Same Smartphone GPU, Different Performance?

Same Smartphone GPU, Different Performance?

Just like smartphone CPU (Central Processing Unit) and storage perform differently for each smartphone having the exact same specifications. There are some factors in GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) too that make GPU performance different for each smartphone even though they have the same specifications.

A smartphone uses SOC (System on chip) which just means all the essential components like GPU, memory, and modems are integrated on to a circuit along with the processor.

The processor model often is enough to know about the model of GPU too because each processor is paired with a distinct GPU. For example, Snapdragon 845 will always have Adreno 630 GPU, Snapdragon 730 will always have Adreno 618 GPU.

So, just looking at the processor chipset allows us to determine the GPU model.

We have established by now that CPU and GPU in a SOC comes in a pair.

Peak vs Sustained Performance

The real nuance in the GPU performance is the peak performance indicated by most of the benchmarks and advertisements. Peak performance is not a correct indicator of smartphone GPU performance.

Peak performance

Peak performance is the highest performance a GPU or CPU can attain, it does not matter if it is for a second or a minute. The peak performance does not depict how the GPU will perform in games or other demanding tasks.

The scores you see in Antutu benchmarks, 3D Mark, GFX bench are the peak scores of the GPU of a smartphone. These scores just mean that the smartphone is able to achieve those scores but it does not specify for how long?

If you are running a game and you are expecting the same performance from the smartphone as you saw in the benchmarks, you would be disappointed. This is the reason most people say benchmarks do not depict the real-life usage of a smartphone.

The smartphone’s peak performance does not last very long but it also varies from smartphone to smartphone. Each smartphone would have different peak performance duration.

So, it is crucial you understand the peak performance and do not take it as the only factor that determines your smartphone GPU or Gaming performance.

Sustained Performance

The sustained performance which means the performance of a CPU or GPU at which it can stay on for a long time. This is the real factor that determines the real performance of a GPU.

You would be surprised to know how much the difference is between the peak and sustained load performance of a smartphone GPU.

The sustained performance can be calculated using two methods. One way is to run a benchmark again and again until the performance drop remains the same and the smartphone does not throttle anymore. Mostly the performance drop is 30-40%.

The second way is to run GFXBench battery test Manhattan 3.1 which repeats the same sequence for 30 cycles and also logs the frame rates. This benchmark is enough in most situations to understand the performance of a smartphone.

Here I will compare the three different Flagship smartphones (Samsung Note 9, OnePlus 6 and Google Pixel 3) from 2018 to show you how different the sustained performance of each smartphone is.

These are the results of the GFX Bench battery test. Just look at how different the results are. Although all of these smartphones have the exact same specifications, the sustained performance of GPU is a totally different story.

Samsung Note 9 dropped its performance after the 17 iterations or cycle by 33%. This is the sustained performance of Samsung Note 9 as opposed to the peak performance which the Note 9 maintained for the first 17 cycles. This behavior is pretty normal in most of the smartphones.

OnePlus 6 which costs almost half the price of Samsung Note 9 shows impressive results. While the OnePlus 6 does not maintain the peak performance for 17 cycles, it also does not decrease its overall performance. The overall performance drop in OnePlus 6 throughout the whole GFX Bench battery test is just 10%. In short, OnePlus sustained performance is only 10% less than its peak performance.

Google Pixel 3 has the best results of the GFX bench battery test out of any Flagship from 2018. Just look at the GFX bench test graph of the pixel 3. The frame drop of Pixel 3 was from 3.411 to 3.403. This means that the performance drop is not even 1% of the pixel 3. This is the only case where the peak and sustained performance was the same.

But the Google Pixel 3 sustained performance being equal to the peak performance does not mean it is the best performing smartphone. Google Pixel 3 is able to beat other smartphones due to aggressive thermal restrictions but it was beaten by every smartphone in other tests. Do not believe me? Just check the sustained performance of Pixel 3 in the Anandtech review, it is even lower than Pixel 2 in some scenarios.

This was just one factor to help you decide the performance of a smartphone. The other method is to run games for a long time to check the performance. Let’s check the PUBG mobile performance of some smartphones.

Only a handful of websites on the internet test a smartphone for the sustained load. I have to give credit to Anandtech, Benchmarks.ul and Notebookcheck for testing the smartphones for sustained load performance instead of just peak load performance.

I have been using Flagships from 2018 in this series to explain every inconsistency in smartphone performance despite having the same specification. There is plenty of data on Flagship smartphones from 2018 and almost every website is done making revised benchmarks on them. Due to this, the data on the Flagship smartphones from 2018 is a little bit more accurate than Flagships from 2019.

Factors affecting the GPU Performance

It is clear by now that smartphones having the same specifications do not have the same GPU performance.

So the question arises, What and how many factors are there to determine the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) of a smartphone.

Although I would not be able to tell the exact number of the factors that affect the GPU performance of the Smartphone. But I will explain all the possible factors that I know of.

Let’s first list the factors:

  • CPU Performance
  • Cooling Solution
  • Thermal Restrictions

CPU Performance

The smartphones having the same processor do not have the same performance. The GPU performance depends on the CPU performance in some applications.

Some applications are highly GPU intensive and CPU performance does not matter as much in these applications. But most of the applications are GPU and CPU intensive which is why having a good CPU performance is also necessary for the GPU.

I have explained all about the processor performance here.

Cooling Solution

The cooling solution is one of the most important factors responsible for a smartphone overall performance. A cooling solution is necessary to keep the smartphone temperatures down because heat is the ultimate enemy to smartphone performance.

As a smartphone temperature increases above a limit usually 50 degrees Celcius, the smartphone would reduce its performance (also known as throttling) to reduce the temperatures and protect the smartphone internals from damage. In short, the cooler the smartphone, the better it will perform.

The cooling solution comes in different types and shapes. Usually the bigger the smartphone is, the more area it has to dissipate heat which is better for cooling. This is why Google Pixel 3XL beats Google Pixel 3 in every GPU benchmark as well as real-world performance.

Most of the smartphones have passive cooling (using heat sinks) and only some of the gaming smartphones have active cooling which uses a liquid solution or a fan to cool off a smartphone.

Thermal Restrictions

The most important thing in a smartphone is that it needs to survive whatever the environment is. This is why smartphone would reduce their performance and even turn themselves off in some cases to save their internals from any damage. You might have encountered sometimes a smartphone would not run an application. That is because the smartphone is past its thermal limitations and needs to cool off before performing another intensive task.

Each smartphone manufacturer has put some restrictions on the temperatures. When a smartphone crosses those temperatures, the CPU and GPU performance would be reduced to preserve the device’s health and durability. These restrictions are the reason why a smartphone do not sustain peak performance for a very long time.

Each smartphone would have different thermal restrictions. This is also related to the cooling solution. The better the cooling solution is, the less would be thermal restrictions.

The Samsung S9+ and Samsung Note 9 have the same processor, same GPU but the performance difference is huge. This is thanks to a better thermal solution and less thermal restrictions. Due to having few thermal restrictions because of the better cooling solution, Samsung Note 9 runs hotter than S9+ and also performs better than S9+.

Source: Anandtech

The above benchmarks are proof that having better thermals improve the performance of a smartphone significantly. This is evident in every benchmark in the Note 9 review of Anandtech.

On one hand, these restrictions are annoying because they would not let you get the full performance out of your smartphone. On the other hand, without these thermal limits, our smartphones would not last more than 3 years.

Thanks for reading.

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Anas Abdullah

Tech Enthusiast, Content Writer, Part-time Gamer.

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