Avoiding AI-capable PCs will be impossible by 2027

Generative AI - huh - what is it good for? Premium priced PC sales, apparently says Canalys

The AI-capable PC is coming to save a shrinking market, according to Canalys, although vendors need to be far clearer about any benefits to charge higher margins for the devices.

The definition of an AI-capable PC is, says Canalys in its "Now and next for AI-capable PCs" report, at minimum, "a desktop or notebook possessing a dedicated chipset or block to run on-device AI workloads."

Older PCs with decent CPUs and GPUs can also run AI workloads, however, dedicated hardware is needed for better responsiveness, lower latency, and, importantly, running on-device without an internet connection. Some workloads simply aren't suited for the cloud.

It has been just over a year since ChatGPT turned up and turned the tech world on to AI. Canalys said: "Generative AI is now positioned as the single most impactful accelerator across nearly every facet of the technology industry." Although the PC is currently regarded as a productivity workhorse, the analyst sees a chance for embedded AI technology to drive the next wave of innovation and user experience.

Assuming, of course, vendors reeling from declining sales figures can explain to a wary public what the benefits are.

IDC talked up the buzz around AI PCs in October, describing generative AT as a "watershed moment for the PC industry", but conceded at the time that "use cases have yet to be fully articlated".

Gartner told us at the end of last year that while AI PC hardware may be ready, software was not. "In the short term, the changes expected may not be transformative enough to drive this faster adoption of AI PCs," said Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner, told The Register.

Canalys reckons that one in five PCs shipped in 2024 will meet its definition of AI capable – including all Apple Macs running on Apple silicon. This will rise to 60 per cent of PCs shipped in 2027 being AI-capable.

With companies including AMD, Intel, and Qualcomm banging the AI drum, picking up a new high-end device that is not AI-capable will become challenging for consumers and businesses.

Vendors are looking to give customers a reason to buy new – and premium – hardware other than simply replacing failed or obsolete kit. The shot in the arm hoped for from Windows 11 and its infamous hardware requirements has failed to materialize, and manufacturers are turning to the promise of generative AI.

Combining the powerful sales push behind AI PCs and 2025's end of support for Windows 10 means the adoption of the kit may be inevitable. Canalys said, "The significant improvements in efficiency and productivity are particularly appealing to the commercial sector, especially for tasks such as data processing and content creation."

The organization predicts: "AI-capable PCs are set to become an indispensable part of these operations."

All of which means that businesses may well leap on the trend to remain competitive.

However, it will take time. Since AI-capable PCs will – initially at least – be relatively highly specified devices and priced accordingly, the adoption will be in niche roles. Canalys reckons that adoption will accelerate once businesses spot the benefits of integrating AI into workflows.

2025 is forecast by the analyst as an inflection point for AI-capable PCs, with more than 100 million devices in the category shipped that year, growing in subsequent years. However, 2025 will be assisted by the end of support for Windows 10 – businesses will be forced to buy new hardware or pay Microsoft to keep the old OS on life support for a little longer.

Which is where whatever Microsoft has planned for Windows 12 / Windows.AI becomes important. The Windows vendor will need to encourage users to look harder at AI-capable hardware by showcasing tangible benefits of running local AI workloads seamlessly.

The major chip vendors are preparing AI-capable hardware. Silicon seeped from AMD and Intel in 2023; more is expected in 2024, including new hardware from Qualcomm. Canalys said: "Major PC vendors have publicly signaled that AI-capable PCs will be the most significant upcoming innovation that they are looking to leverage as an accelerator for market recovery in 2024."

The analyst pointed out that Asus has spoken of "brand new user experiences," while HP is rubbing its hands in glee at the prospect of "double the expected growth from 2024 to 2026."

The AI-capable PC is an inevitability at this point. However, vendors must be clearer in their messaging of the benefits, or the inflection point predicted by Canalys might take a little longer than hoped.

Global PC shipment data for Q4 is due any day now, and that could equate to ten straight quarters of declining sales, so it is no wonder that PC makers are looking for a boon to cling to. ®

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