We asked Intel to define 'AI PC'. Its reply: 'Anything with our latest CPUs'

If it has a GPU and NPU, plus VNNI and DP4a instructions, it qualifies. But it's not a brand like vPro or Ultrabook

If you're confused about what makes a PC an "AI PC," you're not alone. But we finally have something of an answer: if it packs a GPU, a processor that boasts a neural processing unit and can handle VNNI and Dp4a instructions, it qualifies – at least according to Robert Hallock, Intel's senior director of technical marketing.

As luck would have it, that combo is present in Intel's current-generation mobile processors aka Core Ultra, aka "Meteor Lake". All models feature a GPU, NPU, and can handle Vector Neural Network Instructions (VNNI) that speed some – surprise! – neural networking tasks, and the DP4a instructions that help GPUs to process video.

Because AI PCs are therefore just PCs with current processors, Intel doesn't consider "AI PC" to be a brand that denotes conformity with a spec or a particular capability not present in other PCs.

Intel used the "Centrino" brand to distinguish Wi-Fi-enabled PCs, and did likewise by giving home entertainment PCs the "Viiv" moniker. Chipzilla still uses the tactic with "vPro" – a brand that denotes processors that include manageability and security for business users.

But AI PCs are neither a brand nor a spec.

"The reason we have not created a category for it like Centrino is we believe this is simply what a PC will be like in four or five years time," Hallock told The Register, adding that Intel's recipe for an AI PC doesn't include specific requirements for memory, storage, or I/O speeds.

"There are cases where a very large LLM might require 32GB of RAM," he noted. “Everything else will fit comfortably in a 16GB system.”

Another reason AI PCs won't be branded is that all PCs can run AI. Hallock pointed out, however, that PCs without an NPU will run AI at painfully slow speeds.

"Falling back to the CPU is grotesquely inefficient from a performance and energy efficiency point of view," he told The Register. "For large language models or generative AI, an NPU is basically a requirement."

If AI PCs are just this year's PCs, why bother buying one?

Hallock predicted that AI will infuse and change the experience of using a PC in the same way that graphics cards have done over the years.

"Today the graphics engine runs your browser, your webcam, it runs the UI, it is everywhere," he observed – yet only a few years ago GPUs were considered an expensive optional extra. In coming years, Hallock expects AI will become similarly omnipresent, and essential.

That change is not immediately apparent, as current AI-infused apps mostly serve content creators or offer simple functions like tidying up video in Zoom or Teams sessions.

Hallock believes more profound and obvious examples of AI at work are imminent.

He cited security vendors Crowdstrike and browser isolation outfit Bufferzone using NPUs to run convolutional neural network models that detect attacks that try to tamper with system memory – a defense against attacks that CPU-based systems may struggle to detect.

Hallock also predicted that CRM systems will be able to respond to queries about when you met someone and what you discussed – and deliver a generative summary of your relationship.

"The other one I am personally excited about is outsourcing all the minutes and summaries and notes and follow up emails to AI: I would get two hours back in my day by hitting 'Generate'. Automate that across many knowledge workers and businesses get very excited."

But they won't need to get excited about AI PCs to make it happen.

They'll just need to buy this year's PCs. ®

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