The introduction this year of “AI PCs” – computers powered by silicon designed to accelerate artificial intelligence tasks – is the biggest development in the PC industry in 25 years.
That’s according to Nitesh Doolabh, country manager at Intel South Africa, who told TechCentral in an interview on Thursday that the NPUs, or neural processing units, integrated into its next-generation laptop- and desktop-class CPUs will rapidly accelerate the adoption of AI tools on PCs.
So significant is the change that it could trigger a refresh cycle in the PC industry, which is in a funk following the end of Covid-19 lockdowns that drove a mini-boom in PC sales in 2020 and 2021.
Doolabh said the introduction of NPUs in Intel’s CPUs – the first laptops with these chips will go on sale in South Africa within the next six weeks – is as significant as the introduction of Windows 95 in 1995 or the launch of Centrino technology in the early 2000s, which integrated wireless connectivity into computer chips for the first time, propelling the widespread adoption of Wi-Fi.
The launch of Intel’s next-generation PC chips – grouped under its new “Core Ultra” brand – will trigger similarly significant changes in the world of computing, according to Doolabh.
Instead of having to rely on cloud services like Microsoft Azure for AI tasks, users will be able to take advantage of NPUs to do many more AI tasks locally, reducing the time spent waiting for these to complete and ensuring sensitive corporate data is not processed in the cloud.
Doolabh expects demand for these PCs to come from the corporate sector, where concerns have emerged about uploading sensitive company data to third-party cloud services. Consumer demand, meanwhile, will likely come later, fuelled by the launch of the successor to Windows 11 later this year (possibly called Windows 12), which Microsoft is expected to infuse with AI software, including its Copilot-branded generative AI tool, which is based on OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Intel and Microsoft are believed to be collaborating in the development of the next version of Windows.
Other CPU makers, including Intel’s direct rival, AMD, are also bringing AI co-processors to market as the industry races to define the next era in computing. So far, silicon graphics pioneer Nvidia is leading the charge, though its GPUs – graphics processing units – are mainly being used to deliver cloud-based AI services, with companies such as Google and Microsoft spending billions of dollars on its chips to support their expanding repertoire of cloud-based AI services.
According to Doolabh, NPUs will democratise access to these tools, with 100 million devices expected to be running Core Ultra chips by the end of this year. Laptops with these processors are expected to go on sale in South Africa by the end of February; no launch date has been set for the desktop-class chips yet, though they’re expected later this year. Doolabh said the new chips represent a new generation of CPU technology for Intel, with the 14th-generation Core chips being the last in that line of CPUs.
The new chips, with their AI co-processors, will perform advanced AI tasks on-device, while providing better security, lower latencies and improved power efficiency, Doolabh said.
“By end of 2025, 75% of enterprise-managed data will be processed outside the data centre. So far, we have driven everything to the cloud, so this represents a big change,” he said. The change is being driven in part by the desire by companies to be confident that their data will remain secure.
Many of the applications that will take advantage of NPUs have yet to be developed, according to Doolabh. But the introduction of AI PCs will greatly accelerate their development and the adoption by consumers and enterprises, he said.
And it won’t only be limited to PCs: the technology will be embedded in cars, for example, bringing advanced AI tools, including AI-powered conversational chat, to in-car computer systems. – © 2024 NewsCentral Media