New iPad not quite running circles around iPad 2

While the new iPad's A5X processor, with its quad-core GPU, is great at pushing millions of polygons around in games, does it offer any general speed increases over the iPad 2?

Eric Franklin Former Editorial Director
Eric Franklin led the CNET Tech team as Editorial Director. A 20-plus-year industry veteran, Eric began his tech journey testing computers in the CNET Labs. When not at work he can usually be found at the gym, chauffeuring his kids around town, or absorbing every motivational book he can get his hands on.
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Eric Franklin
4 min read

Speed tests: New iPad vs. iPad 2
Watch this: Speed tests: New iPad vs. iPad 2

At this point in the performance narrative of i...Things, I've gotten accustomed to each new iteration of the iPad or iPhone being demonstrably faster than the last. I'm not talking strictly about frame rates in games either. App load times, movie encoding, and app download speeds are all things that seem to noticeably improve with each new iOS device.

However, with the announcement that the new iPad's A5X processor would only see an upgrade in its graphical capabilities over the A5, I have to admit to being more than a bit disappointed.

Still, there's no way to know for sure what improvements or lack of improvements to general performance there are without rolling up your sleeves, using a little elbow grease, hunkering down, and doing some testing.

Honestly, conducting these types of tests is something I genuinely enjoy so no need to thank me, I'd likely be doing it even if CNET wasn't constantly driving dump trucks of money to my house. Really, they are (not really).

Since I know how much you love things you can read, I've organized the results into an easily digestible chart. Check below the chart for explanations of what exactly these numbers mean. I ran the tests on the iPad 2 (Wi-Fi, 16GB) and the new iPad (4G, 32GB).

New iPad (in seconds)  iPad 2 (in seconds)
Boot time 27 14
iMovie export (front cam, 720p) 26 32
iMovie export (rear cam, 720p) 32 37
iMovie export (rear cam, 1080p) 50 n/a
Game load (Puzzlejuice) 6 6
Game load (Real Racing 2 HD) 3 4
Game load (Flip Ship) 10 10
App download (Cut the Rope HD Lite) 22 26

Boot time
While tablet owners will rarely turn off their tablets, boot time is still a simple and easy way to gauge and compare overall speed. For this test, I loaded the exact same apps on both iPads, put them in airplane mode, and powered them off. I started the timer as I pressed the power button and stopped it as soon as the lock screen appeared.

iMovie encoding
I shot two 30-second clips: one with each iPad's front camera and one with each of their rear cameras. I exported the front camera's movie from each iPad to the camera roll at 720p and timed the process from the moment I tapped "HD - 720p" until the process completed.

The new iPad versus the iPad 2. At what point do I no longer have to call the latest iPad the "new" iPad? When is it no longer new? Will I have to call this "new" until the iPad 4 is released? Can I get a ruling on this please, Internets? Josh Miller/CNET

I followed the same methodology for the rear camera videos. In addition, since the new iPad possesses the power of 1080p (the iPad 2 isn't capable of 1080p output), I exported the back camera movie at that resolution as well, just out of curiosity really.

App loading
I used three different games to determine if apps load any faster on the new iPad than the iPad 2. First up was one of my favorite games on iOS, Puzzlejuice. I timed the test from the moment the app icon was tapped until the game screen appeared.

For Real Racing 2 HD, I chose Quick Race and started the timer as I tapped the default course and stopped as soon as the cars appeared onscreen.

Lastly, I used Flip Ship since, one, in my previous experience it wasn't always the fastest-loading app, and two, it has a useful progress bar. I timed it from the moment I tapped the app until the title screen appeared.

App download speed via Wi-Fi
I downloaded Cut the Rope HD Lite (23.8MB) from the App Store over a closed Wi-Fi network where the tablets were about 5 to 7 feet away from the router. I timed both the download and installation of the app from the moment I tapped "Install app" until the app icon lit up. Check out the full iPad review for information about its 4G speeds.

The chart above definitely indicates that the new iPad opens apps about as fast as the iPad 2 does. While I didn't test every app available, given the evidence gathered during testing as well as anecdotal evidence garnered by simply using the device, I think it's safe to say that you won't find much speed difference, if you do at all, when opening apps.

Pretty much the same thing goes for app download speeds as well. During my testing, as well as anecdotal usage, I didn't notice a significant difference in download speed. And while the new iPad is consistently faster at encoding 720p video, it's not dramatically so.

Boot time was faster on the iPad 2, but storage size must be taken into account here. As mentioned above, our iPad 2's 16GB of storage cuts the boot process duration, making it quicker than the new iPad's with its 32GB of storage.

If you're considering replacing your iPad 2 with a new iPad in the hope that the speed increases will justify your purchase decision, you may want to consider something else, like sticking with your iPad 2.

While overall the new iPad does perform faster, the small increase in speed isn't by itself worth an upgrade from iPad 2; however, if you've got your eye on the iPad for other reasons (like the gorgeous screen, its impressive graphical capabilities, or its fast 4G speeds), well, that's something I'd be much more inclined to support.