Apple Introduces A9, A9X SoCs For Its Most Powerful Mobile Devices

At its latest event today, Apple announced the chips that will be powering its most powerful iPhones and iPads yet, the A9 and the A9X (respectively). The two chips are built using new "transistor architecture," which is likely code for FinFET transistors.

Ever since Apple began to design its own chips, it has often ended up ahead of all the other mobile competition, whether it was Samsung, Qualcomm or Nvidia's chips, or even Intel's Atom line for mobile, in both CPU and GPU performance.

GPU performance is more of a result of using Imagination's latest PowerVR GPUs, but some of the gains are also due to Apple's design of an efficient SoC that allows for more powerful GPUs. With the arrival of the Metal graphics API, Apple also allowed developers to gain more direct access to those powerful chips and extract even more performance out of them for their games.

Apple claimed that its third-generation 64-bit A9 CPU is now 70 percent faster than its one-year-old A8 CPU and has a GPU that is 90 percent faster, as well. This time, Apple hasn't increased the resolution of its displays, so all of that power should go straight to new games and apps that can take advantage of it.

The new A9 SoC also comes with a new M9 coprocessor that now includes the ability to listen to the "Hey, Siri" command without the iPhone 6S having to be plugged in or for the owner to press a button first. Such functionality was first seen in the original 2013 Moto X when the "OK, Google" command could be used directly with the phone turned off.

The chip brings along a new LTE Advanced modem as well, that is twice as fast at 300 Mbps download speeds and can support 23 LTE bands. Apple claimed this is the highest number of LTE bands being supported in a smartphone right now, making it ideally suited for travelers.

Apple also introduced a more powerful variant of the A9, called the A9X, which will power the new iPad Pro. The company claimed that its CPU is 80 percent faster than the previous A8X CPU and that the GPU is also twice as fast. When comparing them to the chip in the original iPad from 2010, the company said the CPU performance has improved over 22 times -- and 360 times for the GPU.

Apple also claimed that the new A9X is faster than "80% of portable PCs," but it didn't elaborate on what exactly it means by that or how it reached that result. With A9X likely to be faster than Intel's Atom-based Celerons and Pentiums, which now go into lower-end notebooks, as well as most if not all existing ARM chips from competitors, the A9X can certainly be considered a "PC-class" chip. However, that doesn't necessarily mean it's by any means the fastest PC-class chip out there.  

For the purpose of the iPad Pro, which is meant to be a more productive yet familiar device for those already used to iOS, the chip should be powerful enough to handle just about any productivity app developers can create for it over the next year, until an even more powerful iPad Pro appears.

Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.
  • Ghoul
    Let the benchmarks begin
  • jimmysmitty
    From everything I have read they are looking to position the iPad Pro against the Surface Pro. The only problem is that the Surface Pro is vastly more work efficient. I had to set one up for the owner of the company, albeit the top end model, but man was it fast and smooth and with Windows 10 it makes it even better.

    The other side is the cost of the peripherals. An extra $100 for the pen?.

    I don;t think it is going to quite do what they want, to grab market share from the Surface Pro 3 in the enterprise market. Everyone I know who has an Apple PC and phone at home love their Surface Pro for use in work due to the ability to actually do the same work they would on their laptop or work desktop.

    Another plus is that we in IT can secure the Surface Pro easily while controlling the iPad is much harder without some sort of third party software.
  • okcnaline
    WOHOO!!! Way to go, Apple!!!
  • snowctrl
    The iPad Pro looks marvelous. But I'd far rather have a Surface Pro, since it is a fully functioning computer.
  • virtualban
    Cores, frequencies, benchmarks?
    Or I can just be happy with the 64 bit info, that is useless for the phone and tablet generation it is intended for...
  • astroboy888

    "Work" is a relative term. It depends on what work you are doing. Right tool for the right job.

    The target market of Apple iPad Pro + Apple Pencil is the digital creative community; i.e., professional graphic designers, web designers, digital artists, architects ... etc. These are traditionally the core clients of Apple Platform. This solution is really designed for them in mind.

    The key differentiators of the Apple's implementation is 1. 3D touch (taptic pressure) sensor on the screen of iPad. 2. Multiple accelerometer sensors in Apple Pencil. The result is an extremely accurate and responsive digital drawing device that responds to pressure, angle, and speed of hand movement. So the experience is as if you are writing or sketching on a piece of paper/canvas. The early feedback from graphic designers is that it is by far the most accurate and responsive system on the market - even better than $3000 Wacom graphics entry system.

    Though technically viable, Apple is still not releasing full blown MacOS on its tablet devices, but I think those days are coming soon.
  • ericburnby
    Cores, frequencies, benchmarks?
    Or I can just be happy with the 64 bit info, that is useless for the phone and tablet generation it is intended for...

    Funny you should say that since I have several iOS Apps that take specific advantage of the 64bit processor, and are capable of performing tasks Android (for example) can't do. Most Apps don't need the extra power, but for those that do at least it's there.
  • Bignaz1
    Proof? Oh wait you can't because your just a butt hurt apple fanboy.

    I have 64bit android apps. I also can multi task. Can you? Oh wait you can't. In fact I'm posting at his with another window open for my GPS. On a 4k display. By the way welcome to 720p and 1080p your only 2+ years behind now so yay. I'll go home and I'll wirelessly charge my phone.

    But if I ever feel like using a iPhone 6. I'll just grab my old droid DNA lock it down then use that.

    PS just wait till you guys get around 2gigs of ram. You might be able to multask on the iPhone 7. And who knows. Wireless charging on the iPhone 8? But that might be to soon.

    Funny the of iPhone was all cutting edge. Now the phones are just outdated at the time of there planning and are just trendy jokes of a phone. And that is why they are losing market share and are desperately trying to copy Samsung to gain a footing. But they will end up like blackberry.
  • okcnaline
    What Android phone do you have, Bignaz1? Go f*** your s*** with the Samsung crap. The only one manufacturer who can say that Apple copied their jack**** this time is Motorola. Why? No other manufacturers but Motorola and Apple came up with the voice recognition when device is off.