Intel chases smaller code shops with expanded AI PC dev program, NUC kit

Chipzilla wants more apps coded for NPUs, not Nvidia

Intel has expanded its efforts to encourage programmers to code for so-called "AI PCs" by targeting smaller software houses with a development kit based on Asus’s NUC 14 Pro PC.

The chip giant delivered its AI PC concept in December with the launch of the Core Ultra processor family, which combines a CPU, GPU, and a neural processing unit (NPU) for AI acceleration. Major PC makers have adopted the silicon and touted the processors' power to do things like improve the appearance of video in real time.

While some big software houses have taken advantage of the Core Ultra line, few everyday apps are made obviously more potent by the presence of NPUs.

Intel has tried to encourage developers to code for Core Ultra, last year commencing an AI PC Acceleration Program that it has now decided to expand beyond big software vendors. Chipzilla’s plan is now to reach “the small and medium ISPs, and those individual developers and aspiring developers that are currently in colleges and universities,” according to Carla Rodríguez, VP & GM, for the SW Ecosystem in Intel’s Client Computing Group.

The program provides access to AI frameworks and libraries, such as Intel’s own OpenVINO, the Open Neural Network Exchange (ONNX) runtime, DirectML and WebNN, plus tools and workflows for AI deployment.

Intel’s updated developer resource pages now provide “a convenient one-stop shop” for developers to access AI PC and client-focused toolkits, optimized AI models, documentation and training, the mega-corp added.

But what about the millions of users out there who don’t have an AI PC? What happens if you run software that has been developed with an AI PC in mind? It turns out that some features may just not work.

Intel told us: “Applications that are optimized for an NPU run best and most efficient on the NPU. If there’s no NPU present, most applications can be run by the CPU or GPU, either automatically through the framework (e.g. OpenVINO), or through a code fork.”

However, some features might be “exclusively enabled for NPUs by the developer” the biz added, and in this case, “systems without an NPU won’t be able to run those features.”

Meanwhile, developers can also get their hands on a Dev Kit based on the Asus NUC 14 Pro with a Core Ultra processor and up to 96GB memory. Those machines ship with “the software stack, drivers and a host of other programming tools and compilers so that they can get going quickly,” Rodríguez said.

The “NUC” was formerly Intel’s brand of mini-PC, but Chipzilla offloaded it in 2023 and Asus put up its hand to keep the brand alive.

The Dev Kits are available for developers to order now. Intel will also hand them out at an AI Summit developer event it is holding in Taipei this week, according to Rodríguez.

Also new is a program for independent hardware vendors (IHVs), intended to give the chipmaker’s hardware ecosystem partners an opportunity to optimize the AI PC platform, including a lab service (in Taiwan, China and the USA) and 24/7 access to Intel testing and system integration processes.

According to Matt King, Intel’s Senior Director for Client Hardware Ecosystem, there are some “huge opportunities” in specific areas, such as displays with much lower power consumption, a host of computer vision sensors, and optimization of storage and memory.

Todd Llewellyn, VP & GM for Client Ecosystem Development, claimed that Intel is “on track to deliver 100 million AI enabled PCs over the course of 2024 and 2025,” and this will make it "compelling for ISPs and IHVs" to invest in new products based on Core Ultra.

“We're not even three months into the year and we have over 100 OEM designs in the market already,” he claimed, referring to AI PC systems.

However, here the problem of what precisely is an AI PC rears its ugly head again. When asked if an AI PC needs to have a Microsoft Copilot key, Llewellyn said: “Well, our joint aligned definition, Intel and Microsoft, we've aligned on Core Ultra, Copilot and Copilot key.”

But then he added: “From an Intel perspective, our AI PC is, it has Core Ultra, and it has an integrated NPU. So this is where I would say we have great alignment with Microsoft, but to your point, there are going to be some systems out there that may not have the physical key on it, but they do have our integrated NPU.” So that’s clear then. ®

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