New iPad’s A5X Performance: Not So Fast, Apple

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When announcing the new iPad this month, Apple claimed that its A5X processor delivers four times the graphics performance of Nvidia’s Tegra 3, a quad-core chip used by some Android tablet makers. But as a couple of independent hardware tests show, Apple’s claim is a bit misleading.

Here’s what Apple’s marketing boss Phil Schiller said during the new iPad press conference:

Others are using chips like this Nvidia Tegra 3 … The Apple A5 was already twice as fast. And the new A5X brings four times the performance. It is a graphics powerhouse.

(MORE: 30 Best Apps for Apple’s New iPad)

Gizmodo and Laptop both ran the new iPad and the Tegra 3-powered Asus Transformer Prime through a series of benchmark tests. Although the iPad defeated Asus’ Android tablet in some tests, the Transformer Prime won in others. When it came to subjective testing — running the same games side-by-side on both tablets — the difference was negligible.

The only benchmark that validated Apple’s claim was Laptop‘s GLBenchmark 2.1 Fill Test, which measures the time it takes to add textures to 3D models. In that particular test, the A5X-powered iPad was more than four times faster than the Tegra 3-powered Transformer Prime. In other GLBenchmark tests by both Gizmodo and Laptop, the iPad also won, but not as decisively.

When it came to the CPU, the Transformer Prime blew its competition away, more than doubling the iPad’s score in Laptop‘s Geekbench test. That makes sense, given that the Nvidia Tegra 3 has four computer processor cores, compared to two in the new iPad. (Note that Apple didn’t make any claims about CPU performance, only graphics performance.)

Browser tests yielded mixed results. The popular Sunspider benchmark was a tie in Gizmodo’s test, but a victory for the iPad in Laptop‘s test. The Transformer Prime won Gizmodo’s BrowserMark test, while Laptop Mag’s Peacekeeper was a tie. There’s no clear winner here, especially considering that differences in software on each device — Safari on the iPad, and the stock Android browser on the Transformer — can have as much influence on test results as the hardware.

Subjective testing was a toss up. The new iPad’s Retina display added extra pop to high-end games, Laptop found, but Tegra-optimized games such as Riptide had some extra visual effects on the Transformer Prime. It’s not really a fair test anyway, for two reasons: Most developers haven’t been able to optimize their graphics for the Retina display yet, and Asus is working on a tablet with 1920-by-1200 resolution, which comes closer to the iPad’s pixel density but may also require more processing power.

In the end, the A5X and the Tegra 3 both look like powerhouses, especially for tablet gaming. That’s another reason why app selection is so important for tablets, but it’s also a reminder not to take product marketing at face value.

MORE: Why Apple’s New iPad Should Be Google’s Wake-Up Call