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How the iPad Mini Works

        Tech | Tablet PCs

iPad Mini vs. iPad: The Retina Difference
The iPad Mini and fourth generation iPad were displayed side-by-side at Apple's October 2012 press event where both devices were announced.
The iPad Mini and fourth generation iPad were displayed side-by-side at Apple's October 2012 press event where both devices were announced.
┬ęKevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Apple follows a standard pattern with each iteration of the iPad. With the iPad and iPad 2, Apple introduced new mobile processors dubbed the Apple A4 and Apple A5. Those processors went on to power iPhones as well. When the iPad was upgraded to its third generation form, Apple used a new A5X processor -- the A5 chip with a quad-core (rather than dual-core) GPU -- to support its new retina display. The next processor, the A6, debuted in the iPhone 5, and Apple integrated a beefed up version, the A6X, in the fourth generation iPad.

The newer iPads need those "X" processors because their high resolution, 2048 by 1536 pixel displays require much more GPU muscle. The iPad Mini is a much more humble device, so it can get away with using the same hardware found in Apple's iPad 2, released in early 2011. Benchmarks of the device on Geekbench showed near-identical performance between the Mini and iPad 2. The Mini truly is an iPad 2 in a smaller body.

Geekbench, which measures and rates gadgets based on a set of performance crietia, scored the the iPad Mini at 748 points. For comparison, the fourth generation iPad, with its A6X processor, doubled that number with a score of 1769 [source: Hattersly]. That's a big leap in performance. The third generation iPad, released in early 2012, put up a much more conservative score of around 750. What does that tell you? Even though Apple doubled GPU power between the iPad 2 and iPad 3, the higher screen resolution kept performance identical.

Because the iPad Mini keeps pace with the graphics performance of full-sized iPads other than the fourth generation iPad, few developers are likely to release games or other apps that require the faster fourth generation iPad or newer. That will happen eventually, as newer and faster iPads are released, but the Mini is in no danger of quickly becoming obsolete.

The screen is another matter. After using the retina screen, is going back to the lower resolution display an issue? It's a subjective question, but reviewers indicate the screen obviously doesn't look as good as the larger iPad's, or even the smaller (but higher pixel density) displays on competing devices like the Google Nexus 7. Tech enthusiasts will notice the difference, and the experts at DisplayMate criticized the pixel density, screen reflectance and color gamut, but overall called the iPad Mini display "very capable" as opposed to "best" or "great," which is the standard Apple usually sets [source: Soneira].


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