Apple trumps Nvidia in tablet gaming

Apple's iPad 2 surpasses Motorola's Xoom in tablet gaming performance, an increasingly important metric as tablets pack more powerful chips, according to a major review site.

Apple is not known as a kingpin of the graphics chip industry. That would be Nvidia or Advanced Micro Devices. But one review site shows Apple's iPad 2 and its A5 chip handily beating Nvidia's chip, which is housed inside the Motorola Xoom.

As CNET reported previously, the iPad 2 is significantly faster than the original iPad. That's not in dispute. But the bombshell that Anand Shimpi, CEO of the highly regarded review site Anandtech, has dropped is indeed surprising.

I queried Anand via e-mail. The answer to the second question, based on his "performance preview" is the shocker.

How does the iPad 2 compare to the Motorola Xoom generally?
Anand Shimpi: iPad 2 vs. Xoom--this is a more difficult comparison to make as it's not only hardware but software as well. On the CPU [central processing unit] side, the iPad and Xoom should be fairly equal matches. Overall, loading web pages is quicker on the iPad. However some JavaScript tests show that the Xoom is considerably faster.

And what about graphics performance?
Anand Shimpi: iPad 2 vs. Xoom GPU [graphics processing unit] performance. For 3D gaming, the iPad 2 is much faster--there's no contest. The iPad 2 GPU is just much more powerful than Tegra 2's GeForce [chip].

Any other thoughts?
Anand Shimpi: Note that these aren't our review conclusions...all we've provided up to now is a lot of performance preview stuff. The Xoom still definitely has advantages (e.g., tabbed browsing, better multitasking UI), which can make the device faster in actual use.

A graphics benchmark run by Anandtech comparing the iPad, iPad 2, and Motorola Xoom.
A graphics benchmark run by Anandtech comparing the iPad, iPad 2, and Motorola Xoom. Anandtech

So, what graphics technology does Apple use exactly, you may ask? It taps Imagination's PowerVR SGX 543MP2 design--so it's not purely Apple technology. But it's part of the Apple-branded A5 processor--and that's all that matters to most people.

And that would include Google. The fact that Apple's graphics hardware and software eclipse Google's Android and Nvidia's GeForce graphics solution inside the Xoom in gaming may come as a bit of a surprise to Google, which selected Nvidia because of its graphics prowess, as Google's Andy Rubin demonstrated when the Xoom the was first revealed to the public.

But these are preliminary benchmarks, as Anandtech states clearly. And Nvidia is already at work on bringing out a quad-core Tegra processor later this year, which will pack a powerful graphics punch based on a 12-core GPU. Bring it on.

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