Apple A12 Bionic: All you need to know about the iPhone XS and iPhone XR CPU

Apple announced the iPhone Xs, Xs Max, and the cheaper iPhone Xr in its launch event in Cupertino yesterday. The phone is an iterative update to the iPhone x, giving it more power and capability.

Powering the device is the latest Apple designed A12 Bionic chip which turns out to be a serious update to last year’s A11 processors in the iPhone x. Apple called it the “smartest and most powerful chip ever in a smartphone”, it runs faster, letting apps launch up to 30% faster on the new iPhones

While Huawei has announced its native Hisilicon Kirin 980 SoC as the world’s first 7nm chipset, the A12 bionic is the world’s first 7nm chipset powering an actual smartphone.

The A12 as a chip manufactured using the 7nm fabrication node which is smaller than the 10nm A11 chip and Qualcomm’s current Snapdragon 845 CPUs meaning they can fit more transistors and components in the same physical space of a silicon die for higher clock speeds. Apple was able to fit 6.9 billion transistors in the new A12 Bionic chip in contrast to 4.3 billion transistors in last year’s model.

The A 12 bionic chip is built using Apple’s fusion system which like AMD’s Fusion System Architecture (FSA), is a CPU building process which advances in unifying CPU and GPU architectures in just a single, multi-purpose processing unit, a CPU-and-GPU-on-a-chip.

A12 bionic: Main components

The A12 is built on Apple’s fusion system architecture which means multiple different components in one central processing units. In the A12 bionic case, the components are central processing unit (CPU), GPU, Neural system and Enhanced ISP

A12 bionic: Apple-designed CPU.

The CPU is a 6 core processing unit with two of the cores being high-performance cores which tackle heavy computational tasks. And rest of the four cores are efficiency cores take on everyday tasks and focuses on extending battery life. The two performance cores run up to 15% faster than A11 Bionic while the four efficiency cores are up to 50% power efficient.

What this means is, the processor on everyday use only uses the four efficiency cores to run normal task like the mail app, WhatsApp, things like that. This in effect minimizes power consumption giving the device a longer battery life. This is the main explanation why the iPhone Xs lasts 30 minutes longer than the X. Apple did not say they had put a bigger battery in the Xs. The low power cores just let it go on for longer (30 minutes)

On the other hand, the two high-performance cores only kick in when extra power is needed. This power usually is needed for running games and VR features of the phone.

Apple incorporated a performance controller which dynamically divides work across these cores, deciding when to use only the four efficiency cores or harnessing all six when a power boost is needed.

A12 bionic: Apple-designed GPU.

The Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) is also a step up from last year. The A11 chip housed a 3 core GPU which has been upgraded to a four core count GPU in the A12 bionic. It is up to 50% faster than the A11. This has opened up new possibilities for Apple and game developers to produce games with more realistic scenes than before like Skyrim-looking Elder Scrolls: Blades demonstrated by game developer Bethesda’s Todd Howard in the event.

However, Blades is being developed for Android as well, because Bethesda isn’t stupid enough to ignore such a market. As such, it’s not likely that having an iPhone XS will be able to deliver gaming performance a smartphone with a Snapdragon 845 cannot, but it could mean Apple’s flagship phone is the way to get the best performance in the most demanding smartphone games.

A12 bionic: Apple-designed Neural Engine.

Apple is most of all proud of what they have been able to accomplish with this new generation neural Engine. It is an 8-core architecture which can run 5 trillion operations per second. It also allows Core ML runs up to 9x faster than A11 Bionic.

Our Neural Engine is built for advanced, real-time machine learning. That means iPhone XS can recognize patterns, make predictions, and learn from experience, similar to the way you do.

Kind of like the performance controller in the CPU, one very important job of the Neural Engine is to keep track of which resources on the new iPhones, whether that’s parts of the CPU or GPU, are best suited to perform your commands, as well as lend additional processing power where needed which makes the whole system very efficient.

The Neural Engine’s machine learning ability also powers more common camera modes like portrait mode and portrait lighting, allowing for clearer live FaceTime calls, better detection of faces and bodies when taking pictures and video. This will also see fun things like Animoji look more cartoonish.

A12 bionic: Enhanced ISP.

The image signal processor features a refined depth engine, which captures extraordinary detail in Portrait mode. And with Smart HDR, you’ll notice far greater dynamic range in your photos.

This sees you “shooting a four frame buffer to capture a critical moment” as well as “secondary interframes at the same time at different exposure to bring out highlight details”. So not radically different to existing HDR modes like the one on the Pixel 2, but useful all the same.

A12 bionic: Apple A12 benchmarks

Apple has yet to reveal any benchmarking scores for the A12 Bionic – and it may never.

That said, a number of ‘leaked’ A12 benchmarks have been doing the rounds on the internet.

The latest came from French site iGeneration. The leak showed the A12 running in with 4673 single-core and 10912 multi-core scores in the popular CPU-focused Geekbench 4 benchmark.

The scores put the CPU above the A11 which ran in with 4087 single-core and 9037 multi-core scores in Geekbench 4 in our tests.

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