AnandTech on Wednesday posted their review of the new iPad. Per usual, the 21-page article goes into every aspect of the device in excruciating detail. The most interesting takeaway includes an in-depth analysis concerning the gizmo’s graphical prowess and how the enhanced A5X chip stacks up in high-resolution games against the iPad 2 and latest crop of Android tablets powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 3 silicon.

For starters, the publication portrays the A5X as “an absolute beast” of an system-on-a-chip. But, its power comes at a price because – as it is implemented in the new iPad – the A5X “under load consumes more power than an entire iPhone 4S”.

We kinda knew that, so just how fast is its quad-core GPU and can we expect jaw-dropping Retina games running natively in all their 2,048-by-1,536 pixel glory and – most importantly – at satisfactory frame rates?

Well, according to authors Vivek Gowri and Anand Lal Shimpiwho who know these things inside out, the A5X shows “a roughly 2x increase in triangle and fill rates” in GPU benchmarks at the 1,024-by-768 resolution of iPad 2. As a result, the new iPad delivers roughly twice the performance of its predecessor. Again, at the iPad 2’s 1,024-by-768 pixel resolution.

In many ways in the A5X is a very conservative design, while in others it’s absolutely pushing the limits of what had been previously done in a tablet.

This 2x speed increase draws from the four GPU units inside the A5X chip versus two on the A5 silicon inside the iPad 2. Note that both chips are based on the PowerVR SGX 543 GPU design from Imaginaton Technologies, the only differentiator being twice the GPU cores and the improved memory bandwidth.

Since we’re still on a 45nm LP process, GPU clocks haven’t increased so we’re looking at a pure doubling of virtually all GPU resources.

Now, the caveats…

You won’t notice this speed gain much in most iPad games updated for the Retina resolution, such as Shadowgun and Grand Theft Auto 3. The reason being, they resort to a trickery involving rendering the scene at 1,024-by-768 and upscaling images to the 2,048-by-1,536 resolution, using antialiasing to smooth out the pixels.

The end result is a nice-looking game on the new iPad’s Retina display that’s really being rendered at the iPad 2’s resolution.

When it comes to gaming at the new iPad’s native Retina resolution, frame rates “can drop to well below” what the iPad 2 delivers. Why? Because the two times speed gain offered by the quad-core GPU doesn’t offset the four times pixel count increase of the Retina display.

It’s because of this drop in performance at the iPad’s native resolution that we won’t see many (if any at all), visually taxing games run at anywhere near 2048 x 1536.

The conclusion:

The bigger takeaway is that with the 543MP4 and a quad-channel LP-DDR2 interface, it is possible to run a 3D game at 2048 x 1536 and deliver playable frame rates. It won’t be the prettiest game around, but it’s definitely possible.

“Playable frame rates” may be sufficient for casual games, but likely won’t cut it for 3D shooters and other graphics-intensive titles.

And the fact that both the new and “old” iPad run the same dual-core Cortex-A9 MPCore CPU with NEON SIMD accelerator from ARM Holdings isn’t helping either.

“With no change on the CPU side, CPU performance remains identical to the iPad 2”, the publication explains. That’s why the new iPad is slower when reading magazines.

While gaming at the native Retina resolution is feasible on the new iPad, it all comes down to frame rates and developers’ ability to really push the A5X chip to its extremes.

The aforementioned caveats probably won’t affect a few triple-As from the biggest developers with the most resources. I’m talking about so-called system sellers, such as the upcoming Infinity Blade Dungeons from Epic Games.

My sources in the graphics industry convince me that a handful of cherry-picked developers enjoy preferential treatment because Apple is fond of positioning iOS gadgets as portable gaming consoles, among other things.

Disappointed? Do you still think the new iPad has enough horsepower to drive graphics-intensive games natively at the Retina display resolution and at frame rates matching or exceeding those on iPad 2?

  • Anonymous

    This was one of my greatest concerns before the release of he new iPad. I’ve been hankering for a retina display, but given many desktop computers struggle for decent frame rates running graphic intensive games at 1920×1080, it was obvious the new iPad, even with a quad core graphics chipset, was going to take a serious frame rate hit in 3D games.

