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What Are AI PCs, And Are They Worth the Money? Clues From Microsoft, Qualcomm and PC Partners

May 21, 2024 by Joe Panettieri

Microsoft, Qualcomm and multiple PC partners have unveiled Copilot+ PCs -- which are designed to run "AI-intensive" applications. The PCs feature Qualcomm's Snapdragon X Series processor -- known as a neural processing unit (NPU).

Rival chip makers AMD and Intel were noticeably absent from the launch announcement, which surfaced at the Microsoft Build 2024 conference in Seattle, Washington.

Yusuf Mehdi, executive VP, Microsoft

According to Microsoft: "Copilot+ PCs are a new class of Windows 11 PCs that are powered by a turbocharged neural processing unit (NPU)—a specialized computer chip for AI-intensive processes like real-time translations and image generation—that can perform more than 40 trillion operations per second (TOPS)."

The PCs, set to ship on June 18, will start at $999. Key providers will include Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Microsoft and Samsung, among others.

AMD and Intel - Stay Tuned: Intel and AMD were not part of the launch announcement -- though the chip companies apparently will join the party at a later date.

In an FAQ, Microsoft stated: "Yes. We are partnering with Intel and AMD to bring Copilot+ PC experiences to PCs with their processors in the future."

Still, a launch date for the AMD- and Intel-powered devices was not disclosed. Moreover, it's unclear if the AI-positioned PCs will provide enough ROI to accelerate the PC refresh cycle.

AI PCs: What About Sustainability, Energy Efficiency?

The Copilot+ PC launch announcement apparently didn't say much about sustainability or energy efficiency -- two major themes that have dominated generative AI conversations over the past year.

Sam Altman
Sam Altman, CEO, OpenAI

The background: Artificial intelligence has been around for decades. But the latest AI hype cycle started when OpenAI unveiled ChatGPT in November 2022. The generative AI application became an instant hit. Cloud service providers (CSPs) and data center companies spotted the GenAI trend, and began to upgrade their infrastructure with AI-optimized GPUs from Nvidia.

The downside? Some critics worry about AI-centric data centers demanding more and more of the world's energy. To wit, AI could consume up to 3.5% of the world’s electricity by 2030, Gartner predicts. And OpenAI CEO Sam Altman says the world will need major energy breakthroughs in order for data centers to power and unlock AI's full potential.

Copilot+ PCs and Energy Efficiency: Dell Touts Its Position

Meanwhile, PC makers are striving to embed AI capabilities into desktops, laptops and mobile devices. But it's unclear if those devices will somehow need more power to run AI-designed applications.

In an expansive launch blog from Microsoft Executive VP Yusuf Mehdi, the word "energy" was only mentioned once. The reference involved Dell's Inspiron 14 and Inspiron 14 Plus computers -- which "feature a Snapdragon X Plus and are crafted with lightweight, low carbon aluminum and are energy efficient with EPEAT Gold rating."

Sam Burd, Dell
Sam Burd, president, Client Solutions Group, Dell

Dell's own launch announcement, from Client Solutions Group President Sam Burd, reinforced the low-emissions messaging.

A few additional items to note:

  • We don't know if sustainability and energy efficiency were emphasized on-stage at the launch announcement.
  • We don't know if AI PCs will deliver on their hype. And we'll be watching to see PC makers begin to emphasize sustainability and energy efficiency in their AI messaging.
  • Most major PC makers -- Apple, HP, Lenovo and so on -- have launched sustainability initiatives for their partners in recent years.

We'll be watching to see if that sustainable PC messaging extends into the AI era. And we'll be listening to hear if AI PCs are worth the money.

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