The M4 Chip Could Be Coming Later This Year — With an AI Twist

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The paint is barely dry on Apple’s latest M3 MacBooks, but according to the latest insider info from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, the company may already have its next-generation M4 chip waiting in the wings.

In a new report today, Gurman revealed that despite releasing its M3 chip less than six months ago, Apple is already preparing to begin production on its first M4 processors in what could be variations of the expected M4, M4 Pro, and M4 Max trifecta.

While it shouldn’t come as a big surprise when Gurman says that Apple will “update every Mac model with it,” as that’s been par for the course since the M1 came along in 2020, it sounds like Apple might be working on an accelerated timeline this time around.

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The key features of the M4 chip won’t just be faster performance but also an opportunity for Apple to catch up on the AI forefront, where many industry watchers see it as behind the curve compared to rivals like Google and Microsoft.

Although Google has been playing with Tensor chips in its Pixel phones since 2021, neither of the rival tech giants has any of their silicon in the desktop space. That means an AI-focused M4 could give Apple a significant edge when it comes to building its generative AI features into the Mac and, by extension, the higher-end iPads, which typically inherit the same M-series silicon.

It may be telling that Apple’s M3 chips, which debuted at its Scary Fast event on October 31, didn’t bring any significant performance improvements over the M2. If anything, the big news at last fall’s event was the elimination of the oddball 13-inch MacBook Pro in favor of a 14-inch model that featured the standard M3 chip but otherwise boasted all the same specs as its M3 Pro and M3 Max counterparts.

If Apple is already preparing to fabricate M4 chips, that suggests these have been on the drawing board since long before the M3 arrived, making that chip mostly a stopgap to tide folks over. As of March, the entire MacBook family is in M3 territory, as is the 24-inch iMac, which skipped the M2 chip. We have yet to see a Mac mini, Mac Studio, or Mac Pro get the M3 treatment, although that could still happen during this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).

According to Gurman’s sources, Apple’s M4 roadmap will kick off with mostly the same Macs that heralded the arrival of the M3 last fall: the full slate of 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models and at least one new iMac. However, the Mac mini is also rumored to be on the docket, suggesting that one may skip the M3 entirely.

The rest of the Mac family will have to wait until 2025 to see the M4 chip, but it’s expected to come to all of them, beginning with new 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Air in a spring refresh, a mid-year Mac Studio that will likely get the M4 Ultra, and a Mac Pro later in 2025. That last system could also have another surprise in store with the introduction of an “M4 Extreme” chip, which would combine the power of two M4 Ultras.

Sources indicate that the M4 chip line currently includes three models, codenamed “Donan” for the entry-level version (likely the base M4) and two higher-end chips dubbed “Brava” and “Hidra.” On the surface, these would seem to be the M4 Pro and M4 Max, but the latter could be something beyond the M-Series Max chips that we know today. Gurman notes that the M4 Brava is expected to be used in the high-end MacBooks and a “pricier version” of the Mac mini. The Mac Studio is being tested with “a variation of the M4 Brava,” while the top-tier M4 Hidra is supposedly being reserved for the Mac Pro.

Apple’s plan here may be to set the Mac Pro apart in a new way. When Apple finally brought Apple silicon to its most expensive Mac, many were disappointed that it didn’t offer any significant advantages over the Mac Studio. Even the expansion capabilities of the Intel Mac Pro were somewhat hampered by the nature of Apple silicon.

WWDC2023 Mac Pro M2 Ultra Specs

As Gurman notes, the Mac Pro may be the lowest-selling model in the lineup, but it “has a vocal fan base.” The new Mac Pro with the M4 Hidra could support up to a half-terabyte of memory. That would be a significant upgrade from the 192GB cap on the current M2 Ultra version. Although it would still fall short of the 1.5TB that the Intel Mac Pro can handle, it’s probably safe to say that the significantly faster integrated RAM used by Apple silicon could make up for that.

While we won’t likely see the first Macs sporting the M4 chip before the fall, Apple could announce its plans for the next-generation chips at this year’s WWDC since it plans to “highlight the AI processing capabilities of the components and how they’ll integrate with the next version of macOS.”

[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]

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