After reading ArsTechnica’s take just now on the 9.7” iPad Pro and seeing their benchmarks, its clear the A9X is being binned with full 12-core GPUs going to the 12.9” and probably 8-core GPUs to the 9.7”, with the remainder disabled. The economic argument for this is strong — binning is practically free to implement and increases yield, which reduces risk and cuts costs. Nvidia, AMD, and Intel have done this for years. Another area of performance differentiation is RAM, and the 12.9” diverges here, getting twice the RAM running 25% faster. The dual core A9X CPU meanwhile remains the same, as we see in the benchmarks.
Some are disappointed that they’re not getting identical parts in the smaller iPad Pro. Given the 33% price difference though, I don’t think that’s a big deal. iPads manage RAM extremely carefully, and the few pro apps out there won’t suffer immensely. And were the smaller iPad Pro to get the same graphics performance, it’d likely dip too far into its power budget. There’s also another reason the A9X is binned and that RAM less necessary. In the benchmarks, on-screen graphics performance is nearly identical, despite the 12.9” having to push 70% more pixels. This is a great demonstration of the precise control Apple gets from vertical integration — different iPads in the same category are going to feel the same every time you drag a page, or play a game, or do just about anything else. User experience is clearly in the driver’s seat.
Hello MacBook Pro
The hardware differences in the iPad Pro line reveal an uncanny resemblance to that of the Macbook Pro. 15” Pros are flagship systems, with quad core CPUs, 16GB RAM, and the option for discrete graphics. 13” Pros meanwhile have dual core CPUs, half the RAM, and slower integrated graphics. The smaller Macbook Pros come in at a significantly lower cost (and even more so at non-Apple retailers), and serve as a bridge between the light use general purpose market and performance sensitive high-end Pro market. This is the exact positioning of 9.7” iPad Pro. Time to see how it works out.