.

    In less than a year, “gaming” comparisons between tablets will be pointless as Intel Windows 8 tablets will inherit the gaming superiority of the PC/console platform.

  4. praneeth Says:

    both shadowgun and riptide arnt optimized for the new iPad so this article is nothing but bull.. how about testing something optimized like realracing and Infinity blade.. oh wait

  5. Hosed Says:

    There are only a few apps optamized for the new ipad

  6. Bervick Says:

    Perhaps you should mention that a NEW Transformer Infinity Series (700) is soon to come out with a 1920 x 1200 resolution. The comparison should really be made against that one. Of course, when it comes out.

  7. Bervick Says:

    I retract my comment. You did mention it. Plus, you also mentioned that these games have not been optimized for the A5X. A very fair and balanced review IMO. Thanks.

    The real test would be having both games optimized for the iPad 3/HD and the Transformer Infinity 700t/Infinity. That would be a great test. I suspect on a small screen, the differences will be negligible. Given that it’s not out yet and they have seen the new iPad, Asus might still have time to improve their figures/performance. We’ll see. In June, I think ?

  8. Scott Says:

    This is silly. Those games weren’t even optimized for the New iPad let alone the iPad 2. Look at games like Mass Effect infiltrator and Games developed by Epic like Infinity blade : Dungeons if you want to know what the new iPad is capable of.

    The waving flag and splash on the screen aren’t gone from the iPad because they can’t be rendered, they could easily be added in an update.

  9. MARCO Says:

    this review make more sense than others. but those GLbenchmark is not optimies for quadcore its for dual core only. so this cant be use for benchmarking asus prime.

  10. BIlly Says:

    I would be more interested to know how well A5x performs in terms of power usage efficiency.

  11. BIlly Says:

    I am guessing Tegra 3 has better power consumption given its “companion core”.

  12. dave Says:

    So it looks like Tegra wins on cpu and A5X wins on graphics. The difference in sun-spider is likely that Safari is optimized better at the moment (they just released an OS update so thats probably why).

    Apple should have upped the cpu speed if you ask me. Graphics alone isn’t enough of an upgrade, though that super high resolution display looks pretty nice.

  13. John T Wagner Says:

    Quote:
    “When Apple announced the new iPad earlier this month, CEO Tim Cook claimed that the new iPad’s new A5X chip offers four times the performance of Nvidia’s quad-core Tegra 3 CPU.”

    Umm, no. Apple NEVER claimed that the A5X SoC “offers four times the performance” of the “quad-core Tegra 3 CPU”!
    They claimed that the GPU in the A5X offered four times the GRAPHICS performance of the GPU in the Nvidia Tegra 3 Soc!

    And look at that, in the only fffing GRAPHICS benchmark they ran, the GPU in the A5X was OVER 4 times faster than the GPU in Tegra 3. Jesus Christ how can people get things so wrong?

    The rest of the tests were freaking CPU tests. And what do you know? The Tegra 3 with a quad core CPU beats the A5X with a dual core CPU, on CPU tests!

    We are all shocked…/s

    Apple was very careful not to make any claims about CPU speed in relation to the Tegra 3. The fact that Laptop Mag implies otherwise, given their access to the very public information that Apple referred only to graphics performance, leaves few other conclusions than deliberate misinformation, and link bait sensationalism.

    Also, Tim Cook never claimed anything about the A5X graphics performance. It was Phil Schiller!
    Is this not a professional publication?

  14. KYRO II Says:

    It should be pretty clear to everybody that A5X has the same GPU as PlayStation VITA and what comes to pure graphics power, there just are no match for the PowerVR performance at the moment. I think comparing performance of different multipurpose chipsets with a javascript demo is just ridiculous because the same floating point calculations could be measured without interference of hugely optimized and different javascript engines. Because the PowerVR chipset is (once again) more powerful than NVIDIA and less media aware (once again), I think some real world tests would be more useful, for example measuring response times and framerates when using facebook and watching youtube.

  15. higuy Says:

    So much for the claims that the Apple chip is four times faster. Looks like the Tegra chip wins overall.
    Which is a shame. From someone who is neither a fanboy or a fandroid, and who just likes tech, I was hoping that Apple would surpass Android, or at the least, catch up. So that everyone would keep moving forward.

