Mysterious New 'Compute Module' Found in Apple Beta Code
An all-new "compute module" device has been spotted in Apple beta code, hinting that new hardware may soon be on the way.
The new "ComputeModule" device class was spotted in Apple's iOS 16.4 developer disk image from the Xcode 16.4 beta by 9to5Mac, indicating that it runs iOS or a variant of it. The code suggests that Apple has at least two different compute modules in development with the identifiers "ComputeModule13,1" and "ComputeModule13,3."
The modules' purpose is unclear, but speculation argues that they are designed for the Apple silicon Mac Pro – potentially serving as a solution to enable a modular interface for swappable hardware components or add additional compute power via technologies like Swift Distributed Actors. There is also a chance that the compute modules could be designed for Apple's upcoming mixed-reality headset or something else entirely.
Yesterday, recent Apple Bluetooth 5.3 filings were uncovered, a move that often precedes the launch of new products, so the compute module finding could be the latest indication that new Apple hardware is likely on the horizon.
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Top Rated Comments
Apple has the best design, yes. However, Apple has been stagnant for a while. The M1 was a great start but it slowly faded. Transition is still not complete and Apple can't compete with high end GPU cards. HW Raytracing is still missing among other things. Sure, for video editing etc. their dedicated encoders help massively but overall they didn't overtake the market nor do they have the most powerful silicon. What they do have is the best performance per watt but thats not enough when you need to get the job done and the hardware&software combo is basically not working as good.
There is a reason why any serious 3D/VFX artist can't use Macs for work as its designed for it nor there is support. Apple always boasts about great relationship with this vendor or that vendor but they are not pushing anything. Maya is industry standard for 3D and yet most VFX houses use Linux and PC as the support is lacking heavily.
Nvidia smokes Apple out of the water on pretty much everything related to 3D. Just look how Apple killed Shake which at one point was industry standard.
Don't get me wrong, I love my Apple computer and Apple stuff but I'm also being realistic and critical.
M transition was a great start but thats about it. Apple is stagnant - just look how they updated one product with M2 chip and left iMac for example without anything. Some of their upgrades (like ram/ssd) are insanely expensive compared to alternatives and because they switched away from Intel we have to fork out money to Apple as we can't upgrade it ourselves cheaper. (27" iMac was awesome for ram upgrades!)
They charge $400 just so you have height adjustable stand for your monitor - that is not innovation, that is pure insult.
So, Apple does few things well but overall they are stagnant. Lets be more critical as Apple needs to know that they can't get away with anything
There is a mysterious section of 16 extra (32 total) Neural Engine matrix cores turned off in software in the M1 Max (64 NE cores in the Ultra). They take up a fair amount of space on the die. It is like they are scaling the NE cores 1-to-1 with the number of GPU cores. They are not used for binning and macOS hides the extras right after boot so they don't show up in hardware reports. Hardware ray-tracing is primarily a matrix math problem so the NE cores are potentially relevant.
These cores are smaller and more programmable than what would be in an Nvidia or AMD hardware ray tracing accelerator so they are easy to dismiss at first as unrelated. However, Apple's solution is not going to look much like the incumbents. Apple's future ray tracing tech was licensed from Imagination Technologies in 2020. Rather then cores with a large fixed pipeline like in Nvidia/AMD chips, Apple's chips will have a simpler ray estimator that will get close to finding a ray intersection then they will use the normal GPU compute units to refine that result down to the final answer. The GPU cores can find the intersection much more efficiently when they are starting from an estimate. Possibly these mysterious NE cores that are adept at matrix math will be used for the intersection estimators that then hand off to standard GPU cores. I think the fact that they are 1-to-1 with GPU cores and perform the right type of math makes it pretty credible this could line up with this algorithm. The details of Imagination's algorithm are likely to run better on a GPU of Apple's design that heavily uses on-core caches over the immediate-mode rendering style (using GPU RAM heavily as scratch storage) as employed by AMD/Nvidia.
If this is true, the Apple chip might potentially blow Nvidia/AMD out-of-the-water. An Nvidia chip just uses a small part of its silicon for raytracing while most of it sits idle. The design Apple licensed and may have implemented would use all the cores on the GPU and all the NE cores (including the secret ones) for accelerated ray tracing. There is probably a signifiant software component which is why this tech may have been sitting idle.
There is one other mysterious aspect. Apple was rumored to bring the same tech to iPhone, but apparently they had to postpone the next-gen A-series GPU design a year because hardware raytracing was using too much power. It isn't clear how this GPU relates the the M-series GPU. Possibly the hardware ray tracing algorithm needs more work for mobile devices, but it could be ready for desktop devices including older Apple Silicon devices soon.
There certainly is a fair amount speculation in this take, but the mysterious extra cores and Apple's licensing of Imagination Technologies hardware ray tracing method in 2020 are definite facts.
But dreamers like me are just going to dream of a Raspberry Pi CM4-alike Computer Module with an A15 Bionic instead of a Broadcom.