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Apple claims its M4 chip's AI will obliterate PCs. Nah, not really

Apple M4 with chip stuffImage: Apple

Apple unveiled its latest Arm chip, the Apple M4, claiming that it will offer more AI performance than any AI PC on the market today. And that’s true — at least for a month or so.

Weirdly, Apple launched the new M4 chip inside the Apple iPad Pro, which will cost anywhere from $999 to a whopping $1,499. We assume that it will appear in an even more expensive Mac a bit later.

Macworld has a deep dive on the new Apple M4, which includes four performance cores, six efficiency cores and a 10-core GPU. (The GPU is the same as the existing M3.) In addition, there’s a new Neural Engine, the Apple NPU which executives say delivers 38 trillion operations per second (TOPS) from 16 cores.

As you may be aware, AI is hot right now. And chip manufacturers have been feverishly measuring their AI TOPS performance compared to one another. Tim Millet, Apple vice president of platform architecture, claimed Tuesday that the M4 is “more powerful than any neural processing unit in any PC today.”

And that’s true. For right now.

Unfortunately, Qualcomm executives are already on record claiming that their Snapdragon X Elite’s NPU delivers 45 TOPS. And while PCs with the Snapdragon X Elite inside them have yet to ship, they’re expected to be announced in as little as two weeks, in a launch event on May 20. There, Microsoft is expected to show off the Microsoft Surface Pro 10 and Surface Laptop 6 with Snapdragon X Elite chips inside them. Asus, meanwhile, has essentially confirmed that its own “AI PC,” most likely with a Snapdragon X Elite chip inside, will be announced on the same day.

Microsoft’s new Surfaces aren’t expected to ship until later in June, and it’s unknown when the new Asus PCs will reach store shelves. But Apple’s lead, if it has one, won’t last long. Of course, AMD and Intel have next-generation hardware waiting in the wings, with Intel promising up to three times the AI performance in its Lunar Lake chip that will debut before the end of the year. (To be fair, three times the current Intel Core Ultra “Meteor Lake” NPU TOPS, 11 TOPS, would be 33 TOPS.)

Millet also claimed that the 3nm M4 delivers “the same performance but at a quarter of the power” as a leading chip in a thin-and-light laptop. That’s so vague as to be meaningless. But it wouldn’t be an Apple launch without a tasty helping of FUD, would it?

As PCWorld’s senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats. He has formerly written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.

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