System Performance

Like the larger iPad Pro, the 9.7" iPad Pro uses Apple's A9X SoC. Apple is never very forthcoming with details like the clock speed for the CPU, GPU, and amount of DRAM. What we can determine about the SoC is that Apple has maintained the 2.2GHz maximum clock speed from the larger iPad Pro, while reducing clocks on the GPU and dropping to 2GB of LPDDR4 RAM.

The RAM situation on the 9.7" iPad Pro is somewhat surprising for a few different reasons. In their always-excellent teardown, the iFixit crew discovered that the smaller iPad Pro only had one Samsung 2GB LPDDR4 memory chip. This explains how Apple scaled down from 4GB to 2GB - the larger iPad Pro had two chips - but it also means that Apple has changed the amount of memory bandwidth available to the A9X SoC as well.

9.7" iPad Pro Logic Board (Image Courtesy iFixit)

To date, all Apple X-series SoCs have shipped with a larger 128-bit memory bus, and until now, Apple always fully populated that bus. So the 9.7" iPad Pro is an outlier in that regard, as this is the first time we've seen an X-series SoC with only the first 64-bit half wired up to a single memory chip in this fashion. In that respect it's a surprising decision from Apple, in part because of the importance of memory bandwidth in feeding the large, powerful GPUs on the X-series SoCs.

Consequently there is going to be more to the 9.7" iPad Pro than just the original Pro in a smaller chassis. The 9.7" iPad Pro should match the larger model in anything that depends heavily on CPU speed or memory bandwidth, while falling behind to some degree in GPU-bound tests. The 12 cluster PowerVR Series7XT GPU inside A9X will be having to make do with less memory bandwidth, though offset to some degree by the lower resolution of the screen.

With the above in mind, I quickly benchmarked the 9.7" iPad Pro on a couple of our memory bandwidth benchmarks. The results are somewhat inconclusive.

Geekbench 3 Memory Bandwidth Comparison (1 thread)
  Stream Copy Stream Scale Stream Add Stream Triad
9.7" iPad Pro 17.1 GB/s 11.5 GB/s 12.9 GB/s 12.8 GB/s
12.9" iPad Pro 20.8 GB/s 15.0 GB/s 15.3 GB/s 15.1 GB/s

I say "inconclusive" because although the 9.7" iPad Pro consistenly scores lower in Geekbench 3's memory bandwidth benchmarks and other memory benchmarks, it's never a 50% drop as we get on paper. In practice these numbers are far from the maximum memory bandwidth A9X is capable of, and I suspect that the CPU paths simply aren't wired in such a fashion that they can fully saturate A9X, especially given the fact that it's the GPU that needs the bandwidth more. So although we see some impact of the narrower memory bus in dedicated memory bandwidth benchmarks, these can't paint a very clear picture. It's going to be our high level GPU performance benchmarks that really give us an idea of the impact of reduced memory bandwidth.

Kraken 1.1 (Chrome/Safari/IE)

JetStream 1.1

WebXPRT 2015 (Chrome/Safari/IE)

With the 9.7" iPad Pro having the same two 2.2GHz Apple Twister cores as the 12.9" model, it's no surprise to see the two neck and neck in our browser tests. In Jetstream 1.1 the two achieve the exact same score, while in the other two tests the 9.7" model is a bit slower, but with the gap being small enough to attribute to testing variance. With A9X Apple moved back to a dual-core CPU from A8X's tri-core CPU, with the move to TSMC's 16nm FinFET process allowing peak clock speeds to go up by 700MHz. Because JavaScript performance is mostly bound by a device's single threaded performance, A9X came with a significant performance uplift during web browsing. Given that the 12.9" iPad Pro offered the best web browsing performance of a mobile device, bringing that performance to the 9.7" iPad makes for a notable improvement over the performance of the iPad Air 2.

3DMark Sling Shot 3.1 Extreme Unlimited - Graphics

3DMark Sling Shot 3.1 Extreme Unlimited - Physics

3DMark Sling Shot 3.1 Extreme Unlimited - Overall

The 9.7" iPad Pro does well in 3DMark's graphics test, but like Ice Storm it doesn't do well in the physics test. It seems that this test is programmed in a similar way to Ice Storm, and in that sense I'm not sure how representative the physics test is of real-world performance because with an actual mobile game you wouldn't use highly random memory access and data structures with heavy memory dependencies when it would perform very poorly on your target devices. In any case, you can see that the 9.7" iPad Pro places third overall, with the 12.9" model at the top of the chart and the Pixel C coming right behind it.

GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan (Onscreen)

GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan (Offscreen)

GFXBench 4.0 Car Chase hasn't made its way to iOS yet, and so for now we're still using GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan for iOS devices. Given that the iPhone 6s is the only phone that hits Vsync in this test, it's still a very relevant benchmark in how it represents the level of visual fidelity that a mobile game can currently have on high end devices while still performing well. In the off screen test we can see the impact of the 9.7" iPad Pro's lower clocked GPU combined with the reduced memory bandwidth,, with the smaller iPad performing around 37% lower than that of the 12.9" iPad Pro. The on screen test tells an interesting story though. Both models of the iPad Pro have roughly the same performance at their native resolutions in this test, which could indicate that Apple was targeting the same performance relative to the display resolution when configuring A9X and its memory, in order to manage heat and energy usage in a smaller iPad Pro.

Basemark ES 3.1 / Metal Onscreen Test

Basemark ES 3.1 / Metal Offscreen Test

While I didn't have enough data to use BaseMark ES 3.1 at the time of my iPhone SE review, we've since tested enough older devices to deploy it. One could think of this as the successor to BaseMark X, which we retired some time ago before we officially deployed a new mobile test suite for 2016. Once again, both models of the iPad Pro sit above the other tablets on the chart. The iPhone 6s places first in the on screen test due to its relatively low resolution, but without that there the iPads would hold the top two spots in both tests. 

NAND Performance

Something that Apple publicized with their A9 and A9X SoCs is improved NAND performance. NAND performance isn't discussed very much in reviews, but it's a very critical aspect of device performance and issues with it tend to cause a device's performance to crash months down the line rather than right off the bat, which makes it something of an invisible problem if you don't look for it during a review. We've seen previously that Apple has been using their own SSD controller in the current generation of iOS devices, and the 9.7" iPad Pro continues this.

Internal NAND - Sequential Read

Internal NAND - Sequential Write

For this review I was sampled the 256GB model of the 9.7" iPad Pro. Because SSDs exploit parallelism heavily to improve performance, a 256GB iPad could improve NAND write performance over the lower-capacity models if it has a greater number of dies. In this case we see that sequential read performance improves a bit, while sequential writes improve dramatically as expected. There's not a lot to say here, as Apple has an enormous lead over the competition in this area.

Intro and Design Battery Life and Charge Time
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  • digiguy - Friday, June 3, 2016 - link

    What do you know? even core I7 has been made fanless in a 12 inch tablet with a new cooling solution, so I don't see why core M could not work well in 10 inches. Battery life will depend on the battery size, in the onda it's smaller than in ipad air 2 for instance, and it lasts around 4 hours, with a bigger one it could last more, but is definitely much more than the 1 hour you speculate about...
  • erple2 - Sunday, June 5, 2016 - link

    But then that's the point, isn't it? Throwing a honestly poorly designed 10" tablet as proof that you can get a good tavlet with Core M is not helping your argument. How good is the display? How are the touch apps? How well does the pen work? How heavy is it? How hot does it run? How long does it run on a charge? What about everything else that is tested? Honestly, there has to be a reason why the big players hasn't integrated a more powerful CPU into a small tablet.

    As a staunchly anti Apple person, I gave to co cede that Apple really does have the best tablet this generation. While the Pixel C comes close, the Pen is very well implemented. Surfaces are fine, but I find that when I want to do real work, I turn to my much more powerful laptop to do that.
  • melgross - Wednesday, June 1, 2016 - link

    Neither Surface Pro display can match the display for this product. First of all those products were reviewed before this one came out, and secondly, they are both sRGB displays, with their resultant smaller color gamut.

    Also, the iPad Pro, either model beats the least expensive Surface Pro in performance, and that model costs as much, or more than the competing iPad.

    I understand that your Microsoft products are second best in a number of ways. Get used to it.
  • jlabelle2 - Thursday, June 2, 2016 - link

    Having a wider color gamut than sRGB is not universally an advantage. Without going into this discussion on how many (little) images are benefiting from that, even in a proper color managed workflow (and iOS seems to be quite good here), sharing and distributing images with wider color space than sRGB is often (most of the time) counterproductive if others 1/ do not have wide gamut screen (the majority), 2/ do not have applications / browser reading the embedded color space (the majority). As such, the interest is honestly quite limited. It does not hurt at all the iPad, on the contrary, but in real life this is not what will make such display stands above other sRGB gamut wide screens.
    And regarding the Surfaces and DisplayMate, read in details and you will see they are also praised equally :
    "The Surface Pro 4 also has the most accurate on-screen colors of any Tablet display that we have ever measured"
    "However, Microsoft has also taken an important initial step, with the Surface 3 providing its best Color Accuracy in typical indoor 300 lux ambient"

