Apple A17 Pro Chip: Specifications and Performance

Apple A17 Pro Chip: Specifications and Performance

The iPhone 15 Pro and the iPhone 15 Pro Max stand out from the entire iPhone 15 lineup with the newer Apple A17 Pro system-on-a-chip. Take note that the standard iPhone 15 and the iPhone 15 Plus are equipped with the Apple A16 Bionic chip—this is the same chip that powers the previous-generation iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max flagship. Nevertheless, unveiled during the “Wanderlust” Apple Event on 12 September 2023, this flagship-level chip promises a better integrated graphics processing and artificial intelligence acceleration.

What is New About the Apple A17 Pro: A Look Into Its Key Specifications and Performance

Specifications of the A17 Pro Chip

It is important to note that the A17 Pro is the first chip from Apple that is based on the 3nm process technology of TSMC. The previous A16 Bionic chip is based on the 4nm process. Hence, about 3 years after the introduction of a series of Apple Silicon based on the 5nm process in 2020, this new iPhone chip demonstrates another leap in semiconductor fabrication. It is also one of the first 3nm chips in the world.

1. Transistors

A notable difference between the A17 Pro and the A16 Bionic chip is the number of transistors. Hence, because the former is based on a newer process technology, it has 19 billion transistors, which is a 19 percent increase from the transistor count of the latter.

The fabrication of this newer chip for the flagship iPhone 15 devices is specifically based on the N3B process of TSMC. This is the first commercial 3nm chip in the world that is mass-produced for a consumer electronic device or mass consumption.

2. CPU and GPU

The chip is still based on the customized ARM instruction set architecture that uses the more specific big-little architecture. The central processing unit or CPU has 2 high-performance cores and 4 energy-efficient cores for a total of 6 cores.

Another notable improvement for the A17 Pro chip is the addition of another core for the graphics processing unit. The integrated GPU now has 6 cores. Take note that the previous Apple A16 Bionic chip has a 5-core graphics processor.

The graphics-processing capabilities of this chip are further beefed up with ray tracing for hardware-based graphics rendering that simulates the physical behavior of light. This is the first time that Apple has integrated this feature into its chips.

3. AI Acceleration

The Neural Engine is the Apple-branded AI accelerator that has been integrated into its main chips since 2017 or beginning with the A11 bionic. This component is specifically dedicated neural network hardware designed for accelerating machine learning tasks.

Nevertheless, another new feature of the A17 Pro is its improved Neural Engine hardware. It still has a 16-core configuration but it can perform up to 35 trillion operations per second or TOPS compared to the 17 trillion TOPS of the A16 Bionic.

The improved native AI acceleration supports advanced features that are unique in the flagship iPhone 15 devices. Examples include better Photonic Engine, spatial video recording, and other native processing of AI-dependent tasks.

4. Others

Another notable improvement in the A17 Pro chip is the inclusion of a dedicated AV1 decoded. This allows a more efficient streaming of high-quality videos from streaming service providers. The chip also has a new USB controller that supports USB 3 speeds.

There is also a Wi-Fi 6E modem integrated within the chip. This Wi-Fi 6E standard is an extension of Wi-Fi 6. It supports triple-band wireless network connection. The standard connects not only to the 2.4GHz or 5GHz band but also to 6GHz frequency bands.

Performance of the A17 Pro Chip

It is interesting to note that Apple has dropped the “Bionic” moniker for this new chip and settled with the “Pro” naming convention. This is an attempt to set it apart from the previous generations of the A series of chips while also positioning it as a pro-grade hardware designed for the supposed pro-level performance of the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max. The chip has some notable performance improvements.

Apple claims that the new CPU is based on microarchitectural and design improvements to give it 10 percent faster general processing performance compared to the CPU of the previous Apple A16 Bionic chip. The improved Neural Engine is also said to perform 2 times faster than the Neural Engine of the previous chip due to better TOPS.

The CPU and AI acceleration improvements might not be substantial. However, because of the improved GPU, better graphics performance highlights the new features and capabilities of the Apple A17 Pro chip. Apple claims that the integrated GPU is up to 20 percent faster than the GPU of the A16 Bionic chip because of its 6-core configuration. The new GPU architecture also has better peak performance and energy efficiency.

Furthermore, apart from the increase in GPU core, the chip also has hardware-accelerated ray tracing. This is about 4 times faster than software-based ray tracing. It enables smoother graphics, more immersive augmented reality applications, and true-to-life and console-grade mobile gaming experiences due to improved graphics rendering.

It is also worth mentioning that the 3nm process technology provides significant overall improvements to the A17 chip. TSMC has noted that moving from the 5nm to the 3nm process provides about 35 percent boost in energy efficiency, an improved battery life, and about 60 percent increase in logic density. The denser transistor count of 3nm chips translates to high clock speed operations and less power consumption.

Test results using Geekbench 6.2 have revealed that this chip scored 2914 in single-core processing and 7199 in multi-core processing. This is higher than the 2050 single-core score and 5405 multi-core score of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 from Qualcomm. Take note that the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is the SoC for several 2023 flagship Android devices.