At its September event, Apple took the stage to announce its 2021 lineup of devices. Out of these, the iPad Mini 6 and iPhone 13 were revealed to share the same processor under-the-hood, the new A15 Bionic SoC. The A15 Bionic being the beast it is, this was great news for (soon-to-be) iPad and iPhone owners alike. However, it appears as if the iPad was intentionally tainted in the process to limit its performance.
The A15 Bionic is 6-core SoC that contains 2 high-performance cores and 4 efficiency cores. It also houses a GPU that can be either 4-core or 5-core depending on the model you get. iPhone 13 non-Pro models have been equipped with a 4-core GPU and the Pro models have been blessed with the 5-core variant. Apple was generous enough to mention in the press release blog that the iPad Mini features a 5-core GPU, which should deliver an 80% performance bump, according to the company.
Apple rarely ever discloses technical details about its devices. They never talk about what’s the battery size, or what’s the screen resolution or what speed their new SoC runs at (although it’s easy to find that out). Instead, they focus on comparisons using real-world terminology. For instance, instead of just saying the new iPad Mini has a [redacted] mAh battery, they’ll tell you that it will last 2 hours more than its predecessor and that it’s the biggest battery ever in an iPad Mini.
The Benchmark and its findings
Keeping that in mind, the clock speed of the new A15 Bionic SoC was discovered through benchmarks by MacRumors. From those benchmarks came another surprising reveal, the A15 Bionic in the iPad Mini 6 is clocked lower than the one in all iPhone 13 models. By default, we saw a ~3.23Ghz speed across the two performance cores in the A15 Bionic. That speed was reduced to only ~2.99Ghz on the iPad Mini.
This small downclock allows the previous-gen A14 Bionic in the iPhone 12 Pro Max to edge out the iPad Mini in single-core benchmarks. The A14 Bionic in the iPhone 12 Pro Max was able to achieve a single-core average score of ~1,606 points, which is enough to just inch over the iPad Mini’s ~1,595 points. But, the iPad Mini pulled ahead of the iPhone 12 Pro in multi-core benchmarks by a significant margin with a score of about ~4,550 points as compared to iPhone 12’s “measly” ~4,156 points.
Compared to the iPhone 13’s A15 Bionic, the same SoC in the iPad is about 2-8% slower. The iPhone 13 Pro, acheived scores of around ~1,736 and ~4,758 points in single-core and multi-core tests, respectively. That’s quite the improvement over the iPad Mini. Even a small difference of less than 300Mhz is proving to hurt the iPad, at least, in benchmarks. The run attached below actually has ever-so-slightly higher scores for the iPad as compared to the one we used in the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s comparison. Even with the advantage, the iPad loses.
Overall, the iPad Mini’s A15 trades blows with iPhone 12’s A14 Bionic in single-core tests with iPhone 12 winning in most departments. Whereas, the iPad wins in most departments when it comes to multi-core tests. And, compared to the iPhone 13, the iPad Mini loses in both single-core and multi-core tests. Keep in mind that all of the aforementioned numbers are average scores as every Geekbench run produces slightly different results from the other, so there will be small a small variation across all results.
Even after a disappointing performance delta where the iPad Mini trades blows with the A14 Bionic and loses to iPhone 13’s A15 Bionic, it remains a proper monster. The new iPad Mini compared to the last gen’s iPad Mini which had a A12 chip, is about 40% faster in single-core performance and a whooping 70% faster in multi-core performance. So, it’s safe to say that, albeit underclocked, iPad Mini 6 still won’t leave you wanting more.
It’s unclear as to why Apple decidedly downgraded the SoC on the iPad Mini. Apple is known for their questionable tactics in the game, from reducing performance to preserve battery life on old phones, to opposing Right-To-Repair, the company is no stranger to controversial business practices.
However, an SoC downgrade in a new-generation product is a strange and rare move. The last time Apple pulled something like this was back in the iPod Touch era where Apple underclocked the speed of the SoC to let the iPhone shine over its iPod Touch contemporary.