For the past several days I've been playing around with Futuremark's new 3DMark for Android, as well as Kishonti's GL and DXBenchmark 2.7. All of these tests are scheduled to be available on Android, iOS, Windows RT and Windows 8 - giving us the beginning of a very wonderful thing: a set of benchmarks that allow us to roughly compare mobile hardware across (virtually) all OSes. The computing world is headed for convergence in a major way, and with benchmarks like these we'll be able to better track everyone's progress as the high performance folks go low power, and the low power folks aim for higher performance.

The previous two articles I did on the topic were really focused on comparing smartphones to smartphones, and tablets to tablets. What we've been lacking however has been perspective. On the CPU side we've known how fast Atom was for quite a while. Back in 2008 I concluded that a 1.6GHz single core Atom processor delivered performance similar to that of a 1.2GHz Pentium M, or a mainstream Centrino notebook from 2003. Higher clock speeds and a second core would likely push that performance forward by another year or two at most. Given that most of the ARM based CPU competitors tend to be a bit slower than Atom, you could estimate that any of the current crop of smartphones delivers CPU performance somewhere in the range of a notebook from 2003 - 2005. Not bad. But what about graphics performance?

To find out, I went through my parts closet in search of GPUs from a similar time period. I needed hardware that supported PCIe (to make testbed construction easier), and I needed GPUs that supported DirectX 9, which had me starting at 2004. I don't always keep everything I've ever tested, but I try to keep parts of potential value to future comparisons. Rest assured that back in 2004 - 2007, I didn't think I'd be using these GPUs to put smartphone performance in perspective.

Here's what I dug up:

The Lineup (Configurations as Tested)
  Release Year Pixel Shaders Vertex Shaders Core Clock Memory Data Rate Memory Bus Width Memory Size
NVIDIA GeForce 8500 GT 2007 16 (unified) 520MHz (1040MHz shader clock) 1.4GHz 128-bit 256MB DDR3
NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GTX 2006 24 8 650MHz 1.6GHz 256-bit 512MB DDR3
NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GS 2006 20 7 480MHz 1.4GHz 256-bit 256MB DDR3
NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GT 2005 20 7 400MHz 1GHz 256-bit 256MB DDR3
NVIDIA GeForce 6600 2004 8 3 300MHz 500MHz 128-bit 256MB DDR

I wanted to toss in a GeForce 6600 GT, given just how awesome that card was back in 2004, but alas I had cleared out my old stock of PCIe 6600 GTs long ago. I had an AGP 6600 GT but that would ruin my ability to keep CPU performance in-line with Surface Pro, so I had to resort to a vanilla GeForce 6600. Both core clock and memory bandwidth suffered as a result, with the latter being cut in half from using slower DDR. The core clock on the base 6600 was only 300MHz compared to 500MHz for the GT. What does make the vanilla GeForce 6600 very interesting however is that it delivered similar performance to a very famous card: the Radeon 9700 Pro (chip codename: R300). The Radeon 9700 Pro also had 8 pixel pipes, but 4 vertex shader units, and ran at 325MHz. The 9700 Pro did have substantially higher memory bandwidth, but given the bandwidth-limited target market of our only cross-platform benchmarks we won't always see tons of memory bandwidth put to good use here.

The 7800 GT and 7900 GS/GTX were included to showcase the impacts of scaling up compute units and memory bandwidth, as the architectures aren't fundamentally all that different from the GeForce 6600 - they're just bigger and better. The 7800 GT in particular was exciting as it delivered performance competitive with the previous generation GeForce 6800 Ultra, but at a more attractive price point. Given that the 6800 Ultra was cream of the crop in 2004, the performance of the competitive 7800 GT will be important to look at.

Finally we have a mainstream part from NVIDIA's G8x family: the GeForce 8500 GT. Prior to G80 and its derivatives, NVIDIA used dedicated pixel and vertex shader hardware - similar to what it does today with its ultra mobile GPUs (Tegra 2 - 4). Starting with G80 (and eventually trickling down to G86, the basis of the 8500 GT), NVIDIA embraced a unified shader architecture with a single set of execution resources that could be used to run pixel or vertex shader programs. NVIDIA will make a similar transition in its Tegra lineup with Logan in 2014. The 8500 GT won't outperform the 7900 GTX in most gaming workloads, but it does give us a look at how NVIDIA's unified architecture deals with our two cross-platform benchmarks. Remember that both 3DMark and GL/DXBenchmark 2.7 were designed (mostly) to run on modern hardware. Although hardly modern, the 8500 GT does look a lot more like today's architectures than the G70 based cards.

