Microsoft Gears Up for AI-Powered PCs at Build Developer Conference

The stage is set for the Microsoft Build Developer Conference, kicking off this Tuesday. This highly anticipated event comes on the heels of similar gatherings by OpenAI and Google, both showcasing their latest advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI). But Microsoft has a unique advantage: Windows.

Microsoft boasts the world’s most widely used PC operating system, Windows. This gives them a massive user base primed for AI integration. CEO Satya Nadella himself declared 2024 the year AI becomes a “first-class part of every PC.” We’ve already seen a taste of this with Copilot, a chatbot assistant present in Bing search and, for a fee, in Office productivity software. Build promises to unveil further details on how AI will be embedded within Windows itself, and what exciting possibilities await users on these new “AI PCs.”

Build follows closely behind Google I/O, where Google unveiled its most powerful AI model yet, Gemini. This AI promises seamless integration across computers and phones. Just before Google’s event, OpenAI announced GPT-4o, their next-generation AI model. Notably, Microsoft is a lead investor in OpenAI, and Copilot utilizes their underlying technology.

Microsoft Gears Up for AI-Powered PCs at Build Developer Conference

Microsoft faces a dual challenge: maintaining its position at the forefront of AI development and reviving PC sales. The PC market has seen a slump in recent years following a pandemic-driven upgrade surge. However, recent reports offer some optimism. Analyst Erik Woodring of Morgan Stanley remains “bullish on the PC market recovery,” citing positive customer feedback and increased production from notebook manufacturers. Gartner, a technology research firm, even estimates a slight uptick (0.9%) in PC shipments during the latest quarter.

New AI tools from Microsoft could be the key to rekindling consumer and enterprise interest in upgrading their ageing computers, regardless of brand (HP, Dell, Lenovo). Analysts at Bernstein believe Copilot for Windows, while not directly generating revenue, could lead to “increased Windows usage, user loyalty, and a shift towards higher-priced, more powerful PCs.” This translates to more revenue for Microsoft per device, potentially boosted by increased search activity through Copilot interactions.

While Microsoft provides the software for some internet-based AI tasks, the real power behind AI PCs lies in their hardware. These machines will be equipped with Neural Processing Units (NPUs). Unlike traditional CPUs, NPUs are specifically designed to handle AI workloads with greater efficiency. Companies like Apple already leverage NPUs to enhance photo and video processing or enable advanced speech recognition features.

Microsoft hasn’t yet revealed the full capabilities of AI PCs in offline scenarios. However, Google’s Pixel 8 Pro phone, equipped with a smaller processor compared to a full-fledged computer, demonstrates the potential. This smartphone, powered by Google’s Gemini Nano AI, can summarize and transcribe recordings and even suggest text message responses – all without an internet connection.

Computers equipped with Intel’s latest Lunar Lake chips (featuring dedicated NPUs) are expected by late 2024

The arrival of AI PCs is imminent. Computers equipped with Intel’s latest Lunar Lake chips (featuring dedicated NPUs) are expected by late 2024. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite chip with an NPU arrives even sooner, slated for mid-2024. AMD’s Ryzen Pro with NPU capabilities is also expected sometime this quarter.

Qualcomm stands out by offering Arm-based processors, a different architecture compared to Intel and AMD. A dedicated session at Build will delve into the “Next Generation of Windows on Arm,” explaining how Windows operates on Qualcomm chips and how it differs from the Intel and AMD versions.

Despite Intel’s current dominance (holding a whopping 78% market share), Qualcomm has been pushing Arm-based computers. Their focus lies on longer battery life, slimmer designs, and cellular connectivity – all attractive selling points. However, earlier iterations of these Qualcomm chips had limitations. Back in 2018, for instance, most Windows applications wouldn’t run smoothly on Snapdragon 835 processors. While Microsoft has improved Windows compatibility with Arm processors, some uncertainties remain. The company even maintains a dedicated FAQ page to address user concerns regarding Arm-based Windows machines.

The build isn’t solely focused on Windows PCs. Sessions like “AI Everywhere” will explore accelerating cutting-edge AI models on cloud-based devices. Additionally, “Azure AI Studio” will delve into how developers can create their own custom Copilot chatbots, similar to what Google and OpenAI are doing with Gemini and ChatGPT.

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Onsa Mustafa

Onsa is a Software Engineer and a tech blogger who focuses on providing the latest information regarding the innovations happening in the IT world. She likes reading, photography, travelling and exploring nature.

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