On Oct. 16, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) introduced two new iPads to the world: the iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini 3. While the iPad mini 3 reportedly uses the same A7 chip that was found inside of last year's iPad mini with Retina Display, the iPad Air 2 features a processor that Apple calls A8X.

While Apple hasn't given too many details about this chip, the details that Apple did give point to a very impressive piece of silicon.

Three billion transistors ... and more
Apple made the following claims about the A8X chip during the iPad Air 2 unveiling:

  • It features three billion transistors
  • It's about 40% faster in CPU tasks than the prior generation A7 found inside of the iPad Air
  • It features up to 2.5 times the graphics performance of the A7

The first point is actually one that I think many don't truly appreciate. To give some perspective, take a look at the following table, which includes a number of processors and their respective transistor counts:


Transistor Count

Apple A7

1 billion

Apple A8

2 billion

Apple A8X

3 billion

Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) Core M

1.3 billion

Intel Core i7 found inside of 15-inch MacBook Pro

1.7 billion

Intel Haswell ULT in 2+2 configuration

"~1 billion"

Source(s): Apple, Intel, The Tech Report, and AnandTech

While transistor count doesn't necessarily reflect performance, it's pretty stunning to know that the odds are very good that the iPad Air's processor has more transistors (widely known as the "building blocks" of a chip) than a high-end laptop or even desktop processor.

Moreover, if we take some benchmark results from the prior generation iPad Air and extrapolate iPad Air 2's performance from those results, it becomes pretty clear that Apple has built a best-in-class tablet processor.

CPU Performance (Geekbench)

Geekbench 3 Single-Core

Geekbench 3 Multi-Core

Apple A7 (iPad Air )



Apple A8 (iPhone 6 Plus)



Apple A8X (hypothetical, iPad Air 2)



Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) Snapdragon 805 



Source(s): Primate Labs, AnandTech, author measurements

GPU Performance

3DMark Unlimited 1.2 (Graphics)

Apple A7 (iPhone 5s)


Apple A8 (iPhone 6 Plus)


Apple A8X (hypothetical, iPad Air 2)


Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) Snapdragon 805 


Source(s): AnandTech, Author estimates

If the above estimates turn out to be even remotely accurate, then the iPad Air 2 powered by the A8X could be the fastest tablet on the market.

Foolish thoughts
Time and again, I find myself impressed with Apple's mobile chips. Of course, most iPad users probably don't necessarily care about what makes Apple's A8X system-on-chip so impressive. However, for users that do computationally intensive tasks on their iPads such as photo and video editing and 3D gaming, the "user experience" or the "feel" of the system should be a dramatic step up from prior iPad models (particularly pre-iPad Air models). 

In fact, given that Apple just reported selling just 12.31 million iPads (a 13% year-over-year unit decline), Apple needs something to help reignite iPad sales growth. That said, I'm cautiously optimistic that the iPad Air 2, along with the price cuts that Apple put in place for its older iPad models, will be able to do the trick.