New iPad: Why quad-core graphics?

Goodbye to the CPU, it's all about the GPU for Apple's new iPad.

Donald Bell

Apple has just elevated the graphics chip to superstar status. Why focus on the graphics?

Apple announced today at the iPad event in San Francisco that the new iPad has a quad-core graphics processing unit (GPU). (So much for the central processing unit, or CPU, which typically garners all of the attention.)

So far, chip review site Anandtech offers the best educated guess about the graphics engine. Anandtech cites graphics chip technology from Imagination (PowerVR SGX543MP4) and CPU tech from ARM (Cortex A9).

"Our guess? Dual-core Cortex A9 [CPU] plus a PowerVR SGX543MP4 [GPU], an upgrade over the 543MP2 used in the iPad 2," Anandtech said.

The commentary continued. "Clock speeds are still unknown, however Apple is claiming 2x the performance over the iPad 2 implying equal GPU clocks."

Translation? The new iPad's graphics chip--which is based on Imagination's PowerVR tech--is basically a quad-core version of the dual-core graphics chip in the iPad 2. That's where Apple gets the two-fold performance increase.


The upshot is that Apple is focusing on the GPU because it needs to devote all of the chip real estate it can to transistors that push around an amazingly pixel-dense display--which crams a resolution of 2,048x1,536 into a 9.7-inch display.

A rough analogy could be made to a high-end gaming rig. If you're playing Crysis:Warhead on, let's say, a 2,560x1,600 display, you need a powerful graphics chip like Nvidia's GeForce GT 500 series. Without it, everything slows to a crawl.

But good graphics aren't only necessary for gaming. High-octane graphics silicon can boost performance on other tasks, including multimedia (video decode) and productivity (iPhoto or Photoshop), as just two common examples.

And, for these reasons, Apple may have just promoted the GPU to No.1 chip status for future devices.

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