Over the last few years, there has been a steadily growing refrain from device makers and game developers that mobile devices — smartphones, tablets, portables – have processing power and graphics capabilities that are approaching that of game consoles. This bold assertion began in 2012 with Nvidia saying its mobile GPUs would soon overtake the Xbox 360, and with Apple saying its iPhone 5 has “console-quality graphics” — and by 2013 the PS Vita had indeed caught up with the PS3. Now, however, the head of EA’s mobile division, Frank Gibeau, has made a very interesting statement indeed: He says that the iPhone 6, with its improved processor” is “on par” with the Xbox One and PS4.
Is it really possible for a battery-powered device that’s 7mm thick to have comparable CPU and GPU performance to next-generation consoles that are still less than a year old, or is the head of EA Mobile a little bit deluded?
Sadly, even the iPhone is still beholden to the laws of physics
When it comes to raw computing or graphical performance, there are three main factors to consider: The technical proficiency of the chip designer, the size of the chip (i.e. the transistor count), and the chip’s power envelope (wattage, TDP). In other words, if you have the same AMD-designed GPU with 1 billion transistors, but one chip has a 5W TDP and the other has a 20W TDP, it’s fairly safe to assume that the 20W TDP chip will be (significantly) more powerful. Likewise, one CPU with 2 billion transistors is probably going to be a lot more powerful than a CPU with 1 billion transistors, assuming they were designed by two comparable teams. This is a gross simplification that ignores other important factors, but it will serve us well without having to dive much deeper than necessary.
Infinity Blade III, on the iPad – an example of state-of-the-art mobile game graphics
Destiny, on the PS4. Note the high number of models on-screen, high-res textures, particles, lighting…
Now, let’s take a look at the hardware inside the iPhone 6. The new A8 SoC — at least as far as we know, as Apple hasn’t released the exact specs — has a dual-core Cyclone CPU and hexa-core PowerVR Series6XT GPU. All told, the chip consists of around 2 billion transistors, built using a 20nm process on a tiny 89-square-millimeter die. We don’t know the exact power envelope, but generally the TDP limit for a smartphone form factor is in the 3-4W range. The A7