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Apple announces new M4 chip with big focus on AI and 'giant leap in performance'

The M4 processor from Apple

The Apple M processor family, which debuted in 2020 in the MacBook Air and Mac mini, today enters its fourth generation. The Apple Silicon M4 processor is now official, promising a "giant leap in performance" and a significant focus on AI. Interestingly, Apple has decided to use the iPad Pro as the launch platform for the M4 chip, while all the current Mac models are powered by M2 and M3 chips and their variants.

Apple says the new M4 chip is built using a second-generation 3nm process (28 billion transistors) to deliver Apple's signature energy efficiency and performance, especially for thin devices, such as the new 5.1mm-thick iPad Pro. Besides offering notable performance improvements in daily tasks, the M4 focuses on AI-based processing with the ability to deliver up to 38 trillion operations per second.

The M4 processor from Apple

As usual, Apple dunks on PCs by claiming the M4 is faster than any AI PC available today. That may change soon, as Microsoft, Qualcomm, and other companies are gearing up to launch new Snapdragon X-powered PCs.

The Apple M4 processor is available in several configurations in the new iPad Pro, which is a bit unusual for this device category. Customers can pick among the following models:

256GB 512GB 1TB 2TB
CPU 9-core CPU
3 performance cores and 6 efficiency cores
10-core CPU
4 performance cores and 6 efficiency cores
GPU 10-core GPU
RAM 8GB 120GB/s 16GB 120GB/s
NPU 16-core Neural Engine

According to Apple, the M4 processor features next-generation cores with better branch prediction, wider decode and execution engines, and a deeper execution engine for efficiency cores. Apple also improved its ML accelerators for better on-device AI processing.

Performance-wise, customers can expect about a 50% uplift in CPU horsepower when compared to the M2 processor. Interestingly, Apple does not mention the M3 processor, which suggests the performance difference is less impressive. Exact performance differences and uplifts will be available next week once the first buyers get their iPad Pro tablets.

The M4 processor from Apple

On the GPU side, M4 promises some new tech for iPad users, such as hardware-accelerated ray tracing (first debuted in the M3), hardware-accelerated mesh shading, and more.

The M4 processor from Apple

As for the NPU (Apple calls it "Neural Engine"), customers can look out for better AI processing thanks to a dedicated block on the chip for accelerating AI workloads. Those include real-time audio captions, identifying objects through the camera, creating musical notations in real-time, object isolation, and more. Again, Apple says its Neural Engine in the M4 is more capable than any NPU in modern Windows PCs.

The M4 processor from Apple

Finally, iPads with the M4 chip now support AV1 hardware acceleration for more power-efficient playback of high-resolution videos.

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