Apple A15 Bionic Review: The Pros and Cons

Apple A15 Bionic Review: The Pros and Cons

The Apple A15 Bionic is a 64-bit ARM-based system-on-a-chip launched in September 2021 during the digitally streamed Apple Special Event. It powers the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max, and the iPad Mini 6.

Pros of the A15 Bionic: New Specifications and Hardware Improvements

Of course, when compared to the previous A14 Bionic, this new generation of the A-series chipset comes with new specifications and several notable hardware improvements for performance gains and supporting new device features.

1. Based on the 5nm Process and Has 15 Billion Transistors

Similar to the A14 Bionic and the Apple M1 SoC, one of the key advantages of the A15 Bionic is that it is based on the 5nm process technology. This manufacturing process provides specific advantages to include denser transistors and smaller physical footprint, as well as improvements in processing capabilities and power efficiency.

The A15 is the third SoC designed by Apple based on the 5nm process, and the second SoC for the iPhone and iPad based on the same manufacturing process. However, compared to the A14, which has 11.8 billion transistors, this chipset has 15 billion transistors. A transistor-dense chip is fundamentally faster and more energy-efficient than less transistor-dense ones.

2. Improvements in the CPU and GPU Performance

Apple noted that the CPU of this new SoC is 50 percent faster than the competition. Furthermore, it also mentioned that the specific CPU in the iPad Mini 6 is 40 percent faster than the A12 Bionic. The five-core GPU found in the iPhone Pro is also said to be 50 percent than the competition while the four-core variant is about 40 percent faster.

Benchmark scores using GeekBench 5 show a score of 1759 in single-threaded CPU performance and 4781 in multi-threaded CPU Performance. Note that the Snapdragon 888 5G has a score of 1146 for single-core and 3737 for multi-core. Furthermore, Kirin 9000 has 1067 and 3784 for single-core and multi-core scores respectively.

The 5-core GPU found in the iPhone 13 Pro and the 4-core GPU in the iPhone 13 and iPad Air 6 also obliterate the GPUs embedded in the chipsets used in mid-tier and flagship Android smartphones and tablet computers. It has a 339795 score on AnTuTu 9. The Snapdragon 888 Plus 5G has a score of 326250, while Kirin 9000 has a score of 266823.

3. Better Neural Engine for Improved Machine Learning

Another advantage of the A15 Bionic, especially compared to the previous A14 Bionic and other flagship-grade SoCs, is its faster machine learning capability via an upgraded Neural Engine. This dedicated machine learning component can perform up to 15.8 trillion operations per second. Note that the A14 can only perform 11 trillion operations per second.

The machine learning capabilities of the A15 power some of the key features of the iPhone 13 Pro. To be specific, the 16-core Neural Engine enables the new Cinematic mode feature that provides a depth-of-field effect on videos using computation algorithms, as well as the Smart HDR 4 that for capturing images that are brighter and with better dynamic range.

4. Other Notable Features of the Apple A15 Bionic SoC

This SoC from Apple also includes a new image signal processor that provides improvements in computational photography for better image and video quality, as well as added camera features, thus complementing the GPU and Neural Engine. There is a wider lossy compression support to capture and store images with minimal losses, and two times system cache.

Furthermore, it also has new video encoders and decoders to allow shooting and editing video in ProRes, a high-quality lossy video compression format that supports video resolution up to 8K. There is also a machine learning controller that coordinates the CPU, GPU, and Neural Engine for improved computational processing by dispatching tasks in real-time.

Cons of the A15 Bionic: Notable Limitations and Key Hardware Issues

The A15 Bionic has some similarities with the A14 Bionic. Several critics have noted that the difference between these two chipsets is very minimal while others have noted numerous limitations and hardware issues.

Variations in CPUs and GPUs Across Equipped Devices

Reviewers have compared the performances of the iPad Mini 6 and the iPhone 13 Pro. They noted that the Mini 6 somewhat lags behind the newer and flagship iPhone. This difference comes from the fact that the two performance cores of the A15 found in the iPhone 13 Pro operating at 3.23GHz while in iPad Mini 6, these are underclocked at 2.99 GHz.

The GPU of the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini variants also differ from the iPhone 13 Pro variants and the iPad Mini 6. To be specific, the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini have a four-core GPU, thus providing only a 15 percent performance increase, while the iPhone 13 Pro and Mini 6 use a five-core GPU, thus providing a 55 percent performance increase.

2. Similarities with the A14 Bionic in Terms of Performance

Another point of contention and disadvantage of the A15 Bionic is that it does not represent a significant improvement in terms of overall processing capabilities when compared to the A14 Bionic. Both SoCs feature a six-core CPU composed of two performance cores and four additional cores for power efficiency.

Furthermore, both chipsets also have a 16-core Neural Engine. The A15 used in the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini has the same number of GPU cores found in the A14 used in the iPhone 12 Pro. Note that both chipsets are also based on the 5nm process. Some critics have noted that these similarities are the reason why the A15 has a minimal performance leap.

Verdict: The Pros and Cons of Apple A15 Bionic Chipset

It cannot be denied that the Apple 15 Bionic has notable similarities with the previous generation A14 Bionic. There is no substantial leap in its general processing capabilities. Average users who are switching from the iPhone 12 Pro might not readily discern its difference from the iPhone 13 Pro in terms of overall speed and performance.

However, two of the key advantages of this SoC are improvements in graphic processing capabilities, especially for the five-core GPU variant, and in machine learning capabilities. The A15 Bionic remains generally powerful than the A14 Bionic and other flagship-grade chipsets used in high-end Android smartphones.

It is also worth mentioning that instead of introducing substantially better general processing capabilities, Apple has focused on overall efficiency and specific processing capabilities related to graphics rendering, camera features, and other tasks dependent on machine learning. These are demonstrated in the new features of the iPhone 13 Pro.