Computer Electronics

The rise of AI PCs

19 March 2024
AI PCs will require more power, but semiconductor vendors are already developing NPUs and GPUs capable of running these 40 to 80 TOPS. Source: zapp2photo/Adobe Stock

Back in the 1990s, during what is now considered the dawn of the internet, computer makers like Dell and HP were the hottest stocks on Wall Street. PCs were becoming must-have items for consumers and businesses, and the market was growing like wildfire as new adopters were rushing to hop on the information superhighway.

However, after decades of growth, the market plateaued as saturation was reached. By 2010, most people had a desktop, and often a laptop or tablet. Sometime around 2015, the market hit a wall and global PC sales went flat.

It’s 2024 and the industry could be looking at the start of a PC “supercycle,” driven by the launch of PCs with built-in artificial intelligence. The advent of artificial intelligence personal computers (AI PCs) — with specialized system-on-a-chip (SoC) capabilities and neural processing units (NPUs) capable of delivering 40 to 60 tera operations per second (TOPS) — promises to bring about a sea change in tech innovation. Unlike traditional PCs, which rely on central processing units (CPUs) and graphics processing units (GPUs), AI PCs can perform advanced AI tasks locally and seamlessly integrate into operating system and applications.

Industry experts are optimistic that the introduction of AI PCs will kick off a major upgrade cycle and spark significant growth in PC sales throughout 2024. This surge is expected, in part, due to the need to replace an aging installed base of commercial PCs. International Data Corp. (IDC), predicts that PC shipments will rise 3.4% in 2024, marking a turnaround after two consecutive years (16.6% in 2022 and 13.8% in 2023). In addition, AI PCs are expected to lift average selling prices for PCs, providing a revenue boost for PC manufacturers and processor suppliers. Given the global installed base of 1.5 billion PCs that creates an exciting sales opportunity.

Changing user experiences

In the evolution of computing, the transition prompted by the introduction of Wi-Fi moved users from tethered desktops to the freedom of mobile devices. This was a seminal shift that changed how humans interact with technology. Today, industry stands on the brink of a similar disruption brought on by the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI). These devices are positioned to move access to data from a cloud-dependent paradigm to locally accessible, integrated AI capabilities.

Users who now must go to a website or mobile application for a third-party cloud service provider to deliver the AI service (AI-as-a-service), will be able to run AI functions locally and privately on their own computer, wherever and whenever there is a need, without an internet connection. With AI PCs, there won’t be any data-sharing or recurring fees.

The integration of AI into everyday applications, such as Microsoft Office or Excel, enables users to leverage AI assistance without needing to navigate away from their current workspace or incur additional costs. Imagine being on a computer, pulling up a document or spreadsheet, and an AI assistant is there to help craft an outline or metric for a big project. No separate window for ChatGPT or fee for Copilot. Just tap into the AI that is already built into the PC.

The implications of this technological leap are profound for individual consumers and enterprises. On the consumer side, the allure of AI PCs is powerful. Driven by the convenience and enhanced functionality, not to mention the “cool factor,” AI PCs are suddenly ubiquitous. But the bigger potential, however, lies within the enterprise market. It’s costly for companies to license AI services for employees, coupled with legitimate concerns over openly sharing data with cloud AI platforms. AI PCs present a solution to these challenges, offering a cost-effective and secure way to bring AI into the workplace.

For these reasons, it is postulated that when AI PCs are launched, companies across America will go on an AI PC shopping spree. It’s very likely that the next company laptop employees receive will be an AI PC. This translates into explosive growth for the first time in 20 years. Leading technology market analyst, Canalys, recently said that the PC market is set to grow by 8% in 2024 with over 170 million of them AI-capable, while rising another 20% in 2025.

AI PCs will require more power, but semiconductor vendors are already developing NPUs and GPUs capable of running these 40 to 80 TOPS. Source: zapp2photo/Adobe Stock AI PCs will require more power, but semiconductor vendors are already developing NPUs and GPUs capable of running these 40 to 80 TOPS. Source: zapp2photo/Adobe Stock

Powering up AI PCs

The emergence of AI PCs is supported by significant advancements in processors and GPUs, optimized for AI tasks. This includes neural network accelerators and AI-optimized operating systems that dramatically speed up the processing of AI and machine learning algorithms, while AI-optimized operating systems ensure these processes are seamlessly integrated into the user's everyday computing experience. Together they enable sophisticated AI functionalities like real-time language processing and enhanced data privacy, all while reducing reliance on cloud computing and improving device efficiency.