    It is disappointing to see such a weak entry into the market as the iPad 3. Let’s hope that Android manufacturers don’t follow Apple’s example of releasing weak products. I suppose it is a good thing that there are so may Android manufacturers for this reason.

    At least there will still be competition among themselves… as far as advancing the technology forward…

  16. ukdavo Says:

    @Generalkidd – What’s the battery life & cost of that Samsung i5 tablet? I’m guessing half and double respectively. I have a feeling that it’s aimed at a different market. If gaming performance is that important then just go for a games console or high end PC.

  17. formula409 Says:

    Its not a proper test for one reason.. The transformer prime was running the THD version and so was doing much more processing then the new iPad. How would the new iPad fair if it were running the THD version? Perhaps not a well since the guys showing off the comparison were saying they were pretty equal minus some color differences and that the Tegra 3 had more eye candy.

  18. JLCENTRAL Says:

    PS. Look at the BENCHMARK program, before you rag on the results. GL2.1 is old, 2.5 is already out. The reviews should be using the newest benching program, which accounts for 95% of all the prime vs ipad3 reviews out there, hell a lot of them are using Droid 3.2 in their benchs. 2.1 isn’t very well optimized for 4 cores and furthermore the tegra3. I know from working in this industry, that these benches aren’t very good reflection of performance. The Tegra, has post processing in the a lot of these games, which there isn’t in the IPAD3. If FPS is the sheer value for crowning a winner than IPAD3 wins, but in image quality (not SCREEN QUALITY) then TFPrime wins.

    This is like the ATI/Nvidia fanboy arguments so many years ago. How can you compare without straight comparisions

  19. Tess Says:

    Wow, a lot of people are really upset over this. Which is ridiculous, because this is about as balanced as anyone could hope for. You make all the caveats clear, report a variety of benchmarks that cover different areas, show pixel fills vs rendering differences on the GPU, etc.

    Really, the only other thing that would be nice is some kind of real-world-usage benchmark that covers UI reponsiveness and speed to perform common tasks, but across such different platforms, that would be difficult to manage.

    Well done.

  20. Jo B. Says:

    @higuy
    nope idiot. Tegra 3 wins only Geekbench ;-)
    And the Different between the two Processors in this Test were only a few ms (milliseconds)

    @all
    The games wich they are using to show (manipulate) us are not updated for the new iPad at the moment! (19.03.2012 18:18)
    It is comparing Fifa 08 to a Fifa 12!

  21. JLCENTRAL Says:

    Also note that those games are made for the Tegra and to take advantage of its extra post processing…
    Thus these games aren’t a good option for making a real side to side comparision

  22. TheNeXt Says:

    I thing it would be interesting to test apps, which are optimized for the iPad’s A5X. That would be interesting. You can’t compare apps, which are designed for older devices!

  23. jobsblows Says:

    Apple fans getting bent out of shape is always amusing. that Geekbench score looks bad for the ipad considering Geekbench is the go to Apple benchmark. As far as graphics go who cares. Games are for babies, then again ipads are toys. Apple is gay

  24. Bobshush Says:

    Isn’t the iPad doing 4 times the amount of work per frame as the Tegra? The screen has ~4 times as many pixels to fill.

  25. Siggy Says:

    You’re never going to find a game to make a side by side comparison that’s optimized for both platforms. People wishing to see something like that will be sorely disappointed. Artificial benchmarks are really the only fair comparison between the two and don’t always reflect real world performance, only theoreticals. Do note that most of the whiners are the ones defending Apple products. Go figure.

  26. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    The NVIDIA chip is a GPU designed for phones, and the Apple chip has a GPU designed for PC’s. The reason Apple is the only one making a mobile chip with that much GPU on it is that Apple is the only one with a customer for such chips, which is Apple themselves. If Apple had contracted with NVIDIA to have them make the 3rd generation iPad chip, then the iPad chip would still win, but it would have an NVIDIA logo on it somewhere. As long as iPad has the only mobile GPU designed specifically for PC use, it will wipe the floor with all the phone GPU’s simply because phones are smaller. They have 20% of the iPad screen if that.

