Apple’s next-generation chip, the M4, is coming to the new iPad Pro. The new OLED iPad Pro models will include the upgraded chip, which is focused on improving performance for AI-related tasks in iPadOS.

During an event on Tuesday, Apple focused heavily on the M4’s AI capabilities. A new neural engine makes it “an outrageously powerful chip for AI,” the company says, capable of 38 trillion operators per second (TOPS). It’s supposedly 60 times faster than the NPU of Apple’s A11 chip, from 2017, but that number still falls short of the Snapdragon X Elite’s 45 TOPS. However, Apple still claims the M4 can deliver the same performance as the latest PC chips with only a quarter of the power.

Next-gen M4 chips start arriving in Apple devices this year

Image: Apple

The M4 uses second-gen 3nm technology, and its 10-core CPU is configured with four performance cores and six efficiency cores, making it 50 percent more powerful than the M2 inside the prior iPad Pro, according to Apple. The M4’s 10-core GPU also supports dynamic caching, mesh shading, and ray tracing, plus a new display engine with four times the rendering speed compared to the M2.

What Apple didn’t mention is the M4’s NPU core count. Apple’s M-series chips (excluding the M1 and M2 Ultra) have had the same 16-core NPU count since the M1 debuted, but the NPU TOPS has increased incrementally every generation — meaning the NPU has gotten better at performing calculations quickly.

The increase from the M1 to the M2 was twice as large as the increase from the M2 to the M3, so it’s interesting to see Apple take a much larger leap from the M3’s 18 TOPS to the new M4’s 38 TOPS. However, the actual number of TOPS, as we’ve pointed out before when Qualcomm announced the specs for its Snapdragon X Series, is arbitrary. It doesn’t take the type of AI workloads into account.

Apple’s M4 announcement comes less than two weeks before Microsoft is holding a special Windows and Surface AI event in Seattle on May 20th, where it’s expected to launch new Arm-powered hardware. Microsoft is confident Windows on Arm could finally beat Apple’s MacBook Air M3 laptops both in CPU performance and AI-accelerated tasks.

Microsoft’s confidence is largely thanks to Qualcomm’s upcoming Snapdragon X Elite processors, with Qualcomm promising up to 45 TOPS of NPU performance. Apple says its new M4 chip will deliver 38 TOPS of NPU performance, so it will be interesting to see how Apple’s new chip compares to the Arm-powered Windows laptops that are arriving this summer.


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