    My point is that many tablets have just excellent screens and that the iPad Pro does not seem to stand in a class of its own at all. But what makes Surfaces screens a real treat for people that value color accuracy is being able to calibrate the screen. That is making all the difference.
    Because LCD screen colors evolve unfortunately with time. It would be interesting that Brandon would test and iPad Air 2, today, used since the beginning and how it differs of the original out of the box measurement.
    As such, if we are taking only this criteria, for designer or photo / video editor that value utmostly color accuracy, the non calibrating iPad display is a drawback. I mentioned this because making some photo editing on the wedding I shoot, I can clearly see that the iPad Air 2 I have is no match with the Surface Pro 3 I also have, once calibrated.
  • Meteor2 - Thursday, June 2, 2016 - link

    Cor, you're angry.
  • grayson_carr - Thursday, June 2, 2016 - link

    You can compare the displays at the link below. Basically, the calibrations are on par out of the box, with the iPad having a slightly better calibrated white point. The iPad has MUCH higher max brightness and a higher color gamut. The Surface Pro 4 has slightly better contrast and like you said, the ability to do your own calibration. Out of the box I would say the iPad Pro has the slight edge with the higher brightness, higher color gamut, and true tone feature. But the Surface Pro 4 display might be better for professionals down the road with the ability to recalibrate it.
  • nikon133 - Thursday, June 2, 2016 - link

    Performance... in what scenarios? Only if there are pro apps to take advantage of that power, does performance have any meaning. Right now, iPad Pro's "power" is only good for rubbing it into others' faces over a cup of coffee. Once these babies are put to use, iPP turns out just faster iPad, but far cry from Pro device. In real life, it is just an iPad that will turn iBook pages faster, do smoother fly-overs in Apple Maps. Have Apple decided to call it iPad Air 3, no-one would know the difference.

    I'm finding it ironical that, for ecosystem (and fans) insisting on quality and quantity of casual apps in library, suddenly lack of apps in Pro segment is being ignored or played down. One can't do much on it, but look, oooh, it is so fast.

    iPad Pro can be twice as fast as i7 Surface... but without tools from Adobe, Corel, Audodesk... even full-blown Office suite... how is it better Pro tablet than any x86 device?

    Re pricing. I cannot compare 32GB iPP with 128GB SP. Much as prices go here in NZ - might differ where you are - 128GB 9.7" iPP is NZ$1,329.00, plus NZ$189 for pen. That makes NZ$1,518, compared to $1,439 for 128GB mCore SP4, which comes with pen. Even if we ignore that these are prices from Apple's and MS's web stores and that SP can be found even cheaper in shops, while iPP basically can't... even if we stick to these prices... you are saying that more expensive device with smaller screen, crippled multitasking, no real library of pro software, no easy (or any, in some cases) way to dock it, connect it to multiple desktop screens, wired network, USB devices... is somehow better device just because it cranked out better score in some synthetic benchmarks..?

  • Lochheart - Friday, June 3, 2016 - link

    Yes, the Surface can run Adobe, Corel, Autodesk... etc...

    Do you think anyone will buy a Surface when it need to work on Adobe tools ? It will never happen.

    Who work on a 12" screen ? My 15" Laptop is already to small... So yes, a Surface can run lot of stuff... but compare to what we have on PC side, it's just a outdated config overhype.
  • jlabelle2 - Tuesday, June 14, 2016 - link

    "Do you think anyone will buy a Surface when it need to work on Adobe tools ? It will never happen."

    I do. This is why I replaced my iPad (my wife is still using her iPad Air 2 for casual stuff) with a SP3 and gave my desktop to my kids. I am using the SP3 as a tablet in the bed, train, airplane for media consumption and tablet things, I am attaching the keyboard when I want to type things, but I can also develop my RAW files in the train with Capture One Pro (alternative from Adobe Lightroom) or in the bed in tablet mode. And 12" is plenty enough to work on pictures as the screen is high resolution and you can easily pinch to zoom.
    Or I can simply dock it and use it with a calibrated 27" monitor / keyboard and mouse. That is THE point of using a Surface. Doing more than an iPad.

    "but compare to what we have on PC side"

    It IS a PC. Also. It replaces basically the need for a PC for 98% of the people.
  • mrochester - Wednesday, June 1, 2016 - link

    I see you post in a similar vain here as you do on the Verge forums!

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