AI PCs are coming. What does that really mean?

AI PCs are coming, powered by Intel Ultra H (Meteor Lake), Windows 11 and Microsoft CoPilot. What does that mean for Joe and Jane Average? Precisely nothing!

CyberShack ventured that 2024 would be the year of AI-washing. Everything from a toothbrush to a powerful PC will claim ‘AI’, as the term is so embryonic makers can get away with anything. If you want a quick primer on AI read What is AI (Artificial Intelligence), how will it affect me?

Not to be too trite, but most AI-washing will mean little, if anything, to us. Except perhaps increased profits from AI PCs and the vast amount of extra personal data that AI will need if it is to be mildly helpful to us.

Intel Ultra H processors – AI MK 1

Intel has introduced a new version of its laptop x86 processor with its Intel Arc Graphics GPU and a new separate NPU (Neural Processing Unit). The NPU supports AI software frameworks, including OpenVINO, WindowsML, DirectML, and ONNX RT to support CoPilot. Tellingly, these processors support up to 96GB of LPDDR5/x 7467 MT/s RAM.

There is also a power-efficient Ultra U 5 and 7 range. These are not AI-equipped but can run basic AI on-device.

What is Windows CoPilot?

At its base level, it is an AI-powered ‘assistant’ similar in concept to Samsung Galaxy S24-series AI. What is it all about? or My Pixel 8 Pro AI just got way better.

It runs on the most recent Intel and AMD x86 hardware because most of the heavy lifting is done in Microsoft’s cloud. The Intel Ultra H NPU processor allows some AI to be done on-device, but most of the work is done in the cloud.

The easiest way to think about it is as a helper. CoPilot can get information, summarise it, and present it in a way that suits you. It can also research and write articles about almost any subject.

It can AI paint (compose a graphic based on your commands), edit photos (unblur, edit, erase objects), and even help protect your PC from downloading malware.

Sounds good? What is the downside?

AI MK 1 PCs have limited resources – memory, CPU and now an NPU. Experts say the GPT-4 AI model has around 1.7 trillion parameters and needs 900GB of memory – clearly beyond a PC. Microsoft PC AI models can run around 7 billion parameters with a dynamic switching between the on-device and the cloud.

Then there is computing power in terms of Trillion Operations per Second (TOPS/INT4). The Intel Ultra H NPU has 10 TOPS, well below Microsoft’s published 40 TOPs specification to run on-device. That is for future generations.

Finally, is the software’s ability to use an NPU. Intel is working with hundreds of significant software app developers to include more than 300 AI-accelerated features for audio effects, content creation, gaming, security, streaming, video collaboration, etc. Companies already involved in the program include Adobe, Audacity, BlackMagic, BufferZone, CyberLink, DeepRender, Fortemedia, MAGIX, Rewind AI, Skylum, Topaz, VideoCom, Webex, Wondershare Filmora, XSplit, and Zoom.

But there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Windows apps, and the vast majority will never be updated to use AI features. Sure, apps under development today can access an AI feature set, but that will take years to make any difference.

CyberShack’s view – AI PCs are coming. Buy a dumb one unless you really need embryonic AI features.

Joe and Jane Average need a Windows desktop, laptop, PC, or Mac. Since we don’t do ‘Macs’, let’s focus on what you need.

CyberShack has a guide that will soon be updated to include AI PCs. Read The right Windows laptop for you – saving money by avoiding upselling.

Any PC you buy today will run basic on-cloud AI, so avoid AI PCs unless you have a specific need. Don’t get us wrong – we love technological advances, and AI PCs are here to stay. Eventually, every new model will support AI. Microsoft is banking on it.