Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Ultra is out, the geeky benches are in, and we’re all about to discover if Qualcomm’s latest, greatest Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 finally, the Rock-level finally, lays Apple’s A15 Bionic to utter desolation and waste.
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So, in the Phantom blue corner, coming in on Samsung’s 4 nanometer process and the ARMv9 instruction set architecture, we have Qualcomm’s newly re-branded Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, or S8G1, which, sadly, no, isn’t the next Stargate spinoff.
And in the six colored corner, coming in on Taiwan Semiconductor’s second gen 5 nanometer process and the ARMv8 ISA, we have Apple’s still Bionic-branded A15, which, no, luckily, isn’t a metric paper size for anything.
And out the sound of the bell, the judge for this… rumble in the stonx… will be PC Mag’s own Sascha Sagen. Now, let’s get ready to benchmark!
And the winner is… wait… no… wait… no… wait… no? Surprise Face Memoji. This can’t be right! Apple A15 Bionic by KO, no T, armbar, guillotine choke, and ground and pound, all at once, at the same time, beginning of round 1?
I mean, Samsung’s process is at 4 nanometer and TSMC’s still at 5 nanometer, and carry the 1, divide by zero, that’s… more process? But, turns out, those are marketing names, not actual physical measurements, and TSMC’s N5P process is currently better than Samsung’s 4LPE.
But Snapdragon is on ARMv9 and Apple is still on ARMv8, which… floating math symbols… is more ISA? But, turns out, Apple largely drove ARMv8 and ARM64 and their license lets them do pretty much whatever they want with it, and they’ve been doing just that going on almost a decade. And, while I’d love to be wrong about this, it feels like ARMv9 is mostly just about replicating what Apple’s been doing and packaging it up for other licensees, some vector capabilities aside.
But didn’t Apple CPU gains grind to a halt and their future look dim as the impact from cpu engineer exoduses — exodii? — to Nuvia and Rivos start to bleed in?
I mean, that was some fanfic written almost immediately after A15 was announced, and just so schadenfreude-istically re-blogged to bait clicks pretty much across the techosphere.
But it turned out A15 continued building not just on the Bionic architecture, but on the low, slow, wide approach Apple’s been relentless about for basically ever. Just maniacally obsessed with efficiency, and achieving performance through that efficiency. Specifically in this case, with more efficient performance cores, way more performant efficiency cores, a kinda monstrous new graphics cores, up to 5 this time, and a ridiculous amount of system cache. To the extent that, where A14 was a Song of Ice and Firestorm cores, a15 went double cold with Blizzard and Avalanche. Along with a continued push into off-core features, with not only new ProRes media engines, but a new storage controller capable of writing that 6 GB per minute of data to the SSD without dropping a frame. Just, yeah, no new I/O controller to get it off any faster than Lightning’s positively Jurassic USB2 speeds.
I’ve got a whole deep dive up on that already, link in the description below the like button.
But… which, rather than grinding to a halt, in-between process shrink years, seems pretty much like another tock leap forward. Making this years expected process shrink down to TSMC’s 4 nanometer process look kinda all shades of bright. Meaning A16 Bionic.. Cyborg.. whatever… is going to ship in the iPhone 14 this fall, months before Qualcomm even announces S8G2… Atlantis, and nearly half a year before Samsung can cram it into a Galaxy Don’t Call it Note 23 Ultra.
And I say that as someone who, Sayamalan-style plot twist, really, really liked the Galaxy S22 Ultra. It’s got a bunch of features I wish Apple would hurry up and add to the iPhone already, including pen support which pretty much makes it the perfect iPad nano for your pocket.
As to the brain drain, you know Apple’s silicon bench runs silly deep. Great artists ship, and part of that process is having great editors, great auteurs even, to help them figure out what to ship, and like Intel, until Qualcomm with or without Nuvia ships objectively better chips than Apple, — I’m talking way, way better than Canadian Ketchup chips — it’s all just fanfic, just grist for the silicon rag thirst traps.
And I mean objectively better, performance and efficiency, not just goosing voltage to post some high scores that shred battery life even as they throttle harder than a Top Gun sequel release schedule in anything even approaching a phone-sized enclosure.
Sasha points out in his tests that a “result of 1,232 became 802 with a warm phone, and a GFXBench result of 28fps became 19fps”, and I’ll defend Qualcomm by saying physics is a jerk and everything throttles. Including A15’s 5 core GPU. And very few non-bench markers are ever going to run on red for any extended period of time. But you still want to be designing for the enclosure, not for the Benchmark LARPer. Especially on mobile, because unlike Alder Lake, you can’t just liquid cool to fit it in your fav mini tower. Silicon is unforgiving, so you have to play the long game.
And I know a lot of people will say none of this matters, phones are already OP, just way beyond fast enough, and that they scroll fine, and game fine, and it’s more about experiences than specs, feature sets than chipsets. I know that because I’m the one who started that whole pre-tiktok trend.
But what many people miss is this — over time. Experience at launch only matters to tech fanatics who swap phones faster than memes. Real people don’t just keep one new hotness until the next, they keep their only hotness… for years. And with Samsung finally putting on their Big Apple pants and promising updates for up to 5 years, those chips have to have enough headroom for those updates for those 5 years. In other words, they have to be able to maintain those experiences under the added weight of new feature sets. Scrolls smooth burns on Genshin Impact in 2022 is lol. But in 2027?
Apple’s been doing just exactly that going on almost a decade now, and I’d love — all-caps love — to see it from Samsung, Qualcomm, Google, everyone… Because competition is good for everyone. And by everyone, I mean us.