[News] Apple Unveiled M4 Chip for AI, Heralding a New Era of AI PC

2024-05-08 Consumer Electronics editor

On May 7 (The US time), Apple launched its latest self-developed computer chip, M4, which is integrated into the new iPad Pro as its debut platform. M4 allegedly boasts Apple’s fastest-ever neural engine, capable of performing up to 380 trillion operations per second, surpassing the neural processing units of any AI PC available today.

Apple stated that the neural engine, along with the next-generation machine learning accelerator in the CPU, high-performance GPU, and higher-bandwidth unified memory, makes the M4 an extremely powerful AI chip.

  • Teardown of M4 Chip

Internally, M4 consists of 28 billion transistors, slightly more than M3. In terms of process node, the chip is built on the second-generation 3nm technology, functioning as a system-on-chip (SoC) that further enhances the efficiency of Apple’s chips.

Reportedly, M4 utilizes the second-generation 3nm technology in line with TSMC’s previously introduced N3E process. According to TSMC, while N3E’s density isn’t as high as N3B, it offers better performance and power characteristics.

On core architecture, the new CPU of M4 chip features up to 10 cores, comprising 4 performance cores and 6 efficiency cores, which is 2 more efficiency cores compared to M3.

The new 10-core GPU builds upon the next-generation GPU architecture introduced with M3 and brings dynamic caching, hardware-accelerated ray tracing, and hardware-accelerated mesh shading to the iPad for the first time. M4 significantly improves professional rendering performance in applications like Octane, now 4 times faster than the M2.

Compared to the powerful M2 in the previous iPad Pro generation, M4 boasts a 1.5x improvement in CPU performance. Whether processing complex orchestral files in Logic Pro or adding demanding effects to 4K videos in LumaFusion, M4 can enhance the performance of the entire professional workflow.

As to memory, the M4 chip adopts faster LPDDR5X, achieving a unified memory bandwidth of 120GB/s. LPDDR5X is a mid-term update of the LPDDR5 standard, offering higher memory clock speeds up to 6400 MT/s. Currently, LPDDR5X speed reaches up to 8533 MT/s, although the memory clock speed of M4 only reaches approximately 7700 MT/s.

Data from the industry shows that Apple M3 features up to 24GB of memory, but there is no further data indicating whether Apple will address memory expansion. The new iPad Pro models will be equipped with 8GB or 16GB of DRAM, depending on the specific model.

The new neural network engine integrated in M4 chip has 16 cores, capable of running at a speed of 380 trillion operations per second, which is 60 times faster than the first neural network engine on the Apple A11 Bionic chip.

Additionally, M4 chip adopts a revolutionary display engine designed with cutting-edge technology, achieving astonishing precision, color accuracy, and brightness uniformity on the Ultra Retina XDR display, which combines the light from two OLED panels to create the most advanced display.

Apple’s Senior Vice President of Hardware Technologies, Johny Srouji, stated that M4’s high-efficiency performance and its innovative display engine enable the iPad Pro’s slim design and groundbreaking display. Fundamental improvements in the CPU, GPU, neural engine, and memory system make M4 a perfect fit for the latest AI-driven applications. Overall, this new chip makes the iPad Pro the most powerful device of its kind.

  • 2024 Marks the First Year of AI PC Era

Currently, AI has emerged as a superstar worldwide. Apart from markets like servers, the consumer market is embracing a new opportunity–AI PC.

Previously, TrendForce anticipated 2024 to mark a significant expansion in edge AI applications, leveraging the groundwork laid by AI servers and branching into AI PCs and other terminal devices.  Edge AI applications with rigorous requirements will return to AI PC to dispersing the workload of AI servers and expand the possibility of AI usage scale. However, the definition of AI PC remains unclear.

According to Apple, the neural engine in M4 is Apple’s most powerful neural engine to date, outperforming any neural processing unit in any AI PC available today. Tim Millet, Vice President of Apple Platform Architecture, stated that M4 provides the same performance as M2 while using only half the power. Compared to the next-generation PC chips of various lightweight laptops, M4 delivers the same performance with only 1/4 of the power consumption.

Meanwhile, frequent developments from other major players suggest an increasingly fierce competition in AI PC sector, and the industry also holds high expectations for AI PC. Microsoft regarded 2024 as the “Year of AI PC.” Based on the estimated product launch timeline of PC brand manufacturers, Microsoft predicts that half of commercial computers will be AI PCs in 2026.

Intel has once emphasized that AI PC will be a turning point for the revival of the PC industry. In the industry highlights of 2024, AI PC will play a crucial role. Pat Gelsinger from Intel previously stated on a conference that driven by the demand for AI PC and the update cycles of Windows, customers continue to add processor orders to Intel. As such, Intel’s AI PC CPU shipments in 2024 are expected to exceed the original target of 40 million units.

TrendForce posited AI PCs are expected to meet Microsoft’s benchmark of 40 TOPS in computational power. With new products meeting this threshold expected to ship in late 2024, significant growth is anticipated in 2025, especially following Intel’s release of its Lunar Lake CPU by the end of 2024.

The AI PC market is currently propelled by two key drivers: Firstly, demand for terminal applications, mainly dominated by Microsoft through its Windows OS and Office suite, is a significant factor. Microsoft is poised to integrate Copilot into the next generation of Windows, making Copilot a fundamental requirement for AI PCs.

Secondly, Intel, as a leading CPU manufacturer, is advocating for AI PCs that combine CPU, GPU, and NPU architectures to enable a variety of terminal AI applications.

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(Photo credit: Apple)

Please note that this article cites information from WeChat account  DRAMeXchange.

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