The iPad mini has an older A5 processor, the new iPad goes all the way up to the state-of-the-art A6X.
We’ve got our hands on both devices, and are putting them to the Geekbench test to see which one comes out on top. Hint: it’s going to be the one with the all-new A6X processor.
See also: Apple iPad mini review
iPad mini: Hardware
The iPad mini is sporting the A5 processor first found in the iPad 2. Because it’s been a while since the A5 came out, we thought there might have been some slight changes to the chipset, but recent photo analysis suggests otherwise.
Geekbench reports that the iPad mini (which is iPad2,5 according to Apple’s internal numbering) has a single ArmV7 CPU running at 999MHz with two cores . It has 32KB L1 cache and 1MB L2 cache (no L3 cache). Geekbench report 303MB RAM (so that will be 512MB in total with some being used by the system).
In terms of specifications then it’s pretty close to an iPad 2 (actually, it is an iPad 2).
The Geekbench Score is 748, considerably slower than the iPad 4, but faster than the 471 of the original iPad, and in the same ballpark as the new iPad (third-generation) 757. The third-generation iPad wasn’t significantly faster than the second-generation, it’s extra power pushed the Retina display.
The iPad mini framerate was measured at 25fps (using GLBenchmark 2.5 Egypt HD test) which is lower than the iPad 4 (and iPhone 5), although interestingly slightly higher than the iPad 3's 22fps.
So that’s pretty impressive. The iPad mini is on-par with the iPad (third-generation) which was selling until a couple of weeks ago for £399 with many a happy owner.
We found the iPad mini perfectly capable of running all the games we threw at it, including powerhouses such as Real Racing 2 and N.O.V.A 3 with a respectable framerate and no frame drops. And because of its diminutive stature, we think the iPad mini is a real contender for the best portable gaming system around. We also ran the last version of Need For Speed: Most Wanted side by side on an iPad mini and iPad 4 and saw little discernable difference (it may be that this changes as developers update games to take advantage of the A6X hardware)
What it isn’t as powerful as is the new iPad (fourth-generation) or iPhone 5. Both of which show serious boosts in power.
Apple iPad 4: Hardware
As usual Apple has updated the hardware of the tablet. First and foremost is a new processor, the A6X. This dual-core processor with quad-core graphics is supposedly twice as fast as the A5 chip found in the iPad 3 with twice the graphics performance.
Naturally we put these claims to the test. Apple doesn't publish clock speeds and such like but the GeekBench 2 app states the A6X is 1.39GHz and the iPad 4 has 1GB of RAM – 988GB for our exact sample.
See also: iPad 4 review
While the numbers can amaze and astound, it's the real life user performance which is important. The iPad 4 is a nippy device but the overall impression is that it's not much quicker than the iPad 3, certainly not twice as fast.
We did find graphics performance impressive with a frame rate of 39fps, the iPad 3 managed 22fps. So it's the graphics improvements which are the more noticeable. We could see no difference in general navigation but more noticeable in more demanding tasks. In Apple Maps, for example, pinch zooming is a little bit smoother.
iPad mini vs iPad 4 iMovie test
We pitted the iPad mini against the iPad 4 to see what the A6X processor and extra memory did in a real-life test. For this video we record a 30 second video clip using the camera on both devices. We edited a 3 min 27 second movie in iMovie and exported it to Camera Roll using the HD - 1080p setting on both devices.
The results were as follows:
iPad 4 HD Export: 3:02
iPad mini HD Export: 3:30
So there's a clear speed boost for the iPad 4, but again it's not so extreme as to be a game-changer. Unless you're editing professional hour-long movies in iMovie on an iPad (unlikely) then you're not going to see performance gains that give you a return on your investment.
Twitter follower @dujkan noted that "iMovie export is GPU-accelerated" and that Apple probably hasn't "optimized GPU-accelerated APIs in iOS 6 to take advantage of the A6X yet". Although there's no way of knowing for sure, it may be that Apple (along with other developers) can update its software to take advantage of the A6X architecture and produce clear gains down the line; but for now there's little difference.
iPad mini vs iPad 4 conclusion
There's no doubt that the new iPad 4 stomps all over the iPad mini in terms of raw power. Like the recent iPhone 5 and iPod touch update, there's been a serious performance boost that doubles the capability of the device. What's not so clear is why? Why has Apple introduced these all-new powerful devices, because there's currently no particular advantage to the end user. The iOS interface is snappy on all devices, the current generation of games are designed to work on all machines (and our experience in the past is that developers stick with designing for the whole market rather than the latest iOS models for a long time). Perhaps the only advantage is a small performance gain when exporting movies or audio in iMovie or GarageBand.
There's still a big advantage to getting an iPad 4 over an iPad mini, namely the Retina Display, which is in itself worth the extra money. But don't think that the iPad mini is less of an experience. It may be smaller, with a smaller screen, and a non Retina display, but it runs all the programs and apps just as well as the recent iPad 3 with Retina Display.
Whether Apple has something planned for the iPad 4 (as well as iPhone 5 and iPod touch) that takes advantage of all that extra power is another matter. The iPad 4 certainly has more future-proofing behind it.
But here and now: they're both great devices.