Microsoft's Recall preview doesn't need a Copilot+ PC to run

Just because you could doesn't mean you should

Windows Recall has been coaxed into life on a computer lacking the AI hardware shown off by Microsoft at its recent unveiling event.

Windows Recall is Microsoft's latest attempt to persuade users that they really need to upgrade their hardware to take advantage of local AI magic. It stores a snapshot of the user's screen every few seconds and permits the user to use natural language queries to hunt back through their timeline.

The controversy surrounding the feature, which has been described in some quarters as a "privacy nightmare," has threatened to overshadow the hardware launched at the same time. According to Microsoft's system requirements, the feature requires 16 GB RAM and a Copilot+ PC, replete with NPU hardware.

However, according to an inveterate Windows tinkerer, those hardware requirements might be more like guidelines for the time being. Posting on Mastodon, a user with the handle Albacore wrote that they had managed to make Recall work on a "Snapdragon 7c+ Gen3, 3.4 GB of RAM, no NPU in sight."

The Windows engineer, famously a thorn in Microsoft's side, noted: "It's surprisingly good even on something this low spec."

Microsoft has in the past been criticized for releasing software with artificially inflated requirements to shift more hardware.

The engineer also posted videos on X showing the feature up and running. Users concerned about the potential for data slurping will be relieved to know that as far as Albacore has discovered, all processing and storage happens without recourse to Microsoft's cloud: "I am able to save snapshots, OCR them, access the timeline, and perform text as well as visual searches across it, all offline."

While getting Recall running on hardware not listed in Microsoft's set of requirements is amusing and will be familiar to users dodging the company's stringent requirements for Windows 11, the feature itself remains controversial. Although still in preview, cybersecurity experts and regulators have reacted to the functionality with alarm.

Cybersecurity researcher Kevin Beaumont noted that he had also managed to get Recall working on a non-Copilot+ PC without an NPU.

Beaumont wrote on Mastodon: "If you want to know where tech companies are with AI safety, know Microsoft Recall won't record screenshots of DRM'd movies..

"...but will record screenshots of your financial records and WhatsApp messages, as corporate interests were prioritised over user safety.

"And it's enabled by default."

Recall is still in preview, but its appearance has overshadowed the work done to improve the Windows experience on Arm hardware, all in the name of AI. Judging by the research done so far, it doesn't even need all that exotic AI silicon to do its thing. ®

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