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Analyst explains graphics performance gap between Apple A5 and Tegra 2

The large die size difference between the A5 and Tegra 2 allowed Apple to include a more powerful GPU than Nvidia’s competing mobile processor.

Early GPU benchmarks performed by Anandtech last month revealed how severely lacking the graphics capabilities of the Motorola Xoom can be when compared to the iPad 2. The results are a bit of a surprise considering that both the A5 and Tegra 2 chips are related to the ARM dual-core Cortex-A9 architecture. Now, analyst Didier Scemama of RBS offers some insight as to why such a noticeable performance gap exists.

According to Scemama, the main reason is due to the lower production costs of the Tegra 2, which limited its graphics potential during its design phase. Nvidia had to design the Tegra 2 chip between $15 and $20 a piece, compared to Apple’s more expensive A5 chip, Scemama claims. This allowed for A5’s larger 122mm2 die size compared to just 49mm2 of the Tegra 2.

In other words, Apple can afford to use a larger chip, which delivers substantially better performance…,” Scemama explained. In order for competitors to catch up to the performance level offered by the iPad 2, he added that larger die sizes from other companies may become more common due to the need to incorporate faster GPUs.

The size discrepancy allowed Apple enough room to incorporate the PowerVR SGX543 dual-core GPU from Imagination Technologies, which, according to Electronista, is a much more powerful chip compared to the GeForce-based graphics of the Tegra 2.

The Apple A5 advantage may soon disappear, however, if Nvidia can successfully deliver with its quad-core “Kal-El” Tegra 3 chip revealed earlier this year at MWC 2011.


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Allen Ngo, 2011-04- 5 (Update: 2012-05-26)