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Early iPhone 6 Benchmarks Show Small GPU Performance Improvement

The iPhone 6 may not be out yet, but it seems at least one person that has one (either someone working at Apple or someone who snagged one early) has tried out the Basemark X benchmark, and the improvements look smaller than what Apple promised on stage a few days ago.

Basemark X is a cross-platform benchmark that works on Android, iOS and WP8. It’s the only vendor-independent benchmark that utilizes the Unity 4.2 engine, which is used by thousands of mobile games, to test the graphics performance of mobile devices.

The iPhone 6 results are taken from the Basemark X's site, which come from an unknown submitter that has tested the device. The iPhone 6 hasn't been tested yet by Tom's Hardware so we can't confirm the veracity of these results. (The other benchmark numbers below, though, are from our own testing.)

Assuming these numbers are true, we can see the iPhone 6 got a score of 21,204 when tested with the Medium graphics settings, and a 15,621 score when tested on the High settings. On the Medium settings we see that the iPhone 6 is significantly behind Android devices (which we've tested ourselves), and only about 3 percent faster than iPhone 5S.

At the High settings, the roles change, and not only is the iPhone 6 faster than all the others, but it's about 16 percent faster than the old iPhone 5S. Despite this win, this is a much smaller GPU performance increase than the 50 percent improvement Apple claimed on Tuesday.

Apple usually announces a 2x improvement in GPU performance with each new iPhone, but that doesn't appear to be the case this time around. This led us to believe that Apple may be using the same old CPU and GPU that it’s using in the iPhone 5S, but with slight performance boost from moving to the 20nm process, instead of moving to a new GPU such as Imagination’s GX6650.

If Apple kept the same GPU as last year, then it would make sense for the increase in performance to be so modest. But that leaves the question of why would Apple claim a 50 percent improvement at the iPhone 6 announcement if the benchmarks are showing only a 3-16 percent improvement?

One theory could be that Apple was referring to the performance of games taking advantage of the Metal API, and not the performance of pure OpenGL ES graphics, which is what benchmarks like Basemark X currently use. That means the 50 percent extra performance would mainly come from software improvements, not hardware.

If the theory is true, then Apple perhaps should’ve mentioned that the performance increase comes from using the Metal API instead of making everyone believe that it’s the GPU itself that is 50 percent faster. The difference is important, because not all game developers will be taking advantage of the Metal API, especially if they want their games to remain cross-platform.

Khronos has recently announced that it’s overhauling the OpenGL API, and the new API will also have close-to-metal access, much like Apple’s Metal or AMD’s Mantle. This means in a not-too-distant future, all developers will be able to take advantage of a similar API that will also be cross-platform and will work not only on mobile devices, but on PC’s, too.

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Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.