If you asked anyone what the biggest change in technology in the last ten (10) years, most people would probably answer that it’s the rise of mobile computing technology. Few would argue that the shift to mobile devices is inevitable, and that mobile tech is the most important and fastest growing sector in the tech industry right now. The spotlight, from both the industry’s and the consumer’s standpoint, has shifted from desktop computers, to laptop/notebook computers, and now to tablets and smartphones.
The big players in mobile computing are Apple and Google (no, Microsoft is not there yet, much to their endless frustration.) While Google’s Android OS is used by numerous companies in their devices, which has led to the rapid evolution of Android smartphones and tablets, Apple’s iOS only sees one hardware/software iteration per year. So it’s September 2013, and we have a new iteration of Apple’s iPhone, the iPhone 5s (note: I’m not talking about the iPhone 5c, since it brings nothing new to the table from a technological and gaming standpoint.)
A new iPhone usually means a new SoC (System-on-a-Chip) powering it, and the iPhone 5s is no exception. While from the outside the device looks identical to its predecessor, the iPhone 5, the internals are all new, from the Apple A7 SoC to an additional M7 motion processor to help with the fingerprint id feature and functions such as navigation and motion detection. This is normally the extent of Apple’s revelations concerning the hardware powering its devices. Thankfully, the excellent hardware review site Anandtech performed its usual deep testing and sleuthing, and has managed to provide us with answers as to what exactly is under Apple A7’s hood.
At Apple’s iPhone Event last week all that Apple revealed about its new A7 chip is that it contained a 64-bit processor, and that it was twice as fast as the A6 chip used in the original iPhone 5. It brought members from Chair, the developers of the Infinity Blade and Shadow Complex games, to show off their newest creation, Infinity Blade 3. They showed a very impressive trailer for their game, and seemed to imply that the iPhone 5s might be competitive with even the next-generation Xbox One and Playstation 4 from a gaming standpoint.
The reveal by Apple that the iPhone 5s contained a 64-bit CPU initially led me to believe that the A7 chip contained a Cortex A53 or A57 series processor, which are ARM’s v8, 64-bit designs. I should have known better than to think Apple would have gone in that direction, since both of those designs draw way too much power and are not quite ready for tablets, much less smartphones, yet. This is why the latest Android designs, like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the Nvidia Shield all use Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 (based on a custom Krait 400 CPU core which is something between an ARM Cortex A9 and a Cortex A15) or a Cortex A15-based Tegra 4. In any case, Anandtech’s benchmarking and digging led to the revelation that the iPhone 5s is powered by a dual-core CPU. Apple’s internal designation for these CPU cores is Cyclone, and they are a re-worked implementation of Apple’s Swift custom CPU core, which was used in the iPhone 5. Apple has added a lot to the revised CPU design, including support for the 64-bit ARM v8 instructions, and optimized memory bandwith. Benchmarks reveal that the Cyclone cores are indeed twice as fast as the Swift cores they replace.
But the CPU is only part of the equation. Apple was silent about the GPU they used in the A7 chip, only stating that it supported OpenGL ES 3.0. The GPU is crucial to gaming, as games are more GPU-dependent than CPU dependent these days. The reason smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One are such speed demons in games and graphically-intensive applications is their Adreno 320 GPU. Traditionally, Apple has used Imagination Technologies PowerVR GPUs in their iPhones and iPads. Last year’s iPhone 5 used the PowerVR SGX 543 MP3, a slightly less powerful version of the GPU that powers Sony’s awesome Playstation Vita. Power VR chips are the best available, and have made the iPhone and iPad game developer darlings. Thus, it’s no surprise to learn that the iPhone 5s runs on a PowerVR 6 “Rogue”GPU, the first device on the market to do so. The Power VR 6 is the first mobile GPU on the market to support OpenGL ES 3.0.
The specific PowerVR 6 confirguration inside the Apple A7 chip is the PowerVR 6 “Rogue” G6430, which contains four (4) clusters. It’s a fully-scalar, unified archiotecture, similar to Nvidia’s and AMD’s newest desktop GPUs. The graphical performance should be similar to that of the iPad 4’s PowerVR SGX 554MP$ GPU, except that in the A7 it’s tied to the new and much more powerful Cyclone CPU cores. The result: the ultimate and most powerful mobile gaming device currently available, with performance superior to that of the Tegra 4-based Nvidia Shield. When you start thinking about what developers could do with this hardware, coupled with streaming gameplay to an HDTV through Apple TV, and a Bluetooth game controller, you’ve just can’t help but be excited. Oc course, developers also have to support older Apple hardware, like the iPhone 5, 5c, 4s their corresponding iPod touch siblings, so don’t expect games to use all that power just yet. Android suffers from the same issue, as not everyone owns the latest and greatest Android phone or tablet, and devs have to support multiple hardware types, from Nvidia Tegra 3 and 4 to Snapdragon 600 and 800, to Samsung Exynos 4 and 5 “Octa”. Still, these are exciting and awesome times to be a gamer in. 😉
GAME OF THE WEEK
The Game of the Week is Grand Theft Auto V. Currently, I spend my nights doing anything from driving around Los Santos, listening to cool music on the various radio stations, to … but that would be telling. 😉
Just remember, if you get the Xbox 360 version, don’t install the “Play” disc, otherwise you’ll experience graphical glitches.
MMO OF THE WEEK
There’s no MMO of the week, as I’ve rediscovered the joys of single-player gaming. 😛