The latest official benchmarks from Geekbench (which we first saw via AppleInsider) are in, and the results show that the Apple A11 Bionic system-on-a-chip (SoC) is more powerful than certain MacBook Pro models. And not old MacBooks, but 2017 ones.
The A11 Bionic is the new SoC that powers the newly-announced iPhone X, but also the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus.
Benchmarks are synthetic tests that put a given device’s SoC a squeeze to understand its capabilities (mainly speed). They address the chip’s cores and calculate how long it takes for them to complete a certain task.
Cores can operate individually or together — it depends on the task — and Geekbench offers both single- and multi-core scores, which helps to break down performance and understand what kind of operation a device is good at.
Manufacturers have generally prioritised optimisation of single cores, as most of the things people do with their phones don’t require the need for multiple operations to occur simultaneously.
However, particularly in the past few years, multi-core processors have made their way to flagship phones, as apps have become more complex and power demanding.
Apple’s A11 Bionic is among them: It one-upped its predecessor, 2016’s A10 Fusion, by adding two extra cores, as well as throwing in the first Apple-designed GPU and even a dedicated neural engine, which mainly takes care of Face ID on the iPhone X.
The A10 was already incredibly powerful, but the A11 is in a league of its own. It increased single-score performance over the A10 (a 25% jump), but it’s multi-score performance where the A11 truly shines. The new SoC is so powerful that it scored higher than the Intel Core i5 inside the newest baseline 13-inch MacBook Pro.
That’s a 80% jump over the A10 Fusion in multi-core, which indicates how much faster the new chip is at handling complex tasks — you would notice this if you were to edit a video on the fly, or play some particularly heavy game.
The iPhone 8 scored marginally better than the iPhone 8 Plus, which in turn beat the iPhone X. This doesn’t mean that the latter two are less powerful devices, however: Their larger, more pixel-packed screens are meaningfully more demanding than the sub-HD screen inside the iPhone 8, so it’s easier for the A11 to perform every test faster there.
This is also what happens when we consider the comparison against the MacBook Pro, which has a significantly larger screen that also contains many more pixels. Still, the very fact that we can put an iPhone in the same ballpark as a MacBook Pro (not even a standard MacBook) is a testament to Apple’s engineering prowess and its strong optimisation work.
Moving to seemingly more sensible comparisons with its Android peers the A11 Bionic is, however, all the more impressive. The A11 is markedly faster than three-biggest other smartphone chips: Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon, the 835, Samsung’s Exynos 8895, and Huawei’s proprietary Kirin 960.
The devices that use it — Xiaomi’s Mi6, the Galaxy S8, and Huawei’s P10, respectively — did a good job outpacing the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus in multi-core scores; however, they couldn’t compete in single-core performance, and the comparison with the A11 Bionic is just unfair.
If Apple can manage to achieve such things, it’s largely because it controls everything about its SoCs — from the software they power to the hardware they run inside — and amortises costs by producing these chips at scale (the average new iPhone model easily tops 150 million worldwide sales within the first 12 months from release).
Its biggest competitor, Qualcomm, doesn’t necessarily lag behind in terms of technical expertise, but it doesn’t have manufacturers that are willing to buy state-of-the-art components off the shelves. Those who do try to compete are following Apple’s model, and making silicon in-house: Samsung, Huawei, and possibly even Google.
Benchmark performances don’t always translate to real-life performance, however. For the most part, flagship smartphones execute daily tasks in the blink of an eye, so the giant performance gap that takes place behind the curtains doesn’t directly translate to a given phone’s speed in the day-to-day (the OnePlus 5 ranked higher than the iPhone 7, for instance).
However, with graphics-intensive technologies like augmented reality on the horizon, it makes sense for manufacturers to juice up their phones’ SoCs’ raw power, as performant devices will also likely stand much better the test of time.