Tested: Why the iPad Pro really isn't as fast a laptop

One benchmark makes it look good. A lot of other benchmarks show a different story. Get all the details here.

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My own test

I didn’t want to rely on just third-party benchmarks for article. Instead I wanted to keep it real by finding an actual heavy-duty use case suited for a productivity tablet. Such as, say, a test that measures how fast a device handles an Excel spreadsheet used in trading scenarios. For that I turned to a publicly available test put out by Excel Trader. 

Excel, unlike Word, can use all the CPU power you throw at it. My thought was: Let’s put benchmark theories and disclaimers aside. This is a real app. A real task. By someone who can drive an Excel spreadsheet like Richard Petty navigating Riverside.

But...boom. The test doesn’t run on iPad Pro.

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Does Excel on the iPad Pro offer 100 pecent compatability? No.

I tried both the Excel 2007 and the Excel 2011 tests available from Excel Trader. No dice. Meanwhile, on the Surface Pro 3 with Excel 2013 I had no issues running either of the site’s test files:

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Full compatability means everything works. Not just some or lots of it. Here’s what Excel Trader’s benchmark file looks like when it runs.

It’s Microsoft’s fault

To be fair, some of this failure goes back to Microsoft’s uneven support of Excel on the Mac platform. But it also shows that you can’t quite do “everything” on an iPad Pro that you can on a PC, even now that Microsoft is actively supporting the iPad. People really do rely on Excel to push some very complicated financial and statistical modelling, or use a lot of Office’s Visual Basic scripting. Is it what 75 percent of people do? No, but if you’re in that 25 percent that needs it, you’ll be pissed it doesn’t work. Or you’ll just buy a Surface.

Well, hell, I needed to test something. I certainly can’t run AutoCAD 2016, Photoshop CC or Premiere Pro CC on the iPad Pro. Ahem. 

So I decided to settle for something a person would do on both platforms—something that makes you drum your fingers on the desk. Like decompressing a 1GB ZIP file that also has 256-bit AES encryption applied to it. I took several thousand tiny 5K .ini files, added low-resolution screen shots and web photos, then ladled on some higher-res JPG files, a 267MB .MTS video file shot on my Sony NEX, maybe a hundred PDF files and a dozen or so MP3 files. Finally I compressed them all with 256-bit AES using 7-Zip. The file was copied to each device.

On the Windows machines I used 7-Zip 15.11 beta to decompress the files. The results were timed with a stopwatch, and an average of the last three runs of a four-run series was recorded, with the first test discarded. Disclaimer: This type of testing can be unreliable insomuch sometimes results can’t be consistently reproduced. Nonetheless, I’ve run it enough times on all of the platforms to have confidence in it.

With the Windows machines, there were no issues. Not one. The iPad, though, gave me fits depending on the app I used. Winzip, for example, just hung even trying to decompress an encrypted file a quarter the size. I finally found an app that would work in iZipPro. It reliably decompressed the file over and over and over again without issue.

The result in my jury-rigged test? Pretty good, but no cigar. Check it out:

ipad pro unzip 1gb files

I timed how fast each device could decompress a 1GB file.

Keep in mind, this test is more of a system-level test than a pure CPU test. Memory bandwidth, storage performance, file system and CPU are all working for the result you see here. Once the file has decrypted the .MTS file, for example, it’s just writing a copy back to the drive as fast as it can.

In this one test, the iPad Pro can’t touch even the two-year old Surface Pro 3 and its Haswell chip, but the Core M in the Dell Venue Pro 11 is just barely ahead of the iPad Pro. It’s a good show for the A9X, but a two-year Haswell chip finishes the job in half the time. Atom X7? Um, yeah, Coach wants to talk to you after practice today.

But what about Geek Bench 3? Keep reading...

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