GamesBeat

More power: What iPhone 5S’s 64-bit processor means for gaming

Above: Art from Chair's Infinity Blade III.

Image Credit: Chair

Apple’s upcoming iPhone 5S is a superphone, and a big part of what makes it so powerful is its new 64-bit processor.

That’s right, like the Nintedo 64 and Atari Jaguar, the A7 chip inside the iPhone 5S is 64-bits … and like with the Nintendo 64 and Atari Jaguar, I don’t really know what that means.

Sure, Apple did a good job of driving home that this is the world’s first 64-bit smartphone, but what does that entail? I reached out to some game developers to find out.

“The main thing that 64-bit processors let you do is address a lot of memory — more than 2 gigs or more than 4 gigs depending on your operating system,” Braid developer Jonathan Blow told GamesBeat. “Last I checked, iOS kills programs when they start eating way less [than 2GB of memory], so from that standpoint it doesn’t help. Maybe it will in the future.”

Blow gave a potential example where Apple could add full virtual memory to iOS, which is a process where the operating system temporarily treats storage space as RAM. The 64-bit processor would enable the iPhone 5S (and future devices) to compute more of that data all at once.

“[The new processor] is a good thing for developers, but probably more in the long-term rather than the short-term,” said Blow.

So, the memory bonuses — which are probably coming at some point — won’t have much of an impact on the iPhone 5S. The 64-bit processor should have an immediate positive effect, however, on the speed of iOS and software running on the system.

“It’s a little bit of an overkill for where we’re at right now,” Chair co-founder Geremy Mustard told GamesBeat. “But it really helps with load times. That’s for games and for every app. It’s really amazing how smooth the operating system feels because it is running on this chip.”

Chair is a subsidiary of Epic Games and is also the developer of the iOS-exclusive hack-n-slash franchise Infinity Blade. The company revealed that it is working on Infinity Blade III during Apple’s iPhone 5 event Tuesday. As a part of Epic, Chair uses the Unreal Engine to develop its games, and since that software is already optimized for 64-bit hardware, the studio was able to get Infinity Blade III up and running on it in no time.

“Apple showed a chart that says the new A7 chip is two times the raw horsepower of the A6 that was in the iPhone 5,” said Mustard. “We’re actually seeing even greater gains because the 64-bit processor is running instructions even more efficiently. We’re actually seeing our load times increase five times on iPhone 5S. It feels fantastic. It loads almost instantly.”

Really, as with anything you find in a spec sheet, a “64-bit processor” only means something if it actually improves the end-user performance. According to guys like Mustard and Blow, the iPhone 5S’s new guts will do exactly that in the near and long-term.

William Volk, chief creative officer at mobile developer Playscreen, said that Apple is delivering “console performance in a handheld.”

He added, “It speaks to how seriously Apple takes games.  As the highest performing mobile device, the key for Apple will be getting AAA games to show up on the device in an exclusive basis.  That could happen, or at least the 5s versions will be standouts.  It will be interesting to see what happens with the iPad and Apple TV.”

More information:

Apple designs and markets consumer electronics, computer software, and personal computers. The company's best-known hardware products include the Macintosh line of computers, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. Apple software includes t... read more »

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