The A14 Bionic is an ARM-based chipset that appears in all iPhone 12 versions and 4th generation iPad Air. It promises 16 percent faster performance compared to A13 Bionic. Its machine learning accelerators and 16-core neural engine are also much faster than the previous generation.
Apple A14 Bionic made a big news, because it utilizes 5nm manufacturing process. It represents a technological challenge, because TSMC only manages to achieve 1.49 times of reduction in die size, instead of the claimed 1.8 times reduction. It’s increasingly difficult to shrink the inner structure of the chip, especially the integrated memory. Although the A14 still uses a hexa-core architecture with big.LITTLE design, Apple uses the Icestorm and Firestorm cores. Apple seeks to deliver a laptop-level computation performance on iPhone and iPad. According to reports, the A14 could become the basis for the CPU used by ARM MacBooks.
It has an integrated quad-core GPU module and the overall architecture is still identical as the previous A13 Bionic. It appears that performance improvements come from the new cores, instead of major architectural improvements. With 11.8 billion transistors, the A14 has 38 percent more transistors over the A13 Bionic with 8.5 billion transistors. The 16-core neural engine frees up the main CPU from image processing tasks and other AI workloads. The iPhone 12 Pro has 5G data connectivity, which is the first for Apple. However, the A14 doesn’t include a built-in 5G modem. Instead, Apple adds the Qualcomm Snapdragon X55 modem for 5G and 4G connectivity. It includes support for sub-6GHz, mmWave, 4G/5G spectrum shoreline and 5G FDD. When connected to a mmWave network, the iPhone 12 Pro may theoretically reach 7Gbps data rate. However, real-life performance is much lower due to network issues and other external problems.
GeekBench 5 benchmark shows that A14 Bionic reaches 21 percent performance jump for single-thread operations. Likewise, the chip’s multi-core performance is 17 percent higher. The Firestorm and Icestorm cores have higher clock-speeds compared to Lightning and Thunder, that contribute significantly to the decent performance jump. But, how Apple’s new chip compares against other chipsets in the market. To be fair, comparing them isn’t an accurate comparison. Apple and Android benchmarks work quite differently. During GPU stress tests, both use different API, Vulkan and OpenGL for Android, and Metal for Apple. There are variations in scores that make it difficult to make direct comparisons.
It’s more accurate to use GeekBench 5 to compare CPU performance on both platforms. For single-core CPU operations, Apple 13 and A14 show a clear lead. However, with its multiple big cores, Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 could actually outperform A13 in multi-core operations. Nevertheless, the gaps in performance are quite tight and we could argue that these chipsets have roughly equal raw computational performance. Comparing GPU performance on both platforms are tricky, because the use of different graphics API and display resolutions. Even so, it appears that the iPhone 12 Pro shows decent margin in performance. The A14 could be the fastest chipset at the moment, but new contenders will enter the market soon. According to reports, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 875 and Huawei’s Kirin 9000 could achieve a healthy margin over the A14 Bionic.
ARM Macs are already on the horizon and A14 Bionic has a technological significance for Apple. CPU performance of A14 is closing the gap between MacBooks and iPhone, while extending Apple’s lead in mobile performance, compared to chipsets for Android devices. The improved AI capabilities for photography processing puts A14 in a different territory, compared to competing chipsets. Future Android SoCs should follow it up the in the same direction. The new Cortex-X1 cores will give future chipsets an edge against the A14.