Apple WWDC 2018 hardware hope: A ‘NPU’ family
In recent years Apple have used the keynote presentation of their annual Worldwide Developers Conference as a showcase for new hardware launches. This year Intel’s delays in producing significant CPU updates makes it less likely we will see new MacBooks, Macs or Mac Pros this time.
As this event is for those making software and hardware for iOS, tvOS, watchOS and macOS devices, I hope Apple launches a new hardware plan.
Yesterday Arm announced three new chip families for smaller devices: a new CPU, a new GPU and a new VPU (video processor).
AnandTech reports that Arm’s new VPU includes hardware support for VP9 10-bit, H.264 10-bit and HEVC 10-bit – with the ability to play 8K 60fps video.
In concert with their display processor, the new video processor is currently able to handle HDR10 and HLG formatted HDR video. Meanwhile support for HDR10+ – which is HDR10 with support for dynamic metadata – is set to arrive in the future.
This shows what Apple could be doing with the A-series chips they use in iOS devices (and future VR/AR devices).
The rate at which Apple have improved their A-series CPUs is the envy of phone makers. In September 2017, Wired reported that the new A11 processor in the iPhone 8 and X includes what Apple calls its ‘Neural Engine’:
The engine has circuits tuned to accelerate certain kinds of artificial-intelligence software, called artificial neural networks, that are good at processing images and speech.
Apple said the neural engine would power the algorithms that recognize your face to unlock the phone and transfer your facial expressions onto animated emoji. It also said the new silicon could enable unspecified “other features.”
What if Apple created a very small single-core ‘neural processing unit’ – the N1 NPU?
If N1s are included in all Apple product updates in coming months, it would make simpler for developers to add modern features to their products and services. Including developers within Apple.
Using the cell concept of multiple processing units, the number of N1s used in an Apple device would depend on its power budget, memory and profit margin:
- Apple remote: 1
- Apple Pencil: 1
- Apple Watch: 1-2
- Apple TV: 3-4
- iPhone: 3-4
- Apple VR/AR device: 3-4
- iPhone Plus: 4-6
- Apple TV 4K: 4-6
- iPad: 4-6
- iPhone X: 6-8
- macBook: 6-8
- iPad Pro: 6-8
- Mac mini: 6-16
- iMac: 12-32
- MacBook Pro: 16-24
- Mac Pro: 32-128
New connector for neural processing farms?
Once we having devices with the processing power to deal with the increased demands of modern uses, Apple could facilitate connecting them together for combined power.
Although Apple would prefer for its devices to have no physical hardware connections, for those that would gain from sharing processing power with other devices, it might be worth it. For example, although the new Mac Pro might connect with some devices using multiple Thunderbolt 3 buses, it would be even better if it had a connector that would interface with other Mac Pros – or a stack of new Mac minis that combine together like Lego.
Tune into Apple’s livestream from WWDC18 on Monday to see what is coming.