    As always, when comparing or testing or evaluating these devices, you have to evaluate them as if they are made out of solid Transformer and solid iPad. As if they have no parts inside. These devices are just a screen and a frame. If you were making canvas prints of a photograph and wanted to compare the output from 2 print houses, you could read the specs on their printing equipment all day long, but you’re better to print 1 copy of the same photo at both places and compare the output and see who wins your continuing business. Same with these 2 devices. Compare their photo editing, video editing, document editing, spreadsheets, presentations, games, movies, music, book reading, and so on and see which one wins your continuing business. It’s quite conceivable that you could choose the slower or heavier tablet because its software suited your needs better. So a table of specs is a distraction.

  27. Mike M Says:

    “….Now if you’re talking about Windows 8 tablets or even Windows 7 tablets, the one that Samsung has made which runs using an Intel Core i5 blows both of these tablets away. Not only does the Core i5 outperform both the A5X and Tegra 3, but the integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 is also a lot more powerful than what the Tegra 3 or A5X has (ironically). In the desktop and laptop markets, Intel HD Graphics is a joke but is getting better to the point where HD Graphics 3000 can run games like Halo 2 or Crysis (at low-med settings). But in the tablet market, Intel HD Graphics is like the GeForce or Radeons of the PC market.”

    At 2Ibs, 1/2 thick and with not provision for 3 or 4G, this isn’t quite the same device as the iPad. And I dont think the battery would last 9 hours and probably be more in the vicinity of 3 or 4 hours (I doubt Win8 would make it lasts longer). And finally the price- it starts at a grand. It’s basically what a tablet used to be before the iPad.

  28. Reggie Says:

    The new iPad has a stronger GPU but, it is needed to drive a higher resolution screen.

    For both tablets, they are able to run games and video at the highest design level without problems – any extra graphics power is not used or needed until someone pushes tablet games to a new level of computational demand.

    The tests comments show the differences being the following so far:
    1. Apple higher resolution screen is more eye catching
    2. Game design support for NVIDIA Tegra graphics allows for more visual features currently (there is a dedicated app store for Tegra optimized games)

    Everything else should fall in the CPU side (multi-tasking, non-pure graphic computational power) where the Tegra 3 currently bests the new iPad by over 2x.

  29. RudiWudi Says:

    On the PC side of things, Nvidia has the TWIMTBP-program for years now. They work together with game developers in order to get Nvidia-optimzed games.

    Now they are doing the exact same thing with Android. The goal is obvious, they want to market the Tegra-series the default Android gaming platform.

    For me as an end user, it doesn’t matter whether this is ‘unfair’ or not. When I buy a Tegra 3 device, I get the best graphics in the Android camp.

    It is even possible that games look superiour on a technically inferiour product because of such optimizations. But when the buyer gets a better experience, the product is superior.

    What advantages does a technically superiour product have when the available resources are not used? None!

    The same is true for A5X-optimized games: As long as those are not available, you get the better experience on an Asus Transformer Prime. Period.

    As a sidenote, I have bought a TF Prime last week. I connected it to the TV via HDMI and also connected a USB XBOX-gamepad.

    This works better then I had hoped.

    Can you do the same with an iPad? Does it have an HDMI connector?

  30. Kashban Says:

    @RudiWudi: And that is even working in 3D if you use a 3D TV:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6d4d64qSXw

  31. Olav Says:

    @Kashban Also you can stream wireless to the DLNA devices, without some silly “apple tv” box.

  32. theUnansweredQuestion Says:

    The human eye cant even pick up the number of pixles in the new iPad, it can hardly get all the pixles when you display 1080X800. sometimes bigger isnt always better and overkill on the resolution will just lead to memory being used in the video memory, the refresh rate amd contrast ratio play a bigger role in sharpness than packing in more pixles. How can you even tell if the ipads resolution is any better than the first 1080×800 tablet?

  33. Bob Dole Says:

    @theUnansweredQuestion… Um, try playing Magic the Gathering on the new iPad before saying “the human eye can’t see the differ…. Blah blah blah.” I have been an apple hater for years but I can easily tell the difference in resolution (especially with small text) and general image quality. I know this sounds stupid, but I can literally put my eye a couple of inches away from this panel and can’t see any pixels. It’s kind of crazy. Samsung is really good at making high quality IPS panels. I mean it looks like backlit true to life real paper. The iPhone 4 blows me away in the same way. Too bad I loathe the home screen square stuff. Androids home screen is leagues better and way more customizable. I love it. Apple really needs to just try widgets for once! I like stupid widgets damn it!!!

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