You'll notice a distinct lack of ATI video cards here - that's not from a lack of trying. I dusted off an old X800 GT and an X1650 Pro, neither of which would complete the first graphics test in 3DMark or DXBenchmark's T-Rex HD test. Drivers seem to be at fault here. ATI dropped support for DX9-only GPUs long ago, the latest Catalyst available for these cards (10.2) was put out well before either benchmark was conceived. Unfortunately I don't have any AMD based ultraportables, but I did grab the old Brazos E-350. As a reminder, the E-350 was a 40nm APU that used two Bobcat cores and featured 80 GPU cores (Radeon HD 6310). While we won't see the E-350 in a tablet, a faster member of its lineage will find its way into tablets beginning this year.

Choosing a Testbed CPU & 3DMark Performance


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  • pSupaNova - Sunday, April 7, 2013 - link

    Your not listening to what Wilco1 is saying.

    Microsoft used a poor Tegra 3 part, the HTC One X+ ships with a Tegra 3 clocked at 1.7ghz.

    So by Anand comparing the Atom based tabs to the Surface RT it puts Intel chip in a much better light.
  • zeo - Tuesday, April 16, 2013 - link

    Incorrect, Wilco1 is ignoring the differences in the SoCs. The Tegra 3 is a quad core and that means it can have up to 50% more performance than a equivalent dual core.

    While the Clover Trail is only a dual core... so while the clock speed may favor the ATOM, the number of cores favors the Tegra 3.

    It doesn't help that the ATOM still wins the run time tests as well. So overall efficiency is clearly in the ATOMs favor. While needing a quad core to beat a dual core still means the ATOM has better performance per core!

    Not that it matters much as Intel is set to upgrade the ATOM to Bay Trail by the end of the year, which promises to up to double CPU performance, along with going up to quad cores) and triple GPU compared to the present Clover Trail.

    While also going full 64bit and offering up to 8GB of RAM... Something ARM won't do till about the later half of 2014 at earliest and Nvidia specifically won't do until the Tegra 6... with Tegra 4 yet to come out yet in actual products now...
  • nofumble62 - Friday, April 5, 2013 - link

    LTE is not available on Intel platform yet, that is why they don't offer in US. But I heard the new Intel LTE chip is pretty good (won award), so next year will be interesting.
    The ARM Big cores suck up a lot of power when they are running. That is the reason Qualcomm SnapDragon is winning the latest Samsung S4 (over Samsung own Enoxys chip) and Nexus 7 (over Nvidia Tegra).
  • Spunjji - Friday, April 5, 2013 - link

    Nvidia Tegra's not really ready for the new Nexus 7, so it's not entirely fair to say it's out because of power issues. When you consider that the S4 situation you described isn't strictly true either (if I buy an S4 here in the UK it's going to have the Exynos chip in it) it tends to harm your conclusion a bit. Reply
  • zeo - Tuesday, April 16, 2013 - link

    LTE will be introduced with the XMM 7160, which will be an optional addition to the Clover Trail+ series that's starting to come out now... Lenovo's K900 being one of the first design wins that has already been announced.

    MWC 2013 showed the K900 off with the 2GHz Z2580, which ups the GMA to dual 544 PowerVR GPUs at 533MHz... So they showcased it running some games and demos like Epic Citadel at the full 1080P and max FPS that demo allows.

    Only issue is the LTE is not integrated into the SoC... so won't be as power efficient as the other ARM solutions that are coming out with integrated LTE... at least for the LTE part...
  • WaltC - Friday, April 5, 2013 - link

    Unfortunately, that's not what this article delivers. It doesn't tell you a thing about current desktop gpu performance versus current ARM performance. What it does is tell you about how obsolete cpus & gpus from roughly TEN YEARS AGO look like against state-of-the-art cell-phone and iPad ARM running a few isolated 3d Mark graphics tests. What a disappointment. Nobody's even using these desktop cpus & gpus anymore. All this article does is show you how poorly ARM-powered mobile devices do when stacked up against common PC technology a decade ago! (That's assuming one assumes the 3dMark tests used here, such as they are, are actually representative of anything.) AH, if only he had simply used state-of-the-art desktops & cpus to compare with state-of-the-art ARM devices--well, the ARM stuff would have been crushed by such a wide margin it would astound most people. Why *would you* compare current ARM tech with decade-old desktop cpus & gpus? Beats me. Trying to make ARM look better than it has any right to look? Maybe in the future Anand will use a current desktop for his comparison, such as it is. Right now, the article provides no useful information--unless you like learning about really old x86 desktop technology that's been hobbled...;)

    To be fair, in the end Anand does admit that current ARM horsepower is roughly on a par with ~10-year-old desktop technology IF you don't talk about bandwidth or add it into the equation--in which case the ARMs don't even do well enough to stand up to 10-year-old commonplace cpu & gpu technology. So what was the point of this article? Again, beats me, as the comparisons aren't relevant because nobody is using that old desktop stuff anymore--they're running newer technology from ~5 years old to brand new--and it runs rings around the old desktop nVidia gpus Anand used for this article.

    BTW, and I'm sure Anand is aware of this, you can take DX11.1 gpus and run DX9-level software on them just fine (or OpenGL 3.x-level software, too.) Comments like this are baffling: "While compute power has definitely kept up (as has memory capacity), memory bandwidth is no where near as good as it was on even low end to mainstream cards from that time period." What's "kept up" with what? It sure isn't ARM technology as deployed in mobile devices--unless you want to count reaching ~decade-old x86 "compute power" levels (sans real gpu bandwidth) as "keeping up." I sure wouldn't say that.

    Neither Intel or AMD will be sitting still on the x86 desktop, so I'd imagine the current performance advantage (huge) of x86 over ARM will continue to hold if not to grow even wider as time moves on. I think the biggest flaw in this entire article is that it pretends you can make some kind of meaningful comparisons between current x86 desktop performance and current ARM performance as deployed in the devices mentioned. You just can't do that--the disparity would be far too large--it would be embarrassing for ARM. There's no need in that because in mobile ARM cpu/gpu technology, performance is *not* king by a long shot--power conservation for long battery life is king in ARM, however. x86 performance desktops, especially those setup for 3d gaming, are engineered for raw horsepower first and every other consideration, including power conservation, second. That's why Apple doesn't use ARM cpus in Macs and why you cannot buy a desktop today powered by an ARM cpu--the compute power just isn't there, and no one wants to retreat 10-15 years in performance just to run an ARM cpu on the desktop. The forte for ARM is mobile-device use, and the forte for x86 power cpus is on the desktop (and no, I don't count Atom as a powerful cpu...;))
  • pSupaNova - Sunday, April 7, 2013 - link

    How is it embarrassing for ARM? 90% of consumers don't require for most of their computing needs the power of a desktop CPU.

    Mobile devices have took the world by storm and have been able to increase their pixel pushing ability exponentially.

    No-one is suggesting that Mobile chips will suddenly catch their Desktop brethrens, but it is interesting to see that they are only three times slower than an typical CPU/ Discrete GPU combo of 2004!
  • zeo - Tuesday, April 16, 2013 - link

    That percentage would be much higher if you eliminated cloud support... the only reason why they get away with not needing a lot of performance for the average person is because a lot is offset to run on the cloud instead of on the device.

    Apple's Siri for example runs primarily on Apple Servers!

    While some applications like augmented reality, voice control, and other developing features aren't wide spread or developed enough to be a factor yet but when they do then performance requirements will skyrocket!

    Peoples needs may be small now but they were even smaller before... so they're steadily increasing, though maybe not as quickly as historically but never underestimate what people may need even just a few years from now.
  • Wolfpup - Friday, April 5, 2013 - link

    Yeah, I've been wanting to know more about these architectures and how they compare to PC components for ages! Nice article. Reply
  • robredz - Sunday, April 7, 2013 - link

    It certainly puts things in perspective in terms of gaming on mobile platforms. Reply

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