Apple M4 Chip: Should You Upgrade? In-Depth Analysis of Apple’s Latest Release

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After months of Apple M4 rumors and speculation, Apple has announced the launch of its “outrageously powerful” M4 chip.

The M4 is designed to perform artificial intelligence tasks on-device while also supercharging the new iPad Pro — the company’s thinnest and most powerful released to date.

This chip, or more accurately, a system on a chip (SoC) features Apple’s fastest ‘neural engine’ ever, with the capacity to process 38 trillion operations per second. The organization claims that this is “faster than the neural processing unit of any AI PC today”.

In addition, the Apple M4 processor offers up to 1.5x faster performance than the M2 chip used in the previous iPad Pro or can deliver the same performance while using just half the power.

The M4’s neural engine, combined with its display engine, GPU, and CPU improvements, give it the power to run AI-powered models and applications, which have previously been too computationally demanding for tablets. This makes the M4 a big deal for AI enthusiasts.

Join Techopedia as we explore the M4’s features in-depth and what it means for the tablet and computer industries and the user at home.

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Key Takeaways

  • The Apple M4 chip debuts on May 15, 2024, inside the new iPad Pro.
  • Packed with cutting-edge features, it uses a powerful neural engine capable of processing 38 trillion operations per second and a 10-core CPU with improved efficiency.
  • With increased memory bandwidth, the M4 enables faster performance for apps, and brings advanced graphics to games — including the debut of ray-tracing and features normally reserved for high-end gaming PCs.
  • While it’s currently exclusive to the iPad Pro, its impressive performance is likely to find its way to other Apple devices in the future.
  • The M4 sets a new standard for on-device AI and performance, making it a significant advancement in Apple’s technology ecosystem.

When is the Apple M4 Chip Released?

When is the Apple M4 coming out? According to Apple’s website, the Apple M4 release date is May 15, 2024, when it is launched inside the new iPad Pro, available to preorder now.

The iPad Pro starts at $999 for the 11-inch model and $1,299 for the 13 inch-model. Storage ranges from 256GB to 2TB.

Apple M4 Chip Tech Specs

Under the hood, the M4 chip has a number of core features that help bring Apple’s on-device AI processor to life. These include:

  • Fastest Neural Engine Ever: Apple’s fastest-ever neural engine, which can process up to 38 trillion operations per second.
  • Machine learning accelerators (ML): The Apple M4 CPU uses machine learning accelerators to help perform AI inference tasks faster.
  • 28 billion transistors: 28 billion transistors built using a second-generation 3-nanometer technology to optimize performance in a tiny form-factor.
  • New and improved display engine: A display engine designed to provide improved precision, color accuracy, and brightness for displays, which in the iPad Pro’s case is the Ultra Retina XDR display (created by combining light from two OLED panels).
  • 10-core CPU: An up-to-10 core CPU made up of four performance cores and six efficiency cores (three performance cores on iPad Pros with smaller storage sizes). Performance cores feature improved branch prediction, wider decode, and execution engines, and efficiency cores feature a deeper execution engine.
  • Advanced Media Engine: The M4’s Media Engine supports video codes including H.264, HEVC, and ProRes, while offering hardware acceleration for AV1. This offers more power-efficient playback of videos and streaming services.
  • Increased unified memory bandwidth: Higher unified memory bandwidth enables pro rendering apps like Octane to benefit from up to 4x faster performance than the M2.

Apple M4 Features & Use Cases

Apple’s M4 opens the door to some exciting use cases for end users.

1. Running AI Models

Using the powerful neural engine to run diffusion and generative AI models with solid on-device performance via Core ML.

2. Unlock AI-driven Features on Native App

Unlock support for
AI-driven features on iPad OS, with Apple highlighting a few starter use-cases: Live Captions for captioning real-time audio, isolating subjects from their backgrounds in 4K videos Final Cut Pro, creating musical notation in real time via StaffPad, and Visual Look Up for identifying objects in videos and photos.

3. Enhanced Game Performance

The M4’s GPU architecture will bring dynamic caching, hardware-accelerated ray tracing to iPad for the first time — games will look more glorious than ever, bringing real-time execution of reflection, refraction, soft shadows, light scattering, motion blur, and other graphical features normally the domain of a top-end gaming PC.

4. Watching High Definition Video Content

Watch videos while the M4’s advanced media engine enables the power-efficient playback of high-resolution video content and streams.

5. Lower Power Consumption

Lower power consumption and increased energy efficiency are expected to give the Apple Pro a huge performance kick without compromising battery life (still estimated at 10 hours of screen time). Apple also says it will reduce the impact on the environment and supports Apple’s goals of carbon neutrality across its product lifecycle.

