With Apple entering the fray, the AI ​​chip wars have gone nuclear.

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The artificial intelligence (AI) chip wars have officially kicked into high gear. On Tuesday, Apple ( AAPL ) unveiled its latest iPad Pro lineup, complete with the company's all-new M4 chip. Apple says the processor has a 50% faster CPU than the previous generation Pro's M2 chip, as well as four times the GPU performance of its predecessor.

But Apple focused most of its attention on the M4's neural engine, the part of the chip dedicated to running AI applications. According to the company, the neural engine in the M4 is the company's fastest ever, and is more powerful than any neural processing unit available on today's AI PCs.

All of this sounds like Apple puffing its chest out at the competition, and it is to an extent. But it also shows that we're entering a new era of PC marketing focused on the promise of creative AI applications running directly on our machines, rather than in the cloud.

Microsoft ( MSFT ) is already leading the AI ​​PCs category with Intel ( INTC ), AMD ( AMD ), Qualcomm ( QCOM ), and Nvidia ( NVDA ), and with Apple entering the fray, it's a battle. Which company is new? AI Champ has officially started.

AIPC, or in the case of the Apple AI iPad or AIMac, is to be able to run smaller versions of the larger language models that power apps like ChatGPT, Microsoft's Copilot, and Google's Gemini. are In fact, Google ( GOOG , GOOGL ) is already running a version of its Gemini model called the Gemini Nano on its Pixel smartphones.

Apple's M4 chip brings with it increased AI capabilities, which could hint at what's to come at WWDC next month. (Photo: Apple) (apple)

AI PCs are, in general, PCs that include neural processing units (NPUs), or in Apple's case, a neural engine. These are essentially parts of a chip dedicated to powering AI applications. Intel's Core Ultra chips, which it debuted in December, feature its own NPUs, while AMD has been showing chips with its XDNA AI engine since May 2023. Qualcomm, for its part, has joined the fray with the Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite. X Plus chips.

All of these chips should end up in Windows PCs on store shelves by the end of the year. Microsoft is already banking on AI PCs being a runaway success, even introducing a dedicated Windows keyboard button for its AI-powered Copilot software. This is the first new keyboard button in nearly 30 years.

Apple, on the other hand, has been building its neural engine into chips since launching its A11 processor in the iPhone X in 2017. The company has regularly touted the capabilities of its neural engine over the years, but the M4 marked the chip's debut. For the first time Apple has started throwing out key performance metrics.

During its press event unveiling the M4, Apple asserted that not only has it been developing its chips with neural processing engines for years, but that the M4 is capable of running 38 trillion operations per second (TOPS). keeps TOPS is more or less a measure of how well a chip can handle AI tasks.

Qualcomm, for its part, says its Snapdragon X Elite and X Plus chips offer 45 TOPS performance. And according to CNET, Intel and AMD chips have 34 and 38 tops, respectively.

Qualcomm on Wednesday announced its latest chips designed to run on Windows laptops, targeting Intel and Nvidia. (Photo: Qualcomm) (Qualcomm)

You can't mention AI performance without talking about Nvidia, but it's almost unfair to compare its chips to the competition. This is because Nvidia's graphics chips are dedicated to graphics processing and can be programmed to run AI apps. But because they're not multi-purpose chips like Apple, Intel, AMD, and Qualcomm, they're far more capable. In fact, Nvidia claims its laptop chips offer 20x to 60x the performance of competing neural processing units.

The thing is, there's a new status quo for these tech companies to contend with, and you can bet they'll do just that. The fact that Apple already came out swinging with its measurements is proof enough.

What does this mean for the average user? Not so much yet. Generative AI apps running on PCs and Macs and iPads are still few and far between. Until now, there are programs that help you manipulate photos and videos or track your eye movements in video chat apps.

But there's still no killer app that makes me run out the door to get an AI PC. That could all change in the coming weeks, though. That's because Microsoft and Apple are set to kick off their annual developer conferences, where they're expected to launch a slew of AI apps and services, and at least some of them. Must run on their respective devices.

How well they manage to persuade users to pony up for AI PCs and the like, however, will depend on whether they're actually useful or not.

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Email Daniel Hawley at dhowley@yahoofinance.com. Follow him on Twitter. @DanielHowley.

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