Mar 31, 2011 — by: Karl Johnson
Categories: Products, Review

How does the newly released iPad 2 compare with the first iPad and base model MacBook Air? Apple claims it is twice as fast as the first iPad, but does real world testing support this? Testing performance is a difficult task, as it varies depending on what task is being performed. One computer can be faster at editing video and slower at playing games than another. Apple's overall control o the iPad also makes it more difficult to fully test.

Geekbench has put together a comprehensive set of benchmarks to test a computer's performance. It is available on a wide range of platforms including Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, and the iOS. While the tests are not perfect, it is one of the best measuring sticks when comparing two computing devices. Time to look at some comparisons.

The chart below shows some interesting computer comparisons and their Geekbench scores.

As the chart shows, the iPad 2 is 64% faster than the first iPad which is a large improvement, but does not match Apple's claims of being "twice as fast" as the original iPad. However, Apple has a loophole in the testing. Geekbench tests the main processor, but not the graphics processor, which may push the performance of the iPad 2 to be twice as fast as the first iPad for some, but not likely all, applications. PC Mag has also tested both iPads and show a 300% performance boost for the iPad 2, which is even more than Apple's claim.

The performance of the iPad 2 is now in the netbook range. Most notebooks run Windows, a desktop OS and applications that require more processing power. Contrast netbooks to the iPad, which runs runs lighter weight applications on a mobile OS. These applications, which can be just as powerful, will feel much faster than desktop applications running on netbooks. Simply put, iPad 2 feels faster than most netbooks.

Although the iPad can't compare with current generation MacBook Pros, it can compare with PowerBooks that are 6 years old. The PowerBook G4 (2005) and iPad 2 have very similar Geekbench scores (and this is without the iPad 2's GPU being taken into account). It also equally compares with a Dual-Processor PowerMac that is 9 years old. Considering that many 6 year old machines are still in use today and run well for most tasks, the iPad 2's power in such an amazingly small and mobile package is impressive. Since the iPad 2 equals the performance of a laptop from six years ago, when will the iPad be fast enough to replace most desktop computers for everyday use?

The base MacBook Air 11-inch is about three times faster than the iPad 2. The Macbook Air also runs bulkier desktop applications, which makes the iPad 2 feel peppier than the scores show due to it's lightweight apps. Although the MacBook Air is much slower than the current MacBook Pros, it has become a hit because it is small, light, and fast enough for everyday use. The iPad is only a generation or two away from the same point as the MacBook Air, which begs the question: When will Apple take the iOS to the next level, allowing it to leave the legacy PC world behind?

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