M4 vs M3, M2, M1: All You Need to Know

Chip  Transistor Count  Neural Engine Memory  CPU GPU
M1 16 billion transistors 16-core neural engine – 11 trillion operations per second 128GB of unified memory 8-core CPU (4 high-performance cores and 4 high-efficiency cores) 8-core GPU
M2 20 billion transistors 16-core neural engine – 15.8 trillion operations per second 128GB of unified memory 8-core CPU (4 high-performance cores and 4) high-efficiency cores). 8-core GPU
M3  25 billion transistors 16-core neural engine – 18 trillion operations per second 128GB of unified memory 8-core CPU (4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores) 8-core GPU
M4  28 billion transistors 16-core neural engine – 38 trillion operations per second 128GB of unified memory 10-core CPU (up to four performance cores and six efficiency cores. 8-core GPU

Our table compares the base version of each generation in the M-range, although Apple introduced variants over time, including the Pro and Max versions of the M2 and M3.

What the Specs Mean in Real Terms

  • The M2 chip is more powerful than the M1, with a 20% faster CPU, 30% faster GPU, and 40% faster neural engine.
  • Apple says the M4 chip offers 1.5x faster CPU performance over the M2, or delivers the same performance with half the power consumption.

What the Apple M4 Means to iPad Pro 2024 Users

The M4 Chip is currently only available to iPad Pro 2024 users.
The M4 Chip is currently only available to iPad Pro 2024 users.

The Apple M4 brings a number of core capabilities to the iPad Pro, which will be available in-store on May 15 for $999.

The Thinnest Apple Product Ever

The lightweight but highly efficient design of the M4 chip helps make the iPad Pro to the thinnest product ever designed by Apple. The 11-inch model is just 5.3mm thin, while the 13-inch model is just 5.1mm thin.

On-device AI

The M4’s powerful neural engine will power on-device AI tasks to help use AI-driven features in tools like Final Cut Pro and StaffPad, while also giving users the option to run generative AI models.

Better Video Playback

The M4’s advanced Media Engine includes support for AV1 decode, enabling the more power efficient playback of high-resolution videos and streams.

Amazing Battery Life

The M4’s second-generation 3-nanometer technology reduces the chip’s power consumption. Apple does not make claims of an increased battery life on the iPad Pro, but the tablet can do more while working.

Ultra Retina XDR Display

The M4’s display engine provides the groundwork for the high-quality, Ultra Retina XDR display, enhancing its overall precision, color, and brightness.

Better Gaming Graphics

The use of elements including dynamic caching, hardware-accelerated ray tracing, and mesh sharing to iPad make for a more positive gaming experience. Hardware-accelerated mesh shading delivers greater capability and efficiency in geometry processing, effectively allowing more visually complex scenes in games and graphics-intensive apps.

Will the M4 Chip Come to Other Devices?

At this stage it is unclear whether the M4 will come to other devices as Apple hasn’t shared any plans to add it to upcoming products.

That said, no need to pick up the crystal ball to predict that we will see the M4 chip on Apple MacBook and other product lines in the near future. The M2 was very warmly received when it launched in June 2022.

Initial Thoughts on the M4 Chip and iPad Pro

This really is a remarkable achievement and makes the Apple iPad Pro 2024 the most advanced tablet available — your move, Samsung and co.

It is early days for on-device AI on the iPad Pro, but we are excited to see what it brings to the table as app developers start to take advantage of the native features and bring an extra later of intelligence to the device.

Right now, the M4 on the iPad Pro is best suited to users who either want to experiment with running generative AI models on-device or want to experiment with AI-enabled features on tools like Live Captions, Final Cut Pro, and Visual Look Up.

Should You Update to an M4?

Whether or not you should update to an iPad Pro — the only way to experience the M4 currently — depends on your needs. If you’re an AI enthusiast who’d gladly spend $999 to experiment with new ways to access ML models and features, then upgrading is likely a good choice for you.

The M4 iPad Pro may also be a fit for you if you’re an avid gamer who absolutely needs the best performance when playing games locally.

On the other hand, if you’re satisfied with the performance of the M2 and you’re not likely to run any models or use Final Cut Pro, then you might want to wait for now. The M2 is still fast enough to meet the needs of most tablet users, and the new iPad Pro comes at an extremely high cost for improvements that might prove niche for now.

But if you have money burning in your pocket, there is nothing quite like this on the market.

The Bottom Line

Everyone who has asked “will there be an Apple M4?” now has a definitive answer. The newly announced M4 chip shows that Apple is investing heavily in developing its on-device AI ecosystem, and Apple’s unique hold over both the hardware and software of its devices will make the iPad Pro shine.

Although that ecosystem is still in its infancy, as users experiment more with generative AI and AI-driven apps, it will inevitably grow into a powerful force multiplier for the organization over the long term.

FAQs

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Tim Keary
Technology Specialist
Tim Keary
Technology Specialist

Tim Keary is a freelance technology writer and reporter covering AI, cybersecurity, and enterprise technology. Before joining Techopedia full-time in 2023, his work appeared on VentureBeat, Forbes Advisor, and other notable technology platforms, where he covered the latest trends and innovations in technology. He holds a Master’s degree in History from the University of Kent, where he learned of the value of breaking complex topics down into simple concepts. Outside of writing and conducting interviews, Tim produces music and trains in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).