Apple tried its best to market the A15 Bionic as its best smartphone chip ever, and for the most part, that is true, but the company left out some glaring details. Some of these details caught us by surprise, and we could draw a reason for that. Other information had us scratching our heads. Regardless, there are some interesting decisions made with this custom silicon, and we will provide all of that here as best we can so let us start.
A15 Bionic Overview
First, let us talk about what Apple did reveal during its iPhone 13 presentation. The A15 Bionic contains 15 billion transistors and includes a dedicated neural network hardware that Apple calls the new 16-core Neural Engine. The new Neural Engine can perform 15.8 trillion operations per second, making it faster than A14 Bionic’s 11 trillion operations per second threshold.
Apple has also included a new image signal processor that delivers improved computational photography capabilities. Like previous chipset iterations, Apple is using a 6-core CPU, with two being performance cores codenamed Avalanche, with the remaining two focused on power-efficiency and codenamed Blizzard.
What Apple Did Not Inform During Its Presentation
We believe the A15 Bionic is made on TSMC’s advanced N5P architecture, which is an improved variation of the 5nm technology used to mass produce the A14 Bionic. Unfortunately, the ongoing chip shortage means that not only will future Apple products likely see a price increase, but it may have been forced to use some bad batches that it would normally exclude from using in its products as those did not meet the company’s standard.
Varying GPU Cores
If you have caught on, yes, we are talking about the varying GPU cores for different devices using the A15 Bionic. For instance, the A15 Bionic fueling the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max features a 5-core GPU, and so does the iPad mini 6. The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini, on the other hand, use a 4-core GPU. If you think the exclusion of a single GPU makes little difference, you are mistaken, and here is why.
With the 5-core GPU, the A15 Bionic running in the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max deliver a 55 percent graphics performance increase against the A14 Bionic GPU. The 4-core part only manages a 15 percent increase against last year’s chipset when running the same test. Thankfully, the iPad mini 6 was treated to a 5-core GPU, but on the tablet too, Apple made a change that has us puzzled. We will get to that shortly, but let us talk about why the technology giant chose different GPU configurations.
As mentioned, the chip shortage has made everyone take a different approach, and Apple is no different. It would have had to accept those chip batches with one defective GPU core to save costs, otherwise, it may have been forced to price the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini higher, leaving it open to criticism. This decision could also have led to reduced iPhone sales as customers would have to pay more for the less premium iPhone 13 models while not feeling that they were getting the desired product in Apple’s asking price.
By default, the two performance cores of the A15 Bionic operate at 3.23GHz, but on the iPad mini 6, Apple decided to reduce those frequencies to 2.99GHz. The result might not have mattered if this chip continued to maintain a healthy lead against the competition, but on this occasion, it is bested by last year’s A14 Bionic in various single-core tests. The A15 Bionic manages to overcome its losses and extend its lead in multi-core tests, but even those differences are marginal at best.
We do not believe Apple would have any reason to underclock the A15 Bionic CPU on the iPad mini 6. Unlike the iPhone 13 series, the tablet has a larger area to work with, allowing Apple to use a bigger cooling solution to keep thermals under control. Once again, the unlocked CPU could be related to the chip shortage, where Apple was forced to use those bad batches, and disappointingly, those chips found their way to the iPad mini 6.
So why is it that Apple never used those underclocked A15 Bionic batches in any iPhone 13 model? Since iPhones are Apple’s best-selling product, this move could be met with extreme backlash. Also keep in mind that there are millions of users who intend on using their iPhone 13 for several years and even if their charging habits are pristine, the battery will never hold its original charge for more than a few years.
Assuming battery health drops down to an unacceptable level, the A15 Bionic’s underclocked CPU will drop further in frequencies, likely leading to a jittered iOS experience unless you get a battery replacement. Unfortunately, in several countries, Apple does not have an official store or authorized third-party repair centers, so you will have to rely on your gut in replacing the cell. Oftentimes, such shops are not selling original Apple components so you could be running into the same decreased battery timing issues in a couple of months with counterfeit parts.
This is our take on why Apple did what it did with the A15 Bionic, and it does not have to be an accurate representation. However, with all that is going on in the tech industry, we believe that what we have mentioned above reflects the decision Apple was forced to take.
Why Does the A15 Bionic Deliver Lackluster CPU Performance Gains Over A14 Bionic?
According to a previous investigation, Apple is currently experiencing a severe brain drain of talented chip engineers. With the A15 Bionic, the company has not developed a new CPU core but is using a modified variation of the core used in the A14 Bionic. This may also explain why the same S6 chip used in the Apple Watch Series 6 is also used in the latest Apple Watch Series 7. That investigation also mentions that a new CPU core is likely bound for 2022, but Apple may be forced to used TSMC’s N5P process instead of the advanced 3nm node due to the chip shortage.
Regardless of Apple’s position as a major tech behemoth, certain things are beyond its control. Even then, it continues to ship customers the best products it can make with the latest chip fabricated on the most advanced technology and without significant waiting times. During this time, competing products such as notebooks have wait times of months due to this supply-demand disparity. Hopefully, supply and demand will stabilize next year, and Apple will make it up with the A16 Bionic launch.