Friday, June 21, 2024

Apple M4 chip: price, performance, release date and more

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A person uses a MacBook Air at Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference (WWDC) in 2022.Apple

Rumors are spreading that Apple is working on a new M4 chip that will potentially offer next-generation performance to Apple’s Macs and iPads. But as with so much in the land of hearsay, concrete details are few and far between.

Contents

  • Price and release date
  • Performance and features
  • Which devices will get the M4?

If you feel adrift without a compass and want to know what to expect, you’re in the right place. We’ve gathered up all the latest M4 chip rumors in one place, giving you everything you need to know about what’s coming next for Apple silicon. Give our guide a read and you’ll be up to speed in no time.

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Price and release date

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Normally, we would expect the M4 chip to launch around fall 2024, as that would be about a year since the M3 series was unveiled. Anything sooner would be very surprising and might leave buyers of M3 Macs feeling a little put out.

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Yet that’s exactly what might happen. Bloomberg journalist Mark Gurman has claimed that there’s a good chance Apple will reveal an M4 iPad Pro at its Let Loose event on May 7. That would be weird for all kinds of reasons, not least because it would be the first time an iPad would get new-generation Apple silicon chip before a Mac. But if it does come to pass, it would mean an earlier M4 launch date than anyone expected.

Turning to M4 Macs, the earliest we’re likely to see those is probably in the fall. Gurman has said Apple wants to launch the M4 iPad Pro in May so that it can talk about its iOS 18 artificial intelligence (AI) software updates “without distraction” at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) starting on June 10. Presumably, that means there won’t be any hardware at the event, which precludes Macs from making an appearance. That means the regular fall launch window is the most likely time we’ll see the M4 appear inside a Mac.

In fact, we might have to wait longer than that. Gurman himself has said he expects the first M4 Macs to debut around the end of the year, while industry analysts at Canalys have pegged the first quarter of 2025 as a probable release date. The most powerful M4 chip — the M4 Ultra — probably won’t be seen until mid or late 2025, given that Apple normally releases its top-end Macs around this time.

Performance and features

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One reason the M3 series of chips had notable performance improvements compared to the M2 was that they were made using a 3nm process, as opposed to the M2’s 5nm process. This upgraded process meant that the chips could offer greater output while also tuning up efficiency in a double whammy of benefits to users.

When it comes to the M4, we’re not expecting a huge change from the current 3nm process, as Apple isn’t expected to debut its first 2nm chips until 2025 at the earliest. But there are rumors that Apple could use a tweaked 3nm process to make the M4 series, which would bring a few optimizations here and there.

However, none of this means the M4 is going to be a dud. Taiwan’s United Daily News has claimed Apple is going to “significantly increase the number of built-in AI computing cores” in the M4 chip. It’s not clear if that’s referring to the built-in Neural Engine (which focuses on AI tasks),or the chip’s CPU and GPU cores more generally, but either way, the effect on performance could be very positive. Any upgrades to the Neural Engine in particular could make the M4’s AI capabilities faster and more efficient.

Apple

Speaking of AI, Apple is reportedly going to put a heavy focus on this area at it WWDC, with a huge range of new AI features expected to come to iOS 18 and the next version of macOS. Rumors claim that Apple wants its products to perform most AI tasks on-device, and if that’s the case, it’s going to need chips that can handle the increased workload. This is something the M4 is expected to excel at.

When it comes to the most powerful chip in the M4 range (the M4 Ultra), there’s a potentially momentous change that might be on the way. As claimed by YouTube channel Max Tech, the M3 Max reportedly does not feature Apple’s UltraFusion tech. This is what has previously allowed Apple to stitch two M2 Max chips together to create the M2 Ultra. If the M3 Max doesn’t have this feature, it suggests the M3 Ultra (and, by extension, the M4 Ultra) will be its own standalone chip rather than two Max chips fused together. That could mean better performance scaling compared to previous generations.

We’re also hoping Apple will bump up the base memory in its MacBooks from 8GB to 16GB. As the memory is built directly into Apple’s chips, that’s something that could mean a sizable change in the M4 series. If Apple is serious about AI, this is an upgrade that could really help.

Which devices will get the M4?

Apple

We can make an educated guess as to which Apple products will end up with the M4 chip, as well as which will get the higher-end variations like the M4 Pro, M4 Max and M4 Ultra.

Starting with the M4, this is likely to land in the MacBook Air (both 13-inch and 15-inch sizes), the entry-level 14-inch MacBook Pro, the iMac and the Mac mini. Given the chip will be at the lower end of Apple’s hierarchy, it makes sense to expect it in more consumer-facing devices.

Moving onto the more pro-grade chips, we can expect the M4 Pro to end up in the 16-inch and 14-inch MacBook Pro and the Mac mini as an upgrade variant. The M4 Max, meanwhile, should come to the 16-inch and 14-inch MacBook Pro and the Mac Studio.

Finally, look for the flagship M4 Ultra inside the Mac Studio and Mac Pro. Those aren’t expected until some point in the second half of 2025, though, so there will probably be quite a wait until we see them in action.

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