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iPhone 15 Pro test shows A17 Pro chip throttling and overheating

Published Sep 21st, 2023 11:02AM EDT
iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max design.
Image: Apple Inc.

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The iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max have Apple’s A17 Pro, the company’s newest System-on-Chip (SoC). This is the only 3nm chip in the industry right now and an SoC that will be hard for flagship Android devices to beat even in 2024. Reports say that only Apple can secure a 3nm chip right now, as the company bought out the entire TSMC supply for the first year.

Apple focused extensively on the A17 Pro’s gaming power during the iPhone 15 event last week. And benchmark tests that followed showed that the handset is faster than M2 MacBooks in single-core tests. The GPU performance upgrade makes me think the 3nm M3 chip coming out soon to power new MacBook Air and Pro models will be even better for gaming.

But now that the first iPhone 15 reviews are out, we have an in-depth analysis of the A17 Pro chip. According to a reviewer from China, the A17 Pro can overheat during intense tasks, reaching temperatures as high as 118.4ºF. Also, the chip will throttle performance while under stress.

What the A17 Pro review says

Chinese reviewer Geekerwan (via WCCFTech and Notebookcheck) put the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max through various benchmarks and gaming sessions to see what the A17 Pro can do.

Apparently, the iPhone 15 Pro Max temperature reached 48ºC while playing Genshin Impact with high graphics settings. The room temperature was 25ºC, while the screen was set at 300 nits of brightness.

After 30 minutes, the A17 Pro sustained a frame rate of 59.1 with a power consumption of 4.13W. The A16 Bionic that powers the iPhone 14 Pros and the iPhone 15/Plus reached 56.5 fps while drawing 4.32W of power.

The reviewer then sideloaded Resident Evil Village on the iPhone 15 Pro Max, running it at 1,560 x 720 resolution. That’s when the Geekerwan noticed the performance throttling. The A17 Pro dropped from mid-40s to 30 fps. Apparently, the A17 Pro dropped lower than the A16 before recovering.

You’ll find the full review at this link, but the video doesn’t have captions working. Or they did not work while I looked at it.

As seen above, Twitter user Revegnus posted a few screenshots from the clip.

What about A17 throttling and cooling?

All smartphones throttle performance during intense tasks, and the iPhone is no different. We’re not looking for the kind of controversial throttling that Samsung used on the Galaxy S22 series last year.

As for cooling, the iPhone 15 Pro doesn’t have active cooling. At least Apple never mentioned it. We will see exactly how Apple designed the internals of the iPhone 15 phones on Friday when the first teardowns come out.

Apple did focus on the iPhone 15 Pro’s new titanium frame during its “Wonderlust” event. The company explained that it uses a complex technology to bond the internal aluminum frame to the titanium band. This should improve cooling, Apple said.

The A17 Pro uses both the 6-core GPU and the 16-core Neural Engine to deliver efficient processing for games.
The A17 Pro uses both the 6-core GPU and the 16-core Neural Engine to deliver efficient processing for games. Image source: Apple Inc.

Moreover, in a gaming-centric interview with IGN this week, Apple acknowledged that the iPhone 15 Pro has the power to “burn a hole” through the back. But the iPhone 15 Pros have protections in place, and game developers will have access to tools and resources to prevent overheating.

Here’s what Apple’s Tim Millet said about the A17 Pro overheating:

Yeah, I’ll jump in, and then Jeremy [Sandmel] can back me up if I get something wrong. But Kaiann [Drance]’s point is developers who want to put an exciting new title on the platform. Again, we give them this great toolbox. They could in theory take this amazing GPU and try to burn a hole through the back of the phone. We wouldn’t let that happen, but they could definitely do something that was probably not optimal for the experience.

But we give them tools like MetalFX that allow them to really burst up in maintaining an experience for a lot longer if they want to. And they can dial that in and out, depending on the experience that they want to go deliver. But it’s all about giving them the tools to build that sustainable experience. And it starts with a super efficient and performant SoC, GPU and the associated software that runs with it.

That said, it’ll be interesting to see how the A17 Pro behaves in more real-life scenarios. All iPhone 15 models will start shipping to buyers on Friday, at which point we’ll see more tests focusing on the A17 Pro performance. And they’ll surely highlight throttling and overheating issues.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.