What is Apple’s new M7 coprocessor and what does it do?

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Apple’s A7 CPU promises to make the iPhone 5S the fastest yet, but it’s only part of a processor tandem that the company introduced with their latest smartphone. Apple is also touting a new M7 coprocessor, and we don’t blame you if you’re not quite sure how it improves on previous iPhone models. So let’s dive a bit deeper into what the M7 is and what, exactly, it does.

So what’s a coprocessor, anyway? As the name implies, it’s a secondary chip that assists the primary CPU in performing certain functions. In this way, it is able to lighten the processing load by taking over specific tasks that might otherwise be assigned to the main chip. These tasks can vary depending on the system, but they are typically of the repetitive, CPU intensive sort.

In the case of Apple’s M7, the chip takes over the processing of input signals from the iPhone 5S’ motion sensors (hence the ‘M’ in the chip’s name). This includes accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass data, all of which were handled by the main CPU in previous iPhone releases.

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So what are the benefits of offloading motion sensor data from the A7 chip to the M7? There are several. Placing those tasks on a separate chip tailored to computing motion data frees up the A7 to focus on other functions. This not only means that the A7 can perform to its fullest, but the lower power consumption of the M7 also means fitness apps that track your movements should use up less battery.

But that’s not all the M7 offers. Because the chip is dedicated to reading motion data, it can focus on using this data in better, more efficient ways. This includes everything from determining if you are driving or walking to smartly and automatically switch navigation modes to determining when you are moving, preventing your phone from trying to engage WiFi networks. The latter, again, can do wonders to conserve battery life.

What first seems like a blip on the radar compared to other new features like Touch ID is actually one of the main reasons the iPhone 5S will be the most powerful smartphone Apple has ever produced. As a coprocessor should, the M7 handles the often mundane tasks we don’t put much thought into, and that’s the way it should be. But if you notice a bit of extra zip or a longer lasting battery, chances are you can thank Apple’s new coprocessor for that.



  • Xennex1170

    Ok, now THIS I can actually consider an innovation though seemingly an extrapolation of offloading certain types of computation to the GPU.. Well done..

    • Donovan Shore

      I guess the world and I have a different definition of innovation.

      Now I will be the first to admit I am primarily an Android fan, yet also I am glad and surprised by the decision to move to 64bit computing. I wouldn’t call it innovative, a huge step forward though.

      But, as many Android fans know, today’s phones and OS’s are more like full blown PC OS’s. The theory and functionality behind it all is nearly identical at times. So we can pretty much predict anything that furthered the development of desktop computing will eventually make it’s way into a phone.

      For this I not surprised that 64bit computing made it’s way to phones. And this is also why I can’t call it “innovative” I can however commend Apple for pulling the trigger and making that step.

      • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

        LOL
        Ignorance at its finest.

        • Donovan Shore

          Really, go ahead. Explain bud. A one line insult is not an argument.

        • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

          Ok, you go ahead.

        • Donovan Shore

          You are unbelievable.

        • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

          Ummm…did you ignore my comment?

        • Donovan Shore

          No, but basically. I explained my feelings up above. you came back with and insult. I asked you to explain your side, and then you told “OK, Go Ahead”

          So yeah. Ignoring. Because it and you add no intellectual value to my day. Linking a wiki definition to a word yet not describing how you feel it fits into the argument is not value either.

        • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

          Why is it you cannot face the FACTS?

          Please explain.

        • Donovan Shore

          OMG man. What facts do you want and what facts have you provided. I told you “my opinion” which makes it a FACT that it is only an opinion that is mine. What have you provided to the conversation besides a wiki link that to a definition of a word that also would and can be used against the very argument that I fell you are getting at. Present your side of the story and lets go from there or go troll someone else.

        • Xennex1170

          I think this line in the wiki article you posted is simple and to the point. “Innovation differs from improvement in that innovation refers to the notion of doing something different rather than doing the same thing better.” 32-bit to 64-bit doesn’t seem to fit the ‘innovation’ moniker if you agree with that statement.

        • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

          Agreed.

          But “iPhone 5s” is the first mobile telephone with a “package on package” “system on a chip” with that can “compute” with 64 bits. There are general purpose registers that are 64 bits wide, hence this being referred to as “64-bit”.

    • Azmon Rougier

      both motorola and samsung have previously done this…

      • Xennex1170

        I was not aware of that. Good to know.. What did they call their dedicated motion co-processor?

      • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

        Could you explain?

        • Azmon Rougier

          the concept of “big.LITTLE” computing is hardly new and FAR from innovative in 2013…

        • Xennex1170

          Being snarky wasn’t my intention.. Sorry you took it that way.. Just was surprised to hear that it was done before.

          After perusing the wiki article you linked to it doesn’t seem to pertain to offloading a particular type of calculation (sensor) to a dedicated chip.. The big.LITTLE seems to be a way for processes to be completely switched to the larger more power hungry core when the workload becomes too heavy for the smaller one. I get the impression that both are not used simultaneously.

        • Azmon Rougier

          well that’s what assuming gets me right?

          it is done simultaneously as lower level tasks get funneled to the less power hungry core while higher level tasks are concurrently running…

          a good example of this would be motorola’s X8 chip which enables their active notifications and “always on” voice commands…

        • Xennex1170

          Hmm.. I see that Global Task Scheduling is what you are referring to. I can see how the big.LITTLE is more flexible in terms of the types of tasks both cores can perform. After think on this a bit more I think it’s still cool that they have a dedicated processor for only motion sensing tasks but I now realize it is not really an innovation since I now remember my C64 way back in early 80′s having the SID chip which was dedicated to sound processing. The C128 now seems more impressive for the time considering that it actually had 3 separate CPUs each dedicated for CP/M, C64 mode and C128 mode all sharing the same memory.