Apple Loses GPU-Performance Lead

Our die-photo analysis reveals that Samsung devoted too little area to its AMD-powered GPU, contributing to its performance shortfall. MediaTek and Intel both outperform the latest Apple chip.
Linley Gwennap
Linley Gwennap

For generations, Apple offered large, powerful GPUs in its custom iPhone processors, delivering leadership graphics performance among smartphones. A year ago, Huawei was able to catch up to Apple’s A14 with a massive 24-core GPU, but other flagship processors remained behind. This year, however, the Apple A15 was quickly matched by both MediaTek’s Dimensity 9000 and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. Apple and Qualcomm employ GPUs of their own design, while the Dimensity 9000 uses Arm’s Mali-G710.

Samsung switched from Mali to an AMD GPU originally designed for PCs. The phone maker hoped its Exynos 2200 processor would match or beat competitors’ graphics performance even while using a smaller GPU. But cutting corners on die area turned out to be a bad idea: the company turned down the GPU clock to avoid overheating the chip, resulting in poor frame rates relative to other flagship-smartphone processors.

Intel targets laptop PCs with Alder Lake, but it made no changes to the previous-generation GPU other than a small bump in clock speed. As a result, the Xe-LP GPU barely beats the smartphone chips on some graphics benchmarks while requiring far more area and power. These shortcomings give Arm-compatible processors, such as Apple’s M-series and the Snapdragon 8cx, an opening in laptops.

For this article, we analyzed TechInsights teardown and floor-plan reports on several products, including the A15, Alder Lake-H, Dimensity 9000, Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, and Exynos 2200 as well as predecessor parts. We also collected performance data from NotebookCheck, including power data reported by GFXBench and other graphics tests.

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