Apple debuts M4 chip in new iPad Pro to take on AI PCs

Apple M4 system on a chip launch
Image: supplied.

Apple usually debuts a new chipset with its range of Macs, like it did with last year’s M3 MacBook Pros. After bringing the M3 silicon to its MacBook Air laptops, Apple changed tack, announcing the M4 for the new iPad Pro tablets.

Running on the M2 chip previously, the completely overhauled iPad Pros bypassed an entire generation to wield the M4 platform.

Built using a three-nanometer process, the 28 billion-transistor M4 system on a chip (SoC) includes an integrated CPU, GPU, and Neural Engine NPU. Depending on the exact configuration, its CPU and GPU both house 10 cores, alongside a 16-core Neural Engine.

CPU8-core CPU
Four performance cores
Four efficiency cores
8-core CPU
Four performance cores
Four efficiency cores
Up to 10-core CPU
Four performance cores
Six efficiency cores
GPUUp to 10 cores10 cores10 cores
Neural Engine16 cores
15.8 TOPS
16 cores
16 cores
Transistors20 billion25 billion28 billion

Apple hyped the M3 SoC for its revamped graphics architecture, which the M4 continues. It means that the 2024 iPad Pro models get hardware-accelerated ray tracing and mesh shading, plus Dynamic Shading, all firsts for an Apple tablet. In real-world terms, it should result in tangible improvements across GPU-intensive tasks like video editing and gaming.

Apple M4 takes on AI PCs

AI computing continues to be the talk of the tech town, and Apple is no different. The company labelled the M4’s Neural Engine as its “most powerful” ever, built to process on-device AI tasks quickly. It drives features like live captions and Final Cut Pro’s background isolation, with a view of supporting more local AI tasks in the future.

Apple even claims the M4’s Neural Engine outpaces the NPU processing of its rivals. Capable of 38 trillion operations per second (TOPS), Apple believes it’s “faster than the neural processing of any AI PC today”. Many AI tasks, like Microsoft Copilot, still rely on cloud servers, so it’s tricky to fully assess the claims in the real world.

Although not quite as headline-grabbing, the expanded video codec support of M4 is an immediate benefit. Features like AV1 hardware acceleration mean more power-efficient streaming of high-res videos. Courtesy of the M4 chip, the feature debuts on iPads with the new Pro range, so streaming shouldn’t drain the battery as much.

With the M4 SoC now out in the open, surely it’s a matter of time before we see it in Apple computers.

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