What is the Apple A16?

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The iPhone 14 Pro saw the debut of a new system-on-a-chip from Apple, the A16 Bionic. So what kind of improvements over the A15 does it bring and where else can we expect to see the A16 implemented?

A16 arrived with the iPhone 14 Pro

Apple’s flagship mobile chip for 2022 was the A16 Bionic, which powers the higher-end iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max models. Instead, the iPhone 14 uses a slightly improved version of the A15 Bionic from the iPhone 13 from 2021 (with an additional GPU core). This could be the result of a global shortage of semiconductors and pressure on manufacturing processes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s the first time Apple has used different system-on-chip generations for its numbered and “Pro” iPhone models. You may think that this indicates that there is not much difference between them, but you would be wrong. On the surface, you can see that the chip has an identical number of CPU and GPU cores (6 and 5, respectively) as the A15 Bionic used in the iPhone 14.

A16 Bionic system-on-chip under yellow light
Apple

But Apple claims the A16 has a faster CPU thanks to its nearly 16 billion transistors (up from 15 billion for the previous model), though Apple doesn’t provide stats to back this up. Transistors are to microprocessors what neurons are to the human brain, so the more you have available, the better.

Another area that has been improved is the GPU memory bandwidth. Even with the same number of GPU cores as the current A15, the improved memory bandwidth will translate into a performance boost from the new chip.

Early Geekbench 5 scores point to a modest 10% faster performance in single-core operations, with little difference in multi-core scores. Even then, synthetic benchmarks designed to assess raw performance in a set of controlled tests do not always reflect the actual performance of the chip.

But we can assume some things with some degree of confidence. The A16 Bionic will be a better chip overall than the old one, especially in GPU-intensive tasks thanks to the extra memory bandwidth. It’s also likely to appear on the 2023 iPhone 15, and possibly some devices in between. (iPad update, anyone?)

A16 and the four-pixel sensor

Apple has harnessed the power of the A16 in one clear area for the iPhone 14 Pro, and that’s the new four-pixel sensor. This is Apple’s 48-megapixel main camera sensor, which captures four times as many pixels as the previous generation iPhone 13 Pro.

An updated Image Signal Processor (ISP) improves photo and video capture across the board, with “four trillion operations per photo” cited by Apple at its event. Apple says that the Deep Fusion technology introduced with the iPhone 11 can happen sooner on uncompressed images, hence the quality improvement.

iPhone 14 Pro camera system
Apple

The 16-core Neural Engine uses Apple’s machine learning algorithms to make AI-driven photo enhancements, further increasing image quality.

In terms of other graphics component improvements, Apple notes that the A16’s new display engine is critical to making the display feature always on. The iPhone 14 Pro display also features 1Hz refresh rates, 2,000 nit peak brightness in bright sunlight, and anti-aliasing to smooth out jagged lines for a sharper picture.

Apple’s first 4nm chip

Perhaps the biggest achievement on Apple’s part is the fact that the A16 Bionic is the first chip the company has brought to market that uses the 4 nanometer (nm) process. This is in line with industry aspirations to make ever smaller components, which has several benefits.

The smaller chips are considered to be more energy efficient, which could explain Apple’s claims that the A16 will use 20% less power than the previous A15. A more efficient chip means better battery life and less energy “wasted” as heat.

Apple September iPhone Event
Apple

A smaller process also requires less silicon, which means yields can be higher. This lowers the costs associated with production, though don’t hold your breath for a short-term price cut thanks to the research and development costs associated with making silicon (and the little problem of global semiconductor shortages).

As we said in our 2019 explanation of Intel’s 10nm process:

“The way each semiconductor foundry measures can vary from one to another, so they are best viewed more as marketing terms used to segment products rather than exact measurements of power or size.”

The change to 4nm is significant, but don’t make a big deal out of this change from a performance point of view.

RELATED: How are CPUs actually made?

A16 and M2: Apples and Oranges

It’s hard to talk about the A16 without mentioning Apple’s desktop-class chips, particularly the newer M2 that appears in the refreshed 13-inch MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models.

The M1 and M2 use the 5nm processor, as opposed to the 4nm process used by the A16 Bionic. Apple’s M2 chip packs in 20 billion transistors, with an 8-core CPU, up to a 10-core GPU, and dedicated ProRes encoding and decoding.

Apple M2 SOC chip data information sheet
Apple

These chips may share the same ARM-based architecture, but they are designed with different tasks in mind. Mobile processors (like the A16) are designed to run on a much smaller battery, so they need to be more energy efficient than their laptop or desktop counterparts.

These differences are further exemplified by the fact that the mobile processor has a GPU that is half the size of the M2 and features 2 CPU cores dedicated to performance and 4 cores dedicated to efficiency (as opposed to 4 CPU cores). performance and the 4 efficiency cores of the M2). ).

Power efficiency has been one of the big results of moving to an ARM-based architecture on the Mac desktop, but the move also made it possible for Apple to deliver big performance improvements. This caused Mac Studio (with its M1 Ultra) to claim the title of Apple’s “most powerful computer” despite the Intel Xeon-powered Mac Pro.

iPhone Pro only, for now

The iPhone Pro is Apple’s high-end iPhone that gets all the newest and most exciting features first. In 2021 this included a new ProMotion display, and before that a LiDAR scanner, while in 2022 it’s the A16 chip and the evolution of the notch known as Dynamic Island.