    For graphics intensive games I’d actually rather they rendered in 1024×768, with full detail and anti-aliasing to cut down on jaggies, then upscale the picture to 2048×1536 (this is often done on the PS3 and X-Box 360 when up-scaling to 1080p). Given 1024×768->2048×1536 is a nice even 1:4 scaling ratio, that shouldn’t be too hard to scale well and should still look very good for 3D games.

    For 2D games and lighter 3D games that don’t require as much grunt, they could still be rendered at native retina resolution.

    Sounds like the best compromise until graphics hardware catches up to being able to render 2048×1536 3D games at a silky smooth 60fps. I can’t stand low frame rates so I always lower resolution to achieve 60fps on my PC when necessary.

    • Same. I’d go for performance over visuals. Low frame rates is sometimes disturbing for me. So after reading this article, I might reconsider getting an iPad 2 instead of the third one. What do you guys think?

      • Don’t do it!! Retina is worth every penny, and almost everything you do daily, like the site you’re reading right now, will be rendered in beautiful native Retina.

      • HAHAHAHA! I’ve read the whole Anandtech article. They almost convinced me to just get the iPad 2, but in the end, the new iPad still stays on my list. Thanks!

      • Anonymous

        Depends what your priorities are. If you want the best possible image quality across all apps, then obviously the new iPad is the one to get. However if you are susceptible to low frame rates and intend to play a lot of 3D games, it might be worth saving some money and sticking to the iPad2 (given the A5 CPU never has to render above 1024×768, frame rates are silky smooth).

        I have an iPad2 and I still intend to buy an iPad3 once its jailbroken. The reason being the majority of the things I do are surf the net, read, play casual games and apps. The iPad3 looks way better for all those things.

        It’ll take a new CPU and GPU in the iPad3 or iPad 4 until we can enjoy detailed 2048×1526 3D titles at 60fps. But generally if I want to play a 3D game I use my PC or X-Box 360 anyway. I prefer 2D games like Tower Defence and other strategy titles more on the iPad.

      • You have a point there, I’m a little short for the new iPad. It hasn’t been officially released here in the Philippines. So, I might as well save up for a 32/64GB while waiting.

  • Anonymous

    After reading this article because I stumbled on it while looking into the Retina Display, I hadn’t considered the effect it would have on games. I talked to my son, and realized he doesn’t grasp all of this stuff so well so I boiled it down. He said he would prefer performance on an iPad because it is not large enough to appreciate in that manner. I thought that made sense and from a perspective of someone that works for DISH, the TV industry, picture is more important. Right now my iPhone 4 looks fantastic when I watch HDTV streaming from my Sling Adapter. Two-hundred HD channels to choose from makes for better viewing on the iPhone, and now I’m hoping it will be just as good on the iPad 3 when I get one. I’ll try and weigh in here when I get it.

  • Anonymous

    It has more than enough Horse power to impress me. Didnt buy ipad 3 for gaming but once i played modern combat 3 i was blown away by the graphics in the retina screen. Am a happy gamer As long as i get games like mc3 for just 99. Cents that look n play better than a bunch of 60$ console games. Ipad 3 is the start of the hibrid console and handheld all in one device. Is really up to developers to take the gpu n screen to the limits.

  • Anonymous

    ipad 3 is still the best tablet you can get … hands down

  • brendan kirk

    And the iPad 2 still the best you can get for under $400.

    If your on a budget and do a lot of 3D gaming, stick with the classic! It’s still amazes me even after a year. I think 2 years should give me enough time to save up for the NEW New iPad and when that finally comes it will be a truly mind blowing upgrade. IMO every other gen is the way to go, it makes it seem more worth the expense. Plus I like to get the most for my hard earned money and not think “Well just another year and I get to blow a whole ‘nother big wad o’ cash.”

    Although I guess some people do have money coming out the wazoo.
    *clears throat* onepercenters *clears throat again*