Apple M4 vs Apple M3 – How Do the Two Apple Silicones Compare?

Apple M3 vs M4

Apple has unveiled its newest processor, the Apple M4,¬†with¬†the¬†launch¬†of¬†the new iPad Pro.¬†This¬†is the first time the company has packed a new chip inside a tablet¬†before¬†in a MacBook. So,¬†it goes without saying that¬†there’s a good amount of anticipation on how much of a performance upgrade it can bring when it’s in a laptop. Let’s give you an idea about it by comparing it to its predecessor, the Apple M3.

First, Meet the Apple M4

The M4 marks the exciting fourth generation of Apple’s custom-designed M-series system-on-a-chip (SoC).¬†It boasts a powerful CPU with either nine or ten cores, depending on the configuration.¬†This processing muscle¬†comes with¬†a capable 10-core GPU to meet all your graphical needs. There’s a hefty 16-core Neural Engine too. It’s there for tackling demanding tasks.

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Currently,¬†the 2024 iPad Pro is the only device rocking the Apple M4 chip.¬†You can get it in two configurations. Built on a cutting-edge fabrication process, the M4 offers a slight efficiency edge over its M3 predecessor (we’ll delve deeper into that soon).

The Apple M4 packs a whopping 28 billion transistors, a significant jump from the M3’s 25 billion. It also benefits from a wider memory bandwidth of 120 Gbps. So, it’s giving you a 20 Gbps advantage over the M3.

Apple M4 display engine

Adding another layer of intrigue, Apple has equipped the SoC with a dedicated display engine.¬†Currently,¬†this engine fine-tunes the visuals on the iPad Pro’s stunning Tandem OLED display.¬†For all the graphics enthusiasts¬†out there,¬†the Apple M4 boasts hardware-accelerated ray tracing.¬†It also has mesh shading capabilities.

Comparing the Apple M4 with Its Predecessor

It goes without saying that¬†the Apple M4 promises a significant leap over the M2-powered iPad Pro. But the real question remains: how does it fare against the M3 that never graced the iPad lineup? While Apple hasn’t directly compared the two, let’s dive into their specifications for a closer look.

A Solid Boost On CPU Performance

Both the Apple M4 and M3 chips rely on a combination of performance and efficiency cores. Performance cores deliver blazing-fast speeds for demanding tasks, while efficiency cores excel at handling lighter workloads while conserving battery life.

Here’s where the M4 starts to pull ahead. According to benchmark results, the Apple M4 boasts a base clock speed of 4.40 GHz, exceeding the M3’s 4.05 GHz.¬†¬†This, coupled with the potential for more cores in the M4, translates to a significant performance boost.

Core configuration of Apple M4

The Apple M4 comes in two flavors.¬†There’s one with¬†a 9-core CPU¬†config,¬†featuring¬†3¬†performance¬†cores¬†and¬†4¬†efficiency cores.¬†The second is a 10-core CPU with an extra performance core. On the other hand, the M3 features only¬†8¬†cores. Half¬†are dedicated¬†to performance, and the other half handle less intensive tasks.

Independent benchmarks paint a clear picture. Tom’s Guide compared the 2024 iPad Pro with the M4 (10-core CPU, 16GB RAM) to the 13-inch MacBook Air with the M3. The M4-powered iPad Pro dominated, scoring¬†a whopping¬†21% higher in single-core tests and a commendable 20% lead in multi-core tests.

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Another benchmark, discovered by MacRumors, revealed that even the lower-end 9-core Apple M4 outperforms the M3 by roughly 13% in multi-core tasks. While these scores come from different devices, they provide a valuable glimpse into the M4’s potential performance, which should translate to a smoother and faster user experience in real-world scenarios.

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The performance gains, ranging from 13% to 20%,¬†might¬†seem modest on paper.¬†However,¬†these improvements shouldn’t be downplayed. The M4 delivers a noticeable power boost for demanding tasks like video editing, 3D rendering, and high-performance gaming.

There’s a Boost In GPU Performance Too

While the Apple M4 boasts a significant CPU leap over the M3, the story with the graphics processing unit (GPU) is a bit more nuanced. Apple claims the M4’s 10-core GPU builds upon the architecture introduced with the M3. On paper, the two GPUs appear¬†quite¬†similar.

Both the M4 and M3 offer 10 cores and support advanced features like hardware-accelerated ray tracing and mesh shading, bringing enhanced visuals to the iPad for the first time (although these features were already available on M3-powered MacBooks). The M4 also introduces Dynamic Caching for optimized performance.

Apple M4 GPU

Apple touts the M4’s GPU as¬†being¬†four times faster in rendering¬†compared to¬†the M2 chip.¬†Drawing on this information and considering the M3’s reported 1.8x speed increase over the M2, a logical deduction would be that the M4’s GPU delivers roughly double the performance of the M3.

However, real-world results may¬†not perfectly¬†mirror these calculations.¬†Early Metal benchmark scores reported by 9to5Mac show a more modest 13% improvement for the M4’s GPU.¬†This¬†suggests an incremental upgrade rather than a revolutionary leap.

On a brighter note, the M4’s media engine¬†takes a step forward with hardware-accelerated support for 8K video in H.264, HEVC, ProRes, and ProRes RAW formats.¬†This¬†is a clear improvement over the M3 chip’s capabilities.

About the Neural Engine Inside the Apple M4

With the growing prominence of generative AI features, Apple has¬†placed significant emphasis on¬†the M4’s Neural Engine. This powerhouse boasts 16 cores and is capable of a staggering 38 trillion operations per second (TOPS). In comparison, the M3’s 16-core Neural Engine reaches 18 TOPS. Apple confidently declares the M4’s Neural Engine¬†to be¬†“faster than the neural processing unit of any AI PC today.”

Neural engine of Apple M4

However, a report by Tom’s Hardware throws a curveball, highlighting that Apple uses different computing standards to measure the M3 and M4’s Neural Engine performance. The M3’s rating is based on FP16 (half-precision floating-point), while the M4 leverages INT8 (Integer 8-bit). When adjusted to a common INT8 standard, Tom’s Hardware suggests the M4’s Neural Engine offers a modest 5% edge over the M3.

Another report by MacWorld indicates that the M4 achieves a roughly 12% advantage in Geekbench ML tests compared to the baseline M3.¬†It’s important to note that the¬†M3 tested likely had 16GB of RAM, so a variant with 8GB might show lower performance.

In conclusion, the M4’s Neural Engine undoubtedly surpasses the M3’s, but the margin isn’t as dramatic as Apple’s initial claims might suggest.¬†The M4 delivers a¬†clear¬†performance boost for AI-powered tasks, but¬†for most users,¬†the difference may¬†not¬†be¬†a deal-breaker.

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