A16 chip design means it’s really an A15+, argues Macworld

One of the differences between the base and Pro iPhone 14 models this year is that only the latter gets the latest A16 chip. But a new article today argues that’s a smaller difference than Apple might let on.

A comparison of the two chip designs concludes that the differences are far smaller than is typically the case with Apple’s annual iPhone chip upgrade…

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The iPhone 14 marks the first time Apple has used the A-series chip as a differentiator between the standard and Pro models. The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max will get the new A16 chip, while the iPhone 14 and Plus will get the A15 chip from last year’s models.

Apple is believed to have made the decision as part of a strategy to widen the gap between base and Pro models, and we expect it to repeat that approach in next year’s iPhone 15 lineup.

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A16 chip is really an A15+

Macworld’s Jason Cross delved into the design of the A16 chip to argue that it’s mostly identical to the A15.

We’ve already noted that Apple likes to refer to the A16 chip as a 4nm chip, while TSMC – which makes the chip – calls it an improved 5nm process. The cross opens with the same point.

According to Apple, the chip is manufactured by TSMC in a new “4-nanometer” process, making it the first such processor in a smartphone. However, it is worth noting that TSMC’s “N4” process is not a 4nm process in the truest sense of the word, as TSMC itself even describes it as “an enhanced version of N5 technology”. While it’s a more advanced process than previous A-series processors, it’s not a true next-generation silicon manufacturing process.

The headlines are the same as the A15: two high-performance cores, four efficiency cores, five GPU cores, and 16 Neural Engine cores. The number of transistors has increased, but only from 15 billion to 16 billion – a much smaller jump than usual.

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Cross suggests that both the CPU and the Neural Engine appear to have either an identical or nearly identical architecture to the A15, and that the performance improvements are likely just due to Apple using the same chips with a higher clock speed. The biggest difference is the switch from LPDDR4x to LPDDR5 memory, but the otherwise modest differences are reflected in the benchmarks, he says.

Given that the CPU architecture hasn’t changed much, just running at up to a 7 percent higher clock speed (and with more available memory bandwidth), we should expect most CPU benchmarks to show performance gains of 10 percent or less demonstrate.

A quick look at the Geekbench 5 numbers tells us that peak single-core CPU performance actually appears to have increased by around 8-10 percent over the A15. Multi-core performance fares slightly better, but it’s likely that these tests would more easily overwhelm the chip’s caches and therefore benefit from the increased memory bandwidth.

GPU performance improvements of 7% to 19% are also in line with expectations if the architecture remains unchanged and only the clock speed is increased. The high-end increases are consistent with the 50 percent increase in memory bandwidth offered by LPDDR5 memory.

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It’s the fact that the A16 chip is just an incremental improvement over the A15, which explains why the base model iPhone 14 gets “features like Action Mode, Photonic Engine, and 4K Cinematic Mode.”

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