These developments and trends in both hardware and software have been fueled by three primary motivations: enhancing performance, bolstering privacy and security and reducing costs. In general, by processing AI workloads locally, AI PCs eliminate the latency associated with cloud-based computations, offer greater data privacy by keeping sensitive information on the device, and reduce reliance on costly cloud resources.

Advanced processors and GPUs: The development of more powerful and energy-efficient processors, along with GPUs designed specifically for AI and machine learning tasks, enable the processing and analysis of large amounts of data at high speeds, facilitating real-time AI applications. Existing alongside the CPU and GPU on the same chip, designed to offload from the CPU a variety of AI and machine learning workloads, from voice recognition to video analysis and even large language models, at low power, which can improve a laptop’s battery life. The capabilities of AI PCs won’t only rely on a processor’s dedicated engines for all AI workloads. There may be cases where AI applications may benefit more from the CPU or the GPU.

Neural network accelerators: Some AI PCs now include specialized hardware, such as NPUs, that are network accelerators optimized for running deep learning models. They can crunch large amounts of data in parallel for even faster and more efficient AI computations, making sophisticated AI functionalities like natural language processing and image recognition more accessible to the average user.

AI-optimized operating systems and software: Operating systems and software ecosystems have evolved to leverage AI capabilities, with AI-driven features such as predictive text, voice recognition and automated decision-making becoming integrated into the core user experience. For consumers, AI PCs will provide more options to use voice for commands and queries, and even gestures as an input method. AI PCs will also offer things like real-time language translation and transcription on conference calls. In video games, nonplayable characters will become more lifelike with conversational personalities.

Cloud integration: The integration of AI PCs with cloud-based AI services allows for heavy AI processing tasks to be offloaded to powerful cloud servers, enabling AI functionalities that would be beyond the capabilities of standalone hardware.

Implications: Brave new world

As AI technology advances, AI PCs will increasingly integrate into daily lives, making AI capabilities a standard feature rather than a luxury. This will likely spur further innovation in both hardware and software, driving the development of new applications and services that were previously unimaginable. However, it also emphasizes the need for ongoing discussions about the ethical, privacy and societal implications of these powerful technologies.

Some of these include:

  1. Enhanced productivity and creativity: AI PCs offer tools and features that can significantly enhance productivity and creativity, from AI-assisted coding and design to sophisticated data analysis tools.
  2. Personalized user experiences: Through learning user preferences and behaviors, AI PCs can offer highly personalized experiences, from customizing the user interface to prioritizing tasks and notifications.
  3. Educational and accessibility Advancements: AI-driven features such as real-time translation, speech-to-text, and adaptive learning software make technology more accessible and provide new opportunities for education and learning.
  4. Security and privacy concerns: The rise of AI PCs also raises important questions about security and privacy, as these devices often rely on processing sensitive personal data to offer personalized AI functionalities.
  5. Ethical and employment implications: As AI PCs become more capable, there are ethical considerations regarding their impact on employment and society. The automation of tasks previously done by humans could lead to job displacement in some sectors, while also creating opportunities in others.

The ultimate AI experience

From hardware to software, developers have begun to create next-generation applications and update old favorites to take advantage of AI’s potential to improve performance and introduce more functionality. Content creators at every level will appreciate AI PCs, as the developed tools improve their workflows.

Observers should watch out for the latest advancements in AI PCs and get ready to experience a whole new level of computing power and intelligence. While the first wave of AI PCs has already hit the market this year, with more expected in the coming months, vendors are still exploring AI experiences that will make these devices indispensable.

About the author

Emily Main holds a J.D. in Compliance Law and a BS in Telecommunications. With extensive experience in the intersection of technology and law, Main has contributed to numerous publications and conferences, exploring technical challenges, innovations, trends and applications. Passionate about communication and networking, she is dedicated to sharing the latest advances in the field with a professional engineering audience through engaging and informative articles.

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