Apple leaps to next-generation M4 in just seven months


John Ternus unveils Apple M4 chip
Apple's new M4 chip powers the 2024 iPad Pro lineup.
Photo: Apple

Apple Let Loose Event:Just seven months after the M3 chip debuted, Apple shocked expectations by unveiling the new iPad Pro with the introduction of the brand-new M4 chip. The M4 chip is built on second-generation three-nanometer technology that’s even more power efficient.

Tim Millet, Apple’s vice president of platform architecture and hardware technologies, says the M4 chip was “essential to deliver incredible performance” in the new iPad Pro, which is now “the most powerful device of its kind.”

The M4 chip was a last-minute rumor broken by Mark Gurman, which was dismissed by some as being unfeasible only half a year after M3 rolled out in last year’s MacBook Pro.

M4 introduction breaks all expectations

M4 summary bento box
The M4 is a significant leap over the previous generation.
Image: Apple

The new CPU has the same number of four performance cores, but adds two new efficiency cores. M4 “delivers up to 50% faster CPU performance than M2” thanks in part to its improved three-nanometer process. Every CPU core has a next-generation ML accelerator that works alongside the Neural Engine.

The new 10-core GPU in the M4 chip makes it 4× faster than the previous iPad models with M2 and 10× faster than the original iPad Pro from 2015. Like the previous M3 chip, it features dynamic caching — an Apple silicon innovation — alongside hardware-accelerated mesh shading and ray tracing.

These GPU features dramatically improve performance “while maintaining our industry-leading performance-per-watt,” said Millet. It takes “just half the power” to get the same performance of M2. Compared to a comparable PC chip, this is accomplished with just “a quarter of the power.”

The new iPad Pro also eeks out better performance by improving the thermal design of the case surrounding the chip. Thermal efficiency is improved 20% by “incorporating graphite sheets into the main housing and copper in the Apple logo,” according to John Ternus.

Improved Neural Engine will be a key player later this year

Cutting a subject out of the background on iPad Pro with M4 in Final Cut
The Neural Engine, alongside the hardware video codecs in the M4 chip, enable powerful features in Apple’s updated pro apps.
Image: Apple

The new Neural Engine can process 38 trillion operations per second. Combined with “next-generation ML accelerators in the CPU, a high-performance GPU and more memory bandwidth” Millet makes the bold claim that this Neural Engine is more powerful than any other PC neural processing unit.

This powers features all over iPadOS. In Final Cut Pro, users can cut the subject out of a background in 4K video with just a tap.

While some believe Apple is behind in the AI game, Apple has a different perspective. “While the chip industry is just starting to add NPUs to some of their processors,” Millet says Apple has been including a Neural Engine in its chips “for years.” Compared to the very first Apple silicon chip with a Neural Engine, the A11 Bionic — which debuted in 2017 — the M4 chip is 60× faster.

Of course, what people often mean is that Apple hasn’t rolled out a lot of flashy AI features in their software — like an improved conversational Siri, powerful image editing, text generation in Mail and Pages nor code autocompletion in Xcode. Software features that will push the limits of the latest M4 chip will be unveiled at WWDC in June — CEO Tim Cook has practically promised as much during the most recent earnings call.


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