Apple's iPad Is Speedy—Because It Has to Be

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 The iPad has landed, rocketing its gleaming metal tech down on the dusty computing world to set up a new Tranquility Tablet base. But report after report notes the iPad is anything but "tranquil"--it's blazingly fast. Why? It kinda had to be.

Before Joe Public got his mitts on Apple's wondertablet this weekend, we'd heard a few mentions from folk who used one at its January launch event, and then the official reviewers late last week, that one of the most impressive features of the iPad was its speediness. Its slick "nothing between you and the content you're experiencing on it" powers are most certainly aided by this speed--few things remind you of the flaws in the platform you're using more than sluggish behavior. But now that more people have got hold of one, including technically minded writers, we're getting more analysis on exactly how the iPad performs compared to other platforms. Notably, all those little pre-indicators that the iPad rockets along are being borne out.

The tests performed over at Anandtech, studying the iPad's Web experience, are perhaps the most arresting. Anand got hold of his iPad, and ran a carefully set-up experiment (with some good checks and balances) to see how fast the device coped with a variety of Web pages compared to an iPhone 3GS and a Google Nexus One. The choice of these two phones is important: The 3GS has a CPU based on the ARM Cortex A8 (which it's suspected the iPad does too) and the Nexus One, as well as being one of the hottest Android phones and carrying competitor's Google brand prominently, runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 1GHz CPU--one of the hottest bits of silicon in mobile tech, with a clock speed the same as the iPad's.

Anand's results are unequivocal: The iPad runs much faster in rendering Web pages than either of the other two devices, in some cases very much faster indeed--a load of Engadget's Web site ran a staggering 59.4% faster on the iPad than on the Snapdragon-powered device. Its benchmarked Javascript performance was also super-speedy, outperforming the iPhone's by a massive margin, and the Snapdragon by 37.6%.

But it's not just Web pages--people all over are noting that the way the iPad does simple things like responding to a screen-rotation change of orientation is slick, and that the first batch of racing games for it are impressively speedy.

This is for one reason only: The iPad had to be fast, it simply had to be super-impressively slick right to its core. Because it's setting the benchmark for a new genre of computing, primarily. And equally importantly, it had to stand a clear head and shoulders in performance above the plethora of netbooks out there already (which some will see as its competition,) and the half-baked, underselling, previous attempts at tablet computers, mostly Windows-powered. With all those amazing apps out there, and all that large screen real estate for developers to get seriously creative with, an underperforming chipset would also have severely limited how well the iPad could deliver game-changing apps. And if the iPad's user experience had been so-so, or had felt a tad sluggish beneath Apple's smooth iPhone OS UI, you can bet that there'd have been claims that the hype machine had got it wrong on this one...and the iPad's future wouldn't have looked so shiny.

So while we still don't know the exact details on what's inside Apple's neat little ARM-based A4 chip (though current guesses pin it as an optimized ARM Cortex A8 clocked at 1GHz with 256MB of RAM on-die, a PowerVR SGX 535 GPU like the iPhone's, possible 45nm architecture and design input from newly-acquired-by-Apple chipmaker Intrinsity) we know that it looks like Apple's gamble to design its own silicon has probably paid off. The optimizations that could be built in to make the hardware and software of the iPad zing along synergistically are one reason, the slick user experience is another, and the fact that Apple's now set a very high performance bar for others to try to match is the final piece of the puzzle. Think of non-optimized Android running on a suite of different specced tablets...and you'll see what I mean. It's a classic example of Apple taking a business gamble, thinking differently, and scoring a big hit.

Oh, and the iPhone 2010, which will certainly use similar Apple chips, suddenly got a whole lot more interesting.

Read more iPad coverage

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