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Apple’s New M4 Processor: An ‘Outrageously Powerful’ Device for AI

The new SoC leverages 28 billion transistors to make the new iPad Pro “the most powerful device of its kind.”

At Apple’s Let Loose event, the company announced its newest generation of processor chips, the M4 lineup. Apple’s foray into in-house silicon for its laptops and tablets is relatively new, with the company releasing its M1 family in November 2020.

Now, almost four years later, Apple is continuing its momentum with an SoC that features a new display engine, a 10-core CPU, a 10-core GPU, and Apple’s fastest neural engine yet.

M4 Reaches the Top of the M-Series Ladder for Compute

Apple’s M4 chip is an advanced system on a chip (SoC) that uses a 3-nm process to integrate 28 billion transistors into a single package. This is roughly a 10% increase in transistor count compared to its predecessor, the M3, which includes 25 billion transistors.

The M4 chip features a CPU with a 10-core configuration, including up to four high-performance cores and six efficiency cores. Compared to the M3 with its four performance cores and four efficiency cores, the M4 integrates more computing capabilities to help balance raw processing power with energy conservation. Apple has improved the performance cores’ branch prediction and expanded decode and execution engines. The efficiency cores include a deeper execution engine than prior versions. Such enhancements contribute to a CPU performance that is 1.5 times faster than the M2 chip previously used in the iPad Pro.

The M4 also boasts a 10-core GPU that leverages the architecture introduced in the M3 chips but with significant advancements such as Dynamic Caching, hardware-accelerated ray tracing, and mesh shading. Dynamic Caching optimizes local memory allocation in real-time, enhancing GPU function for demanding tasks like professional graphics applications and high-end gaming. Hardware-accelerated ray tracing, a first for the iPad, offers more realistic lighting and shadow effects, while mesh shading supports more complex geometries in visual content.

For AI performance, the M4 chip houses Apple’s “most advanced” neural engine yet, performing up to 38 trillion operations per second (TOPS). The 16-core neural engine, combined with next-generation machine learning accelerators integrated into both the CPU and GPU, facilitates on-device AI tasks such as live audio transcription and visual object recognition in photos and videos. Such capabilities empower the iPad Pro to handle complex AI-driven applications while ensuring privacy and efficiency.

Finally, the M4 introduces an entirely new computing block with a dedicated display engine to power the Ultra Retina XDR display on the iPad Pro. This engine is said to support new display technologies, merging two OLED panels to enhance light output and color vibrancy and enabling exceptional color accuracy, brightness uniformity, and visual precision.

Powering the iPad Pro

The iPad Pro is the first Apple product to feature the M4. Apple claims that the M4 chip’s dedicated display engine is a game-changer for the iPad Pro’s Ultra Retina XDR display. Using advanced technologies to merge dual OLED panels, this new engine enhances the overall luminosity and color accuracy of the display. Such advancements make the iPad Pro suited for tasks that demand precise color management, such as digital art, professional photo editing, and high-fidelity video production.

According to the company, the M4’s architectural enhancements optimize the iPad Pro’s other hardware. For instance, the Dynamic Caching in the GPU increases performance without also increasing power consumption. Similarly, the two new efficiency cores in the CPU ensure that tasks are handled more swiftly and efficiently, making the overall user experience more responsive.

Whether rendering complex 3D models, editing multiple streams of 4K video, or managing large datasets, the iPad Pro with the M4 chip seems well-equipped to handle a variety of demanding tasks. 

The M-Series Marches On

While the true test of Apple’s M4 will be the performance of the iPad Pro and the chip’s benchmarking results, the chip is nonetheless an important step forward for Apple’s silicon lineup. With an increased transistor count, more performant and efficient subsystems, and a new dedicated display engine, the M4 chip demonstrates how Apple is preparing for AI-heavy applications on its consumer devices.

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