Apple M4 Processor: A Deep Dive into Features and Performance

In early May 2024, Apple unveiled its new M4 processor, which debuted in the latest iPad Pro in place of a MacBook or MacBook Air. We didn’t know much about the chip at launch, but after digging deeper and examining it thoroughly, I’m ready to share my findings. So if you’re curious about Apple’s latest chip, here’s what you need to know about the Apple M4 processor.

What is the Apple M4 processor?

The Apple M4 processor is the company’s latest top chip and promises a significant performance jump over the previous generation of silicon. The chip has two versions: the topline version has ten cores, while the other has nine. Either way, both are an upgrade over the M3’s eight-core configuration.

The Apple M4 processor is the company’s latest top chip and promises a significant performance jump over the previous generation of silicon.

This redesign includes next-generation core features such as improved branch prediction, broader decoding and execution engines for performance cores, and a deeper execution engine for efficiency cores. Both core types have enhanced next-generation machine learning (ML) accelerators, which should help Apple keep pace in the generative AI race.

Despite their different core counts, the nine- and 10-core variants have an increased clock speed of 4.4 GHz and are built using TSMC’s second-generation 3nm process node.

Apple M4 CPU Specifications

The Apple logo on a 2020 iPad Air

Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

Delving into the specs, you’ll see that the nine-core CPU variant comes with three performance cores and six efficiency cores, available with 256GB or 512GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. This may be limiting for users who need more RAM but don’t need extensive storage space. On the other hand, the ten-core variant offers six efficiency cores and four performance cores, 1TB of storage and 16GB of RAM. On paper it is the more flexible chip.

The M4’s microarchitecture has undergone significant improvements. Branch prediction, a crucial aspect of CPU performance, has been improved in both core types. Improved branch predictions reduce the performance issues caused by incorrect predictions, leading to better overall performance. Additionally, the performance cores feature broader decoding and execution engines, allowing more instructions per cycle, improving instruction-level parallelism.

The efficiency cores, meanwhile, have a deeper execution engine, likely resulting in higher clock speeds. This means more clock cycles can occur, with each cycle processing smaller portions of work, improving performance.

The M4’s microarchitecture has undergone significant improvements.

A standout feature of the M4 is its improved next-generation ML accelerators, integrated directly into the CPU. These accelerators support scalable matrix extensions (SME2), allowing efficient matrix multiplication in hardware. These advances are especially beneficial for scientific simulations, computer vision and machine learning tasks. The inclusion of SME2, ​​part of the Arm v9.4 architecture, represents a major leap forward for Apple. Both performance and efficiency cores now feature these ML accelerators, ensuring seamless task switching between cores without performance degradation.

The M4’s ten-core GPU builds on the M3’s architecture and introduces dynamic caching, hardware-accelerated ray tracing and mesh shading. These features, previously found in the M3, are now available on the iPad and promise improved graphics performance.

How does the Apple M4 CPU perform?

Apple M4 Geekbench Score Gary explains

Andy Walker / Android Authority

How do all these improvements translate? Our Geekbench 6 scores show that the M4 outperforms its predecessors on single-threaded and multi-threaded tasks. The single-threaded scores for the nine-core and ten-core versions exceed those of the M3, M2 and M1. The ten-core version outperforms the nine-core variant and previous generations in multi-threaded tasks.

Apple m4 geekbench score single threaded by clock speed, Gary explains

Andy Walker / Android Authority

Interestingly, the M1, M2 and M3 show similar performance levels when I normalize the single-threaded scores by clock speed. However, the M4 shows a significant jump, indicating substantial microarchitectural improvements beyond higher clock speeds.

Apple m4 geekbench score multithreaded Gary explains

Andy Walker / Android Authority

Compared to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Plus and X Elite, the M4 holds its own. The Snapdragon X Plus, with its ten performance cores, differs slightly from the nine-core variant of the M4. However, the ten-core version of the M4 competes closely with the Snapdragon X Elite. The real test will come when these processors are available in real devices, allowing for comprehensive power efficiency comparisons.

Looking ahead, we can expect several M4 variants, such as the M4 Pro and M4 Max, possibly with more cores and higher performance. Additionally, the M4 architecture could make its way into future iPhone models, possibly as the A18 SoC, bringing Arm v9 capabilities to Apple’s mobile devices.

The M4 processor represents a significant advancement in Apple’s chip technology, offering improved performance, improved ML capabilities and robust graphics support. Whether you’re considering an upgrade or just interested in the latest technology, the M4 is a remarkable development in the world